Welcome to Little Manila (in Kuwait!) – Filipino enclave booming in Salmiya

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Kuwait - Yasmine El Tohamy - By Ben Garcia

A Filipino enclave has emerged in the heart of Salmiya after the opening of the revamped Souq Salmiya a year ago. The souq has become a favorite shopping destination and gathering place for Filipinos living and working in Kuwait. Old Souq Salmiya is located opposite the fire station at the end of the Fourth Ring Road. It is an extension of the popular Salem Al-Mubarak Street that is lined with shops and malls.

Known to Filipinos as Little Manila or Manila Town, the area is flush with Filipino restaurants, cafes, bakeries, exchange houses, salons, shops and groceries catering to the Filipino community. The enclave offers OFWs a few minutes of ‘home’ in the form of local food, culture and camaraderie. Graffiti in Tagalog is seen on the walls and on weekends, Tagalog can be heard up and down the street as kabayans mix in large numbers to meet their friends, relatives and others from their homeland.

From the corner of Salem Al-Mubarak St at the tip of the Fourth Ring Road is Seafood Island Restaurant, right in front of McDonalds. It serves the freshest grilled seafood dishes named after famous mountains and destinations in the Philippines, either al a carte or boodle fight style. The food items are named after native places like Taal Volcano, Boracay Seafood and Davao’s Best.

Next stop is burger joint Sarks, also originally from the Philippines. Behind McDonalds are other Filipino-inspired restaurants like iTEA, Tia Maria Restaurant and Nature’s Taste Bakery, all serving specialty Filipino cuisine. In the building next to the seafood restaurant, you can try the best Filipino dishes, including at a place reminiscent of the Aristocrat Restaurant in the Philippines.

On the ground floor of the building are some Filipino shops, in addition to Pinoy Street Food. The next building has Boodle Restaurant and Da Gucci, also specializing in Filipino cuisine. Qusinna ni Yorme (Mayor’s Kitchen) is also in the same building, which sells Pampanga delicacies. The next building is a relatively small one also frequented by Filipinos, with a couple of Pinoy restaurants and some exchange companies.

Another building houses the House Bucks Restaurant and various shops selling Filipino products. The Kabayan Grocery Hypermarket is next to it, where you can buy frozen meat and fish products, all imported from the Philippines. They also display and sell native tropical fruits from the Philippines like durian, young coconut and a selection of green vegetables. At Kabayan, you can find walis tambo (a broom made from rattan in Baguio City). There are other supermarkets here as well catering to Filipinos, with Ambassador Supermarket and Greenland Hypermarket next to each other selling Filipino food products and consumable and household items.

Manila street food is also sold in the area, including kikiam, kwek-kwek, gizzards, porridge and light foods including the famous balut (14-day-old egg), which is a South East Asian favorite. In the middle of the souq are rows of Filipino restaurants and iced teahouses spread like a bazaar. Several shops and restaurants have names in Tagalog, like Manok na Pula (Red Chicken) and Tahong na Pula (Red Muscles).

Just a few meters away from the main Salem Al-Mubarak St is a small street with a large concentration of Filipinos – the street is dubbed Makulay Street, short for Malikhaing Kulturang Layag (artists’ guild). The graffiti on this street was collaboratively done by Filipino artists, who have made this street very colorful and attractive. It has become a selfie spot, not just for Filipinos, but those of other nationalities as well.

Makulay Street is dedicated to towns and cities in the Philippines – representing the major islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – scrawled using colorful paint. In front of the graffiti wall is Bahay Kubo, a 150-seater Filipino restaurant that hosts a live band and parties on a weekly basis.

Next to it is a building known as the Jollibee and Chowking Building. Jollibee and Chowking are the most famous fast food chains in the Philippines. Jollibee has seven stores in Kuwait and caters to Filipinos in general. In the same building, you can visit a Filipino grooming salon called Kuwentong Barbero, which takes pride in having the best Filipino hairdressers who are experts in various hairstyles for men. In the same building are two Manila juice shops and the original Bubble Tea by KuwaiTEA. If you go further, Al-Salam Mall has several Filipino restaurants inside its food court, as does Marina Mall. Welcome to Little Manila!

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