Sarsa chef JP “Jayps” Anglo’s take on the Ilonggo soul dish KBL (kadios, baboy at langka). Text and photos by CLAUDE TAYAG
The phenomenal rise in popularity of the Ilocano bagnet, Pampango sisig, or Ilonggo chicken inasal on the national culinary scene is a good illustration of how the best — or at least the most popular — of a regional cuisine actually takes part in weaving the quilt that makes up Filipino cuisine as a cohesive whole. And, once you have your foot in the door, one is likely to be curious enough to try the rest of the cuisine.
Is it coincidence that the DOT’s “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” logo has the Philippine map woven like our tightly knit banig (mat), with its multi-colored mosaic representing the different regions/cultures that make up our nation?
Sarsa Kitchen+Bar is that kind of restaurant. It lures us with Iloilo and Bacolod’s iconic dishes like batchoy, Molo soup, and, of course, chicken inasal. And that was exactly what we had on our first visit with Sarsa. Believe you me, they were as good as any to be had in those twin southern belles, perhaps even better. They are chef JP “Jayps” Anglo’s take on these Ilonggo comfort staples. He defines his style of cooking as modern, mixing all the home flavors and local ingredients with Asian and Western techniques he’s learned in culinary schools in Manila and Australia, as evident in his Bacolod restaurants, Mu Shu and Mai Po Restaurant.
Sarsa has a minimalist, well-lighted space that can sit 90 people, always packed with families and barkadas, making the atmosphere jolly with laughter ringing loud in its dining area. It has a very limited menu, but well-chosen dishes from his hometown Bacolod, as well as from his local travels. The presence of ginamos (Visayan shrimp paste), batuan (sour fruit endemic only in the Visayas), and atsuete (annatto or Mexican achiote) in a lot of the dishes bespeak the chef’s Ilonggo/Negrense origins.
On our second visit, we tried the soulful Bacon Belly Kadios, pigeon peas stewed with a salt-cured pork belly, mixed with green jackfruit and flavored with batuan, the chef’s take on the Ilonggo’s revered dish kadios, baboy at langka (a.k.a. KBL). The Twice-cooked Pork Belly is served with a creamy sauce made with coconut milk, ginamos, garlic and chili. The everyday tortang talong (eggplant omelet) is made special with crispy sardines and kesong puti, and his take on Bacolod’s panaras (a.k.a. empanadas or turnovers), filled with tauge (bean sprouts) and other veggies, ends up rolled like fried lumpia. Chef Jayps’ cooking is down-home good, unpretentious, made not to impress but to satisfy, and best of all, reasonably priced.
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Sarsa Kitchen+Bar is at Unit 1-7, Forum South Global, 7th Avenue corner Federacion St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, tel. no. 0927-706-0773.
ILOCOS’ BEST, ‘WEN MANANG’
The very first time we stepped into Victorino’s Restaurant, my darleng Mary Ann declared it her kind of place. The 1949 house-turned-restaurant has bright dining spaces, a shiny wooden floor combined with old-world designed tiles, an elegant wooden staircase that leads to more seating, and super-clean restrooms. Its well-trained and well-dressed staff is more than enough for her. “I am damn sure Heny had a hand in putting this together,” she declared. “This is so her: elegant, classy and always very neat. If the Ilocano food turns out to be good at all, it is just a bonus to me.”
Heny, of course, is Heny Sison, pastry chef par excellence who also runs a culinary school. Admittedly, it was Heny’s to-die-for caramelized yemas that lured us to drive all the way to Quezon City from Pampanga. Victorino’s is a homey restaurant specializing in Ilocano and other Filipino cuisine, owned by DV Savellano, a politician from Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and his sister Queenie Paras. They partnered with their friend Heny to do a dessert and deli corner within the restaurant.
It so happens that the Ilocano dishes we tried on two visits were as good and traditional as any in Vigan. We both enjoyed the sinanglaw, a beef intestine sour soup with bile, much like papaitan. The taste is very close to the one we had in Vigan, but more subtle and cleaner. Its platter of Ilocos’ Best is a winner — delectable chunks of crispy bagnet and garlicky Vigan longganisa. So was the Ilocos empanada, pinakbet and poki poki, a grilled eggplant/ tomato/ onion open omelet.
At long last, if you’re hankering for that GI (Genuine Ilocano) taste within the metropolis, one doesn’t have to take a long journey up north. As for the desserts, you can close your eyes and point at any of the cakes displayed in the chiller. We had a super mango-choco torte with freshly brewed coffee and hand-pulled balikutsa (hardened sugar stick), and brought home a cheesecake, sans rival and boxful of the best ever caramelized yema. There’s plenty more of Heny’s bottled food items and Ilocos products to bring home.
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ALA EH, BATANGAS ADOBO & DINUGUAN LONGGANISA, GA
Myrna Segismundo is the long-time chef and managing director of Restaurant 9501, the exclusive dining place of ABS-CBN. She is the latest addition to the list of chefs who have finally opened their own restaurant. If you know her humor and wit, you will instantly know this is her joint the moment you step inside Caferinderia. The walls of this small eatery have two shades of orange, one very bright and one very pale. Its logo is a slanted and upside-down batibot or ice cream parlor chair. Postcards and photos of food are on tables and doors. It is an eclectic mix of old and modern. We were there on its second-week run and smiled at the writing on the chalkboard: “Soft Opening. Testing 1 2 3. Be kind.” Only Myrna could think of that, as well as its name, Caferinderia 9502, a play on the words “café” and “karinderia.” It is her latest venture that also includes private dining at her home in New Manila, Quezon City.
But surely, Myrna’s cooking is no laughing matter. It is the staple food of her home province Batangas, the food she knows and loves best, and more. The one-page, pared-down menu includes Batangas-style chicken and pork adobo (cooked with atsuete), pork estofado (sort of sweet adobo with saba banana), three kinds soup with callos, monggo and fabada, dinuguan sausage, a couple of salads with a choice of adobo vinaigrette or honey/patis with coriander and muscovado dressing, crispy salted pork belly, select pastas, and her signature spreads of adobo pâté, kesong puti mousse, tomato jam, burong (pickled) santol at mangga, her famous quezo de bola cheesecake and turron de Manila, and of course Batangas Barako coffee. These are all available to go, too, the food conveniently packed in containers and displayed in a freezer.
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Caferinderia 9502 is at the Caltex station on Timog Avenue corner Sgt. Esguerra St., Brgy. South Triangle, Quezon City, tel. no. 274-9502 and 0925-777-9502.