MANILA -- When chef Aggi Salanguit was growing up, his family celebrated gatherings with home-cooked food. He enjoyed it so much that he decided to become a chef.
Yet in a very competitive food and dining market, Salanguit and some of his partners, including chef JehRad Dolino, opted to open a restaurant that made street food more upscale.
“When I was a kid, tumatakas ako para kumain ng fishballs, squid balls, okoy, lechon manok and others sa mga sidewalk vendors,” recalled Salanguit with a laugh. “Yung mga bawal because it was perceived to be dirty and baka magka-hepatitis. But I loved eating them anyway.”
“When we were thinking of what food we’d like to prepare, it was obvious that it was going to be Philippine, more so since our cuisine is starting to be recognized,” he added. “And we all decided to go with lechon manok.”
It is a competitive and perhaps even over-saturated market with Andok’s, Baliwag, Chooks to Go, and others (not even counting the small ones that are found in public markets) that are found in almost every street corner.
The restaurant is Sari Chicken Lechon located at Robinson’s Galleria in Ortigas Center. The layout is unencumbered and very inviting with the design akin to the traditional Philippine fiesta. Out in front is the oven where the chickens are roasted much like the street version. And it is an attraction.
“When we were preparing the menu, we came up with five different flavors for our chicken but ultimately decided to go with what Filipinos love,” said Salanguit. “Then hopefully, in the near future, add other flavored lechon manok.”
“When we launched our first menu, it featured a lot of fried foods. This is our third revision and we’ve added the lunch bowls and lechon baka that is slow-cooked and sous-vide (a French cooking term where food is placed in a plastic pouch or glass jar and cooked in water bath for several hours to three days) after which we roast it for 15 minutes just to get the crust right.”
If your mouth is watering from that, wait until you pour the various sauces on or in the chicken. That’s sure to make you want more.
The various sauces the chefs concocted are Garlic Soy, Atsuete, Sinamak, Filchuri, Green Sili, Labuyo Garlic, Mango Ketchup, and the Sari Special Sauce.
“The Filipino tastebuds tend to favor the flavorful and one with sauces and soup. Ayaw natin ng mga tuyo or dried. We like dips, soup, and gravy. So the variety of sauces are integral to our chicken,” Salanguit pointed out.
When Sari opened in July 2017, the partners were pleasantly surprised with the reception. It was so good that one customer – a Caucasian – opted to put away his spoon, fork, and knife, and ate with his hands.
“I can tell you that sinimot 'yung manok while eating with his hands – just like a Filipino – and that is perhaps the best compliment that we can get about our food and our vision for lechon manok,” shared Salanguit.
Outside lechon manok, other street food favorites of Salanguit’s youth found their way into the menu such as okoy (that is served like a bird’s nest) and sorbetes to name a few.
Yet for all the good memories of the street food Salanguit used to love, there is one thing on the menu that evokes a lot of emotion in him.
It is the atchara.
“The atchara that we serve is actually from my Lola’s recipe,” he related. “Kinuha ko siya without telling her. Kasi gusting gusto siya as a kid. Medyo inayos ko ng konti. When we opened Sari and my family was here, my lola was smiling, really smiling. Aside from the fact that ako lang sa apo niya naging kusinero, I guess it was the food, the atchara, the homage, that made her happy.”
“And that is what we want our customers at Sari to come away with – familiar food they enjoy but done with a lot of love and care.”