THERE is no question that many of our favorite Filipino (or Pinoy) dishes are either deep fried, roasted, or grilled. We do know that both deep frying and grilling are not the healthiest ways to cook your food. Deep frying can add calories to the food and are rich in trans-fats (unless you deep fry with olive oil, which is quite expensive and impractical). Trans fats are associated with several diseases including cardiovascular problems, cancer, and diabetes. The problem with grilling and even roasting — specially if like me, you love those charred portions — are known to release heterocyclic amines (HAs) that are said to be cancer-causing. While these Filipino favorites are not the healthiest of foods, it is not a problem for occasional, or even seasonal indulgence. In this column I will explore foods that are super accessible to all Filipinos and are equally deserving to be paired with wines. I focus here on just red meat. This is my anti-snob take, and I will not include wagyu beef, Iberico pork, lamb loin, or other expensive and more refined meats.
I chose the following restaurants/kiosks and my favorite dishes from their menus because these are readily found here in Metro Manila as they have several branches and are local staples for takeout or delivery. The wines I am suggesting to pair with these foods are also available and were chosen based on my own experience drinking them with these local dishes.
1. ANDOK’S LITSON BAKA (THEIR VERSION OF ROAST BEEF)
Background: Andok’s was started by Sandy Javier, the brother of Danny Javier of the Apo Hiking Society and comedian George “Dyords” Javier in Dec. 1985. The name Andok’s was a tribute to the Javier patriarch, Leonardo Javier, whose nickname was Andok. Andok’s now has 300+ branches nationwide. The initial product was their litson manok (roast chicken) but over time they added litson bangus, pork chop, pork BBQ and many more. Recently, Andok’s added litson baka to their menu which is one of their best sellers already.
Taste: Andok’s litson baka comes already thinly sliced, so the meat is quite easy to chew, not as lean as most would like, but it is succulent and tender enough. Can’t be compared to Angus or Wagyu, but Andok’s litson baka is nicely flavored, layered with a sweet and Knorr-like seasoning that is well integrated into the meat. The litson baka comes with a vinegar sauce, which could add some nice extra zest to the beef, though I prefer the litson baka “as is,” especially with wine.
Wine Pair: I would recommend a New World Cabernet Sauvignon, notably American, Australian and Chilean — more of semi-dry styles, or, an alternative, is a young un-oaked Argentine Malbec.
Price: P390/400gm (estimated)
2. BALIWAG LIEMPO (PORK BELLY)
Background: Husband and wife team of Dwight and Dolores Salcedo opened their first Baliwag lechon manok kiosk (the “lechon” spelled differently from Andok’s “litson”) in Nov. 1985 — a month earlier than Andok’s. The couple named it Baliwag Lechon Manok after Dolores’ hometown of Baliwag, Bulacan. To date, Baliwag has 400+ branches nationwide.
Taste: While I have tried several versions of liempo, including those of competitor Andok’s, I really preferred the Baliwag version the most. The seasoning on the meat and the level of char are just what I look for. The meat is very tasty, and even the skin is not rubbery like others. It comes with a nice thick and sweet liver sauce, like a pseudo-diluted version of Mang Tomas lechon sauce.
Wine Pair: I recommend Tempranillo wines from Spain, whether from Rioja, Ribera del Duero or even Toro. Tempranillo has an inherent acidity that cuts through the liempo fat and has genuinely nice complementary fruit flavors. Aged Tempranillo like a Roble (semi-aged) up to a Crianza (six to 12 months in oak) would be my first choice.
Price: P205/370 gm (estimated)
3. GORDO’S CRISPY PATA (FRIED PIG TROTTERS OR KNUCKLES)
Background: Gordo’s Crispy Pata started in Sept. 2014 at Karangalan Village, Cainta, Rizal. The place was so popular that inquiries from Metro Manila came in and Gordo’s expanded and branched out to Pasig City, and then to Quezon City, and today Gordo’s has 24 stores operating in Metro Manila and Rizal. Crispy pata is their main product, but they also have Crispy Ulo (pig head) and Crispy Tenga (pig ears).
