FOWL PLAY IN 'MANOKAN' COUNTRY
BACOLOD CITY, August 23, 2004 (STAR) A TASTE OF LIFE By Heny Sison - Food tasted much better the second time I visited the city of smiles, charming Bacolod. My gracious host from the Bacolod Negros Occidental Bakery Association, with the support of Ferna Corporation, invited chef Jane Paredes and me last July 31 for a cooking and baking demonstration. Because of the positive turnout, they invited me again for a repeat. How could I resist the offer of my hospitable and good-natured friends? In the back of my head, I could hear the famous Indiana Jones theme playing as scrumptious and delicious visions of food danced around in my head. Just like a scientist on the trail of a UFO sighting, I could not wait to embark on yet another gastronomic adventure with my food expedition team, composed of buddies and chefs Jane Paredes and Ben Go. Completing the crew were Benís sister Mary Yu and her husband Tony Yu.
Priority on my list was to find authentic chicken inasal, the real juicy deal from the humble sidewalk stalls of Bacolod where it was first developed. This delicacy is the most raved among Negrense specialties, and although this dish has spread its wings and is offered in the more popular chicken houses in the metro, I had to sink my teeth in the original recipe and experience for myself why chicken inasal has received so much acclaim.
Ben, who is a true-blooded Bacolod native, complete with the unmistakable Negrense accent, took us to Manokan Country. The call of the wild is hard to resist, which is why more friends joined us for the adventure. It was a bonding of three generations, from grandma Belle Serna, daughter Betsy and granddaughter Bessie. Food brings them together, and it is their love for food that keeps their relationship strong.
This was not a glamorous tour, mind you. Manokan Country is actually a strip of modest carinderia establishments not exactly listed in the Hommes Travel Destinations Guide Book. Nothing goes to waste here. Chicken is cut up and served in every way imaginable, from chicken feet to puwit ng manok, chicken liver and gizzard.
Come as you are is the dress code, and you may show up even in your frumpiest duster. No one will care. However, the moment I took a whiff of the sweet smoke wafting from the flames, I was instantly captured. The aroma just lifted me off my feet and led me straight to a rundown, rather decrepit joint called Nene Rose II. Looks do deceive, because if my nose should fail me, I would not know that I would be in the midst of chicken paradise.
I met heavenís gatekeeper, fowl heaven that is, the humble, gracious and soft-spoken Mang Melchor, who manages, owns and cooks the juiciest, tastiest native chicken that Iíve had in a long time. I watched him stoke the flames as skewered chicken in bamboo sticks were charcoal-grilled to perfection. Truly an ambassador of goodwill, he shared the formula in coming up with this delectable treat. Ginger, garlic, brown sugar, calamansi, rock salt and native coconut vinegar make up the marinade. The vinegar is the secret ingredient in making chicken inasal. After marinating, the chicken is basted in achuete oil. The skewered chicken each has two slits to let the juice ooze through as it cooks.
And what makes it chicken without equal? The secret, he claimed, is in the native coconut vinegar, which he uses in the marinade. This adds to the chickenís juicy succulence with a distinct taste thatís deliciously earthy and smoky. The inasal is not quite complete without its dipping sauce, which is a mix of sinamak, toyo, sili and calamansi. I had to take a picture of Mang Melchor for my column. Since I forgot to take along my digital camera, I used my cell phone instead. The picture came out hazy, so that once in Manila, I sought help from another hospitable Negrense, Jun Jun Lopingco, to take another picture of Mang Melchor. Here is a guy who is hesitant to be in the spotlight, but nevertheless deserves the credit and respect due him.
Presentation is a key factor in heightening oneís dining experience. But who needs to spruce up something that tastes heavenly as it is? You wouldnít want to mess up with perfection, right? At that time, ambience was the last thing on our minds as my fellow gastronomes and I were so busy licking our fingers spending the afternoon gorging on chicken inasal. With the aftertaste of the spices still tingling on our palates, I ordered an extra 30 pieces of half-cooked chicken inasal for pasalubong. Between me and the team, we took home a total of 54 pieces, all to be stored in the freezer to be thawed and grilled whenever the craving for chicken inasal takes over us, which is quite often. And now after a week of stuffing myself, I swear it will be quite a while before I lay my hands on a few good hensÖ but then again who knows? So, when in Bacolod, dear readers, do drop by Manokan Country. It may not be a tourist attraction, but with word of mouth, thanks to your adventurous taste buds, it may well soon will be!
Here is the recipe for Mang Melchorís chicken inasal.
Mang Melchorís Chicken Inasal chicken thigh or leg
cane vinegar or coconut vinegar
Marinate all ingredients for an one hour before grilling.
Before grilling, make the achuete oil.
Make a slit on each side of the marinated chicken.
Baste the chicken with achuete oil while grilling.
Serve with sinamak, soy sauce, calamansi and fresh siling labuyo.
To make the achuete oil: Warm enough achuete seeds in lots of cooking oil over moderate heat for one to two minutes. Do not let the oil burn. Set aside and stir until the oil turns orange in color.
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Exact measurements of the ingredients are not listed because Mang Melchor says he does it by feeling and tasting. In other words he does it oido. You can also do the same. I guarantee that it will be as tasty and juicy as Mang Melchorís.
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Let Heny Sison know the result of your chicken inasal experiment by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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