You know North Park. Now meet Ma Chicken Mami House.
Having Paeng Soon as one of my bakers at the DCF 6th Anniversary Party is a stroke of serendipity. We’ve known each other for 11 years and even roasted a lechon together some years back along with some other foodies. (Another story that one, which I can tell you about another time). He was overjoyed when he chanced upon my “I Ovi” ad for Nokia and saw that I’d mentioned North Park as one of my favorite restaurants. Then last January while walking around Rockwell, I bumped into him and we started talking. Funny how fate steps in.
Ma Chicken Mami House (or simply, “Ma”) is Paeng’s newest project with his brother Gabby. It’s the latest addition to their restaurant empire that includes North Park, Next Door, Tiananmen Bar, and North Park Kopi Tiam. Unlike the expansive menu at their other restaurants, Ma focuses on mami (noodles and soup) and siopao. There are other items on the single page menu – assorted dimsum and rice in hotpot but that’s it.
“Today’s kids … they’re just eating pizza and burgers,” comments Paeng over lunch at Ma. “I put up Ma because I want the kids of today to know what it’s like to eat real mami and siopao.” He states that the mami of today is unrecognizable from the authentic mami. “Ang daming halo and the noodles are so mushy.” It’s understandable why this would irk him. As a Chinese boy growing up, a bowl of authentic mami was a fixture in his house.
At the party, Paeng will serve Ma’s specialty, Binondo Mami. On the restaurant’s menu, there’s a note appended to the picture that reads, “The way mami should be!” It’s a bowl of soup and noodles topped with chicken slices, pork siomai, and roasted pork garnished with leeks, green onions, and half of a hard-boiled egg. Unlike more common soups of this sort, the broth of Binondo Mami is cloudy. It’s vastly different from the noodle soup at say, North Park, which is almost a consommé type, clear and clean. The milky broth is a result of allowing the broth to cook and gain flavor through a rolling boil, as opposed to the North Park broth which is never allowed to go beyond the gentlest of simmers.
It’s a broth that bears many surprises for me. While cloudy, it’s clean-tasting while simultaneously beefy and complex, as is anything that’s the product of slow cooking. Then there are the noodles. Unlike the more common rip-and-dump noodles that cook up limp, these are noodles that retain their integrity. I actually feel like I’m eating noodles instead of soupy mush. The roasted pork in the Binondo Mami is also extra special because it’s roasted over charcoal, a process that Paeng learned from his mom, and which ingrains the pork with a smoky taste unlike any other.
Naturally, mami has no better mate than a savory bun. Among the four different types of siopao that Ma offers, Paeng asks me to choose my favorite, the one he says he’ll serve at the party. I pick the Honey-Cured Pork Pao because I feel that it echoes the smoky note of the meats in the mami, really bringing that particular flavor to the fore. The pork filling is also slightly sweet which balances the beefiness of the broth. This is soul food, soothing and true.