MANILA, Philippines - Imagine eating Asian-style fare, just like what is served in Singapore's food courts, in a typical fast food environment.
That's the feeling I got upon my first visit at Yummy Roast, the newest addition to the Philippines' growing list of Singapore influenced food chains. It's a result of a partnership between Richie Yang of Yum Roast International Inc. (the Filipino company that runs Super Bowl of China, Big Buddha and Chili's) and Cary Gee of The Asian Kitchen restaurants in Singapore.
Yummy Roast looks and feels like the usual fast food chain, complete with yellow and orange plastic chairs and a counter where all the menu items are displayed. It also has "value meals" and unlimited rice offerings, as seen in most quick service restaurants here in the country.
The difference, however, lies in the food.
Instead of the usual burger, the restaurant's signature dish is chicken that tastes like a cross between Chinese-style roasted duck and pigeon. It is marinated in a "secret recipe" before roasting, Gee said, making the skin tight and the meat sweet and juicy.
The chicken is served with garlic vinegar and either plain or Yummy Rice, which is infused with lemongrass and "chicken essence," similar to Singapore's Hainanese rice.
I told Gee that the garlic vinegar doesn't seem to go well with the sweet chicken, which is better off eaten on its own. He responded by saying that they are planning to come up with different sauces and chicken variants in the future as it continues to adjust to the Filipino palate.
"We always want to adjust to different cultures. For example, we had the unlimited rice concept since it's very popular here in the Philippines, although not so popular in Singapore," Gee explained.
He continued, "We're hoping to attract a wide range of Filipinos, particularly the masses."
Gee's dream may not be a long shot after all, given the prices of Yummy Roast's menu items. A chicken meal costs as low as P55, while the unlimited rice option is priced at P98 (and P118 for Yummy Rice).
For those who don't like chicken, Yummy Roast is offering the pork belly and pork asado at the same prices. Although slightly dry, the 2 dishes have the familiar taste of traditional Chinese cuisine.
The restaurant's version of spaghetti is noodles with either minced meat or spicy Zhajiang sauce while its "hamburger" is the pork belly pan de pao (pork belly and cucumber slices in a firm cuapao that resembles the Filipino favorite pan de sal). Both items cost P50 per order.
Instead of softdrinks, Yummy Roast serves a drink that has the flavors of longan (a cousin of the lychee fruit) and gulaman.
"The pricing is very competitive. You can enjoy a good meal every day," said Yang.
Yummy Roast, located at Eastwood City in Libis, is set to open its doors to the public on March 21. More branches will be put up at SM Sta. Rosa, SM Bicutan, Vito Cruz and SM Manila in the coming months.
Will this new concept capture the hearts (and stomachs) of Filipinos? We'll soon find out.
Golden Arches going strong
Perhaps Yummy Roast can learn a thing or two from McDonald's, the American fast food chain that has successfully penetrated the Filipino market with its combination of signature offerings and local menu items.
McDonald's celebrated its 3rd decade in the Philippines early this week by holding a kiddie party for members of the press.
"We hope to celebrate with you in the next 10 years, 20 years, 30 years," said McDonald's Philippines vice president for marketing and communications Margot Torres.
George Yang built the country's first Golden Arches in Morayta, Manila in 1981. The astounding reception it received encouraged the brand to branch to open a drive-thru branch in Greenhills, San Juan the following year, and eventually, more branches across the Philippines.
By 1986, McDonald's Philippines introduced items made specifically for Filipinos such as the McSpaghetti, Chicken McDo and Burger McDo to attract more local customers.
"At first, people were excited for the Big Mac, world-famous fries and the apple pie. But eventually, we offered the Filipino menu to suit the Filipino taste," Torres shared.
To date, McDonald's has over 300 branches in the country, including dessert kiosks and cafes. The brand is also known for its kiddie meals, called the "Happy Meal," which includes a food item, a drink and a toy.
E-mail the author at [email protected] Visit her food blog at http://asliceofkeix.blogspot.com.