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DINERS DISH: Meechu's Filipino Market

"Treasures aplenty" at this small store

COLUMBIA, 3/13/12  (Review) -- I’ll venture to guess that most Columbia residents have yet to give Meechu’s Filipino Market a try. 
 
An informal survey turned up almost nobody who’d so much as heard of the place.  Certainly their location – in a strip mall at 1301 Vandiver Drive – isn’t doing them any favors.   But for those in the know, this small, multi-purpose storefront offers treasures aplenty.
 
Stepping inside, the customer encounters several rows of Asian foodstuffs, international calling card ads and other testaments to the proprietors’ island homeland.  
 
The first time visitor will receive a greeting as warm and cheery as the food, likely by Jun or his wife, Marichu.  The Gaticas moved to Columbia in 1989, and opened Meechu’s in 2007.   Don’t be surprised if on a return visit, Jun welcomes you like a regular.   This reviewer was, despite having not stopped by in more than a year.   
 
Filipino food may be one of the Asian cuisines we’re least familiar with, but it needn’t be that way.   The braises and stews of the islands will be instantly recognizable as Filipino variations on French onion or chicken soup, relying more on a light touch of vinegar or lemon juice than chilies to get their point across.   You won’t find chicken breast or filet in these dishes, either; this is strictly cucina povera – the food of a people with more creativity than cash.
 
The beef caldereta is a case in point.   This traditional stew of beef ribs and brisket benefits from a touch of soy sauce to go with the meat, tomatoes, green olives and slivers of sweet peppers.   Some of the meat is tender, some of it has a chew; all of it is good.
 
The bistek is your French onion soup stand-in, and even better than the caldereta (as well as most French onion soup I’ve had).   Packed with thinly sliced brisket and onions, the vinegar and lemon juice sport a solid but balanced punch.   It’s a warming, homey dish – just perfect for this time of year.
 
And save room for dessert, because the case of traditional sweets is worth checking out.  My favorite is the maja blanca, a corn and coconut milk pudding topped with cocoa that manages to be rich and light at the same time.  The cassava cake is a winner as well. 
 
Think tapioca flan with hints of caramel and you’ll be in the neighborhood – maybe more often once you try Meechu’s.
 
-- This week's Mystery Reviewer is a prominent local food critic you've doubtless read before.


 
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