Teaching 4-year old Boo how to recognize the letters of the alphabet is an exercise in culinary creativity. Simply because she is my daughter and judging from our frequent arguments over who gets the last siopao, it’s obvious that she’s inherited the family “nobility”: an unabiding love for food.
Not content to teach her that “A” is for apple and “B” is for boy, I’ve come up with different foods to refer to each letter of the alphabet. Thus, “A” is for ampalaya (bitter melon, a vegetable I love to loathe); “B” is for Boo (the only non-food reference in our culinary alphabet); “C” is for chocolate, and so on.
My little foodie in training has three favorite letters in the alphabet: KFC (and I know that I don’t have to tell you what they stand for.) For Boo, when it comes to food, chicken is tops, preferably fried. Speaking of this fine, feathered fowl, there’s another kind of chicken that she likes.
JT’s Manukan is a roadside stall in Quezon City. Like other food stalls of its kind, the unique flavor and deliciousness of its food comes from the fact that one, it’s by the roadside; and two, the food’s just so damn good that the people keep on coming. The fact that it’s always full, even at odd hours of the early morning, only adds to its appeal. There’s just no better advertisement for a restaurant than a full house.
JT stands for the owner’s initials: Joel Torre, stellar Filipino actor. While his movie star heyday may have been several years ago, the man has found second stardom in his unassuming roadside eatery. This ain’t no fancy dig, surely: diners sit on monobloc tables and chairs while eating off of banana leaves, and there are withering movie posters of the owner’s past films tacked haphazardly on the walls.
Nonexistent ambience aside, I love it here. JT’s specialty is the grilled chicken inasal (skewered) done the way Ilonggos have been cooking it for generations. Story goes that Joel Torre went to Bacolod and ate at every manukan (grilled chicken place) looking for the best chicken inasal. When he and his culinary cohorts found it, they pirated the chef and brought him back to Manila. Sneaky, eh? The result is JT’s Manukan.
Every part of the chicken is utilized – from the breasts, wings, thighs, gizzards, heart, bottom, and of course the liver (P45-P80), which is patÃ©-smooth and unctuous. Ordering by body part is how it’s done here and the servers won’t bat an eyelash when two to three cups of rice per person is ordered. For those not feeling particularly “chicken” today, there are spareribs (P95), boneless bangus (milkfish P120), and the batchoy (pork soup with offal) which I’m told is hearty-good.
The chicken’s succulence is in the secret marinade. I’m told that at JT’s the chickens are marinated in a large drum before being grilled. Then they’re skewered onto barbeque sticks and put on the heat. As I watch the flames lick the meat, a combination of vinegar, calamansi (native lemon) and smoke tickles my nostrils. Like a faucet being opened, my mouth begins to salivate. While the chicken is being cooked, it’s basted with atchuete (annatto) oil, which lends to it an appetizingly yellow sheen.
This chicken is eaten with a make-your-own special sauce made from sinamak (native Ilonggo vinegar), toyo (soy sauce), calamansi, and sili (red finger chilies.) Once the eating begins, forks and spoons are abandoned in favor of fingers. There’s plenty of dousing, chomping, and tiny groans of pleasure. The chicken is tender, its juices exuding with every bite, the flavor a mixture of sour, a whisper of sweet, and the union of heat and smoke. This is primal, back to basics food.
eating Bacolod chicken inasal
If you’re brave enough, order some of the chicken oil, a gleamingly evil orange liquid made from the rendered chicken fat colored with atchuete. Whether you dip your chicken in it, spoon it over your rice, or spoon it in by the mouthful (as I do), it’s J-T: Just Titillating. Maybe I’ll put those into Boo’s alphabet when she’s older.
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