Filipino fashion designer Carl Jan Cruz shares his guide to the best shopping, art, and food in Manila, Philippines.
Philippines-based designer Carl Jan Cruz’s dreams are fueled entirely by family. His love for his roots manifests itself everywhere in his work, beginning with his origin story, living in his clothes, and extending out into the world he sees around him. Inspired by his mother’s own fondness for fashion and innovation, he trained in Europe and later returned to Manila where his talents thrived and eventually caught the attention of the fashion world—all the way from New York, Paris, London, and Milan.
“I love how Manila is beautifully fragmented and a place where that allows ideas to incubate,” shares the designer. But family—from the local heritage that inspires his designs to the kin-like fashion community of which he’s now a part—is what has kept him in his hometown all this time. “Given or chosen, living in Manila really fosters a familial bond in the relationships you create around you.”
Below, find Jan Cruz’s local guide to the Filipino capital, from the studios where designers connect to the restaurants serving home-cooked meals just like mama used to make.
Carl Jan Cruz’s Perfect Day in Manila
8:00 a.m. — A No-Fuss Start to the Day
I like getting coffee from Panaderya Toyo or Wild Flour. They are great spots for an Americano—I like my coffee straightforward and no fuss. Both spots are very laid back and even though it can get hectic, it doesn’t feel like it. Next, I’ll head off to Manam and maybe get the Ube champorado (chocolate rice) or the salted egg bibingka (Filipino rice cakes)—contemporary Filipino dining and a nice, bright interior.
10:00 a.m. — Taking It Easy Like Sunday Morning
Go for a swim and do some tanning and have a lazy afternoon at the National Museum of History.
12:00 p.m. — There’s Something For Everyone at Lunchtime
1:00 p.m. — Afternoons Are For Art and Design
Ukay-ukay (thrift shopping) at Makati Cinema Square and after that maybe go to Tropa Store, a community of local designers we are part of, to hang out and shop. There are too many talented designers in Manila, but I am especially excited for the places that host these amazing talents in Makati: On Chino Roces, you can find galleries within Karrivin the Alley, La Fuerza Building, and Silverlens at the end of the road.
2:00 p.m. — Stop For a Quick Bite
4:00 p.m. — Walk, Bike, and Jeepney Your Way Around Town
Take a walking tour of the Intramuros neighborhood! Visit the First United Building in Escolta, and take jeepneys and tricycles to get around!
6:00 p.m. — Second Dinner Is Required
I’d definitely take friends to Toyo for a great Filipino dining experience and Metronome for a fantastic French dégustation (the art of carefully tasting various dishes). I’d do the tasting menus for both, but if you aren’t too hungry, I’d say get small orders from each place: Kalabasa soup and 3-piece cut pork bbq from Toyo and 147-degree cooked egg and the beef cheeks dish from Metronome.
9:00 p.m. — Going out
We’ll most likely end up around the Makati Poblacion neighborhood: Start the night at The Annex House for gin buko and then move to rooftop bars—either the Apartment or Kartel. It’s all very laid back, casual, and not so scene-y—I feel I can catch up with friends and we can let our hair down after a long day. For late-night bites, I’m off to eat Yalla-Yalla’s falafel rice or Ministop’s two-piece fried chicken with rice (i.e. all rice meals)!
The Manila Essentials
Where to Stay in Manila
What to Know Before You Go
Manila is a beautifully fragmented city that is tropical and humid year-round. Prepare yourself to quickly shift from one activity to another—you could be riding a Jeepney one moment and then head straight to a sit-down dinner after.
Don’t Leave Manila Without Trying
Kuchai pie from a Ho-Land Hopia store in Binondo.