In a country where over ninety per cent of the population live below the poverty line, it helps to be both frugal and creative when it comes to food. Nothing illustrates the frugality and creativity of the Filipino better than barbecue. When I was growing up in a not-too-crowded Metro Manila, barbecue meant charcoal-grilled marinated slices of pork or chicken breast, legs or thighs in bamboo skewers. If not home-cooked, they were mostly sold in restaurants that specialized in grilled food. Aristocrat, for instance, already an institution in the Philippine restaurant scene, has been consistently serving great pork and chicken barbecue for decades. I remember Jack’s Restaurant and Blue Spot Restaurant in Caloocan, both famous for their barbecue.
Probably the first non-restaurant that became famous in Metro Manila for its barbecue was Lapid’s. As far as I know, the first outlet was in the working class neighborhood of Tayuman in the City of Manila. An aunt who passed by the area to and from work everyday was the first in my family to discover Lapid’s.
By the time I was in college, barbecue had taken on a new dimension.
While the pork and chicken barbecue have remained — and remained popular — over the years, barbecue, in its generic sense, has long ceased to be a mere specialty of restaurants. Barbecue has evolved into a popular street food, accessible and affordable for the masses. Varieties of barbecue have multiplied too. Today, a makeshift barbecue stall on the side of the street will often have an array of skewered meats that include pork intestines, pork ears, pork or beef blood, chicken heads, chicken feet, chicken intestines, chicken livers and gizzards. Cheaper cuts of meat and chicken, and the less expensive entrails, are more within the price range of the masses. It was a democratization of the barbecue. But it also gave barbecue a more exotic aura.
Customers of these humble barbecue stalls are not limited to the financially disadvantaged. In many places, it isn’t uncommon to see a long queue of empty cars, their owners beside the grill and waiting for their orders. Many bring home the barbecue to be enjoyed at the family dinner table.
But the best way to experience barbecue these days is to eat it right off the grill with the two dipping sauces that are made especially for them. These sauces, in large jars, are strategically placed a few feet from the grill. Hold the bamboo skewer and dip the still smoking and sizzling meat first in the spicy vinegar then in the thick sweet sauce. Then, enjoy. If course, it’s not an experience for everyone.
The photos in the previous page were taken at the Beverly Hills Subdivision in Antipolo earlier today. We were on our way home from the kids’ school and there was this barbecue stall along the way. Students and teachers alike enjoy the barbecue there so my kids are very much familiar with it. We were running late and I knew there wouldn’t be enough time to cook dinner. Considering how hungry we already were, passing by the barbecue stall seemed like a good idea.
Did we enjoy a hearty meal? You bet we did. Take home barbecue does not mean we can’t enjoy the two sauces, you know. They’re part of the package.
I’m not saying, of course, that barbecue as a street food is good everywhere and anywhere in the Philippines. There are fly-by-night stalls where the quality of the meat — and the sanitation — leave much to be desired. You just have to discover the ones that sell good barbecue — the kind that makes you come back again and again. With the barbecue stalls that proliferate these days, there’s bound to be one not too far from where you’re at. :)