Taste: Crispy pata has always been one of Filipinos’ special occasion foods. I have ordered crispy pata in Barrio Fiesta, Max’s, Gerry’s Grill, and other restaurants, but it is so nice to see that you can buy it in a Gordo’s neighborhood kiosk. Gordo’s crispy pata is exactly what I would expect from any restaurant — the skin is crunchy and delectable, and the meat is tasty and moist. The Gordo’s crispy pata comes with their special vinegar sauce.
Wine Pair: I recommend juicy and fruit forward wines like Barossa Shiraz, Piedmont Barbera, and Grenache wines.
Price: P520/1.1 kilo (small size, estimated)
4. CHOOKS TO-GO ROAST CHICKEN
Background: Chooks To-Go started sometime in 2008 as a forward integration from the Bounty Agro Ventures (BAVI), owned by Tennyson Chen. Bounty Fresh is their main brand and they are a huge supplier of vacuum-sealed dressed chicken and chicken choice cuts in supermarkets. Chooks To-Go became their rotisserie chicken chain, and it was a big hit immediately. Unlike other roast chicken, Chooks prides itself in being delicious even without any sauce. Right now, Chooks To-Go has over 1,700 branches nationwide, and is a huge sponsor in the Philippine basketball scene.
Taste: Chooks To-Go unapologetically described their roast chicken as delicious even without any sauce. It is indeed my hands-down choice for roast chicken as it has a cured sweet ham taste that makes it so irresistible. The Sweet Roast variant is the all-time favorite of Chooks’ regular buyers, but the roast chicken also comes in two other variants: Pepper Roast and Harissa Roast (harissa being a spicy sauce that originated in North Africa).
Wine Pair: I really like a Moscato, sweet Riesling, off dry South African Chenin Blanc, or the Anjou Blanc, also made from Chenin Blanc in Loire, France — sweeter side white wines are my go-to wines for this roast chicken.
Price: P260/whole chicken around 900 gm. (estimated)
5. ARISTOCRAT CHICKEN BBQ
Background: Engracia “Asiang” Cruz Reyes started Aristocrat in 1936 as a humble canteen along Luneta in Roxas Boulevard. Asiang wanted to name the canteen after her eldest son, Andy, who was hesitant to give his name to the small canteen as he was embarrassed by the thought that his classmates at the Ateneo would ridicule him. So Asiang’s comeback name was Aristocrat, a nice jab at her son. The rest, as they say, is history. I have fond memories of Aristocrat when, as a kid, our family would make almost bi-monthly visits to the main Roxas Boulevard branch for our favorite chicken BBQ. My other personal favorite growing up was the Adobo flying saucer sandwich, which I still occasionally crave for when I chance upon an Aristocrat branch. Aristocrat has 17 branches now.
Taste: Classic Aristocrat chicken BBQ is sweet, succulent, juicy, and charred perfectly. The set meal comes with Java rice (that famous orange colored rice made with annatto powder etc.), and atchara (pickled green papaya), and comes with their equally famous Java sauce (made with sugar, peanuts, and soy sauce).
Wine Pair: Lambrusco, especially the Lambrusco Reggiano Frizzante which is a sweet light-bodied sparkling red wine that exudes grapey flavors. I say this with no disrespect that it is no coincidence that soft drinks are best with Aristocrat chicken BBQ, and the Lambrusco Reggiano Frizzante is closest to a Fanta Grape drink you can ever find.
Price: P285/Chicken BBQ three piece-stick Meal Set
All the wines I suggested above for wine pairing are reasonably priced, and should go for below P1,000 in your favorite wine shops. The objective is to have a holiday feast with wines without breaking the bank. Most of these recommendations are comfort foods, and while they are not normally paired with wines in your usual lunch or dinner, this holiday season, add wine to upgrade these meals and feel the yuletide spirit.
The author is the only Filipino member of the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, please e-mail the author at email@example.com, or check his wine training website https://thewinetrainingcamp.wordpress.com/services