Creative young chefs passionate about exposing Filipino cuisine to the mainstream
By Mel Fernandez, Editor – www.travelgalore.nz
Main foto: Nanam fans: Cevi Dy, Jasper Dy, Nikki Morales and Lambert Lauiz. Foto credit: Cevi Dy.
Inset foto: ‘Sinigang Chicken’ (supplied)
AUCKLAND – Every six months or so yet another ‘traditional’ Pinoy cafe opens in Auckland; some even located cheek by jowl to their competitors. Is there room for yet another Filipino eatery in the city of the sails, you might ask? Some would say, why not, if the newcomer stands out from the rest.
‘Nanam’ is a ‘modern’ Filipino restaurant. It’s barely a month since it opened its doors and already publicity in the mainstream media is drawing the punters in.
Here’s a pat on the back from the prestigious Denizen magazine: “… for those who are up for something different and delicious we highly recommend you seek out this tucked away new gem whose flavoursome offerings are sure to leave you further enamoured with the virtues of Asian fare.” The magazine notes that the flavours of Filipino cuisine have hitherto been ‘underexposed’ and were not easily accessible to Aucklanders; unless of course one was adventurous enough to venture into a Filipino community cafe.
But now there’s ‘Nanam’ – serving food that is not ‘traditional’ but rather Filipino inspired, that appeals to a wider market that includes both Pinoys and Kiwis. At the moment, we are told, about 60% of the clients are Filipinos.
You will find this ‘hidden gem’ in a row of shop houses along Symonds Street in Royal Oak. The décor is urban-chic and welcoming. A Pinoy man-about-town portrayed the vibe as “very hip and contemporary” on his Facebook page.
The pioneers behind this venture are a gutsy Filipino couple, Andrew Soriano and Jessabel Granada, who felt that the time was ripe to launch a good Filipino restaurant that has wider appeal.
“We are going along the path of a modern Filipino restaurant,” say Andrew and Jess, who own the restaurant. “We’re trying to retain the bold Filipino flavours and are making it exciting by using our knowledge of the food and techniques we have learnt along the way. As we are relatively young chefs we tend to be adventurous with food.”
There are 15 selections on the restaurant’s menu and it changes seasonally. “We want to serve the produce that’s in season, which keeps the quality fresh and the price affordable. When we were deciding which dishes would go into our menu we asked ourselves: ‘what did I like eating as a kid for breakfast, lunch and dinner?’ Our personal childhood favourites were the inspiration for the menu,” explains the pair.
Their modern interpretation of classic Filipino dishes was evident in the selection of dishes my family ordered. It was fascinating to see ‘Sinigang Chicken’ on the menu. Sinigang is a popular soup in the Philippines. Here they marinate the sinigang flavours into the roast chicken and make a salsa using all the vegetables you usually find in the traditional dish, minus the soup.
Similarly their ‘adobo’ is quite different as they incorporate a lot of fresh ingredients available in New Zealand. Instead of pork and/or beef, lamb is used for the adobo. The meat is braised with all the ingredients that normally go into an adobo dish. The potatoes are prepared separately from the lamb to create a chunky croquette. Even though they don’t add too much sauce you still get all the fundamental flavours of adobo.
My 10-year-old son, a picky eater, was attracted to the pink ‘Taco Pao’ that is pictured on the restaurant’s website. Basically, it is a deconstructed ‘Sio Pao’. The diners get to create their own steamed buns by putting together the different ingredients from a selection of condiments, which can be quite fun. Making this dish from scratch on site is what makes it so good, from the steam buns to the pulled pork humba, pickles and chicharon (pork crackling). Sounds like a lot of work for the chefs. For Andrew Soriano it has been a labour of love; he has been perfecting this recipe over two years. Before opening the restaurant the chefs even set up a stall at some of the night markets in Auckland to see how consumers would react to their creations. It turned out to be a spectacular success as people were lining up to buy the buns.
Other recommendations on the menu are a side-order of ‘palayan’ seafood rice to share and Jessabel’s personal favourite – ‘pinaputok’, fish with lentils and curry, cooked in banana leaves. This provincial dish from Batangas is a bit sweet and sour. My wife enjoyed the ‘Relyeno’ or squid stuffed with ‘Vigan Longganisa’. Another best-seller is the sizzling ‘Sisig’ chicken hearts.
As they say, no Filipino meal is complete without dessert. “Hands down the best halo halo ever,” according to ‘man-about-town’. “They took a classic dessert and added a twist. The best.” Naturally we had to try it and found out that it’s not just shavings of ice with little components. Ryan Soriano, a young aspiring chef (Andrew’s brother), has put in a lot of thought and effort into creating this special treat.
Last words from all the diners. “Filpino food with class.” “Red Horse beer complimented the meal. Cheers.” And it was a top notch experience for me as well. Definitely worth another trip to Nanam Eatery, 126 Symonds Street, Royal Oak, Auckland, tel: 625-6558, email: firstname.lastname@example.org