Inihaw na manok
What: Grilled chicken, or inihaw na manok (“ee-nee-haw na mah-nok”), falls into the category of simple, daily fare, so it’s therefore widely available, even from small-time entrepreneurs on street corners. But do not underestimate this dish, as it always comes packed with flavor, thanks to a varying marinade usually composed of soy sauce, the local tiny citrus fruit called kalamansi (a.k.a. limonsito in Cebu), salt, pepper, and various other add-ins like chopped onions, garlic, ginger or turmeric, annatto, even a cup of 7-Up or Sprite. Each cook will have his or her own secret recipe to sway you to declare theirs is the best you’ve ever tasted. While we have no absolute proof, we’re pretty sure Filipinos have been grilling chicken for ages, since academics say that jungle fowls were first domesticated as a food source in Asia about 5,000 years ago. That’s a lot of grilled chicken!
Where: The Aristocrat (02-524-7671; multiple locations including 432 San Andres St. at Roxas Blvd., map), near Plaza Rajah Sulayman and the Malate Church in Malate, is a Manila landmark and a Filipino dining institution. You can’t miss it when driving on Roxas Boulevard, as it covers about half a city block with a large sign on top. While it’s definitely casual dining, the size of the place lets them cut off segments to cater to big groups for local big-deal occasions like baptisms, birthdays, graduations, and even office parties.
When: 24 hours/7 days
Order: The Aristocrat’s classic chicken barbecue set (Php 210)—a common sight on tables here—arrives as three pieces of chicken on a bamboo skewer, with “java rice,” “java sauce,” and atsara (vinegary pickled unripe papaya with carrots, onion, garlic, ginger, and bell peppers; also spelled atchara). The java rice is more or less Filipino-style fried rice with annatto and margarine thrown in. More perplexing is the packet of silver foil labelled “java sauce,” which turned out to be a sweet, brown, peanut-based sauce—we didn’t think it was necessary, because the chicken itself was so full of flavor: tender, smoky, slightly charred in spots, with a subtle sweetness and a hint of annatto. Be sure to leave room for some halu-halo (see entry) and cream puffs from the Aristocrat’s adjoining bakeshop.
Good to know: If you don’t want to struggle with chicken bones, you can opt for boneless. You can also go a la carte in case you’d prefer Shanghai fried rice or plain steamed rice with your other orders.
Alternatively: While famed for its fat skewers of pork barbecue, Aling Nene’s Barbecue (Vito Cruz corner South Super Hwy, map) also does a good version of inihaw na manok without the added annatto.