Kapit Bahay

Photo by Matt OttoKapit Bahay (Tagalog for "neighbor") is a cluttered, hectic pleasure in Anaheim's Manilatown, but it's also one of the most infuriating local ethnic eateries you'll frequent. It's a turo-turo ("point point" in Tagalog) buffet, which means that cooks assume eaters know the cuisine and thus never label trays to show what's what. For non-Pinoys, though, a visit becomes a round of culinary roulette—guess-guess, if you will.

Here are just some of Kapit Bahay's game pieces: about four or five different fish deep-fried until the bones become jelly; pork and chicken adobo marinated long into the day in a murky broth of soy sauce, ginger, vinegar and garlic; sweet-sour viscous soups bumpy with rice, cucumbers or baby squids; beef minced with vegetables and covered in raw onion hoops or stabbed by a skewer; purple eggs called balut that contain a two-week-old duck embryo you're supposed to slurp whole. The middle-aged women who run Kapit Bahay don't make matters any simpler, as they rotate upward of 40 entres throughout the hours, trying to keep up with the Filipino families, nurses and businessmen who ransack the steamed trays. And sometimes, customers with a jones for a particular entre—maybe crispy pata, a deep-fried pork hock as hefty as a barbell, or flaky empanadas—refuse to cede their place in line. They grumble. Loudly.

Kapit Bahay always operates on the edge of chaos, and the horrific Tagalog karaoke caterwauling from the television doesn't improve matters. But patience, gentle hippie: the wait and confusion will pay off. A serving at Kapit Bahay is a smorgasbord of culinary traditions slopped onto one plate. Fried lumpia egg rolls best their Chinese cousins in crunchiness and freshness and are pornographically thick. Of Spanish origin are the longanisas, soft, slightly spicy pork sausages kept glistening with a honey-like broth. The pancit bihon (miniature yellow noodles strewn with celery, carrots, green beans and chunks of shrimp and chicken) exhibit a wisp of India with their desiccated, gentle taste. All meals come with two scoops of rice that you should subsume in lemon juice and banana sauce; the latter is a condiment similar to ketchup but infinitely sweeter and gooier.

As a tasty panacea to the jumble of the main course, Kapit Bahay does name names in its galaxy of desserts: mamon, a cheese-topped sponge cake, is poofy and wet, while cookies feature weird monikers such as "cat's tongue" and are powdered with a blizzard's worth of sugar. Nothing in this realm, though, is sweeter than the blindingly colorful sapin-sapin, a three-layer cake featuring ube (purple yam) as an anchor, young coconut on top, and a bright-orange sweet-rice layer in the middle. Sapin-sapin is soft like jelly, but its sweetness is thick and can be stomached only in bites spaced out over the day. And, yes, sapin-sapin is yet another Filipino treat that repeats a word, in this case "layer-layer." I say, yum-yum.

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KAPIT BAHAY, 615 N. EUCLID, ANAHEIM, (714) 635-4400.

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