MANILA -- The flavors in Thai cooking are exotic as they are, amd with Isaan food, we get flavors that are uncommon and suited to the more adventurous palate.
Easy Tiger has been giving Filipinos a taste of Isaan cuisine at its stall at the Corner Market at the Podium. Now, with its full-fledged restaurant at Uptown Mall in Taguig, it’s able to offer much more.
“What we are more familiar with in the Philippines is royal palace cuisine,” noted Al Purugganan, one of the owners of Easy Tiger who conceptualized the restaurant, adding that Filipinos equate Thai food with dishes such as pad Thai, tom yum, and the occasional red and green curry.
Purugganan is no stranger to Thai food as he is behind some of the more popular Thai casual dining restaurants in Manila specializing in royal palace cuisine.
“Isaan cuisine is characterized and pungent flavors influenced by the harsh terrain of the region. They tend to be non-wasteful of what is harvested. The food is characterized by intense sour, sweet, spicy and salty flavors altogether. If something is flavorful, a little goes a long way,” explains Purugganan.
Stepping inside, the interiors remind one of off-the-grid eateries in rural Thailand, as well as chic restaurants in the Bangkok malls.
On one side of the wall, there are mismatched wooden slats that seem to be strewn together haphazardly into a puzzle panel. Another side is made of corrugated iron with posters from Thailand. A repurposed multifaceted wall from the previous tenant is randomly painted with different colors.
But the centerpiece of the restaurant is the chandelier made out of the distressed steel plates that are used in the restaurant.
The dishes themselves look very simple. But from this simplicity comes authentic Isaan flavors.
Rice is an option but not the primary one. Purugganan has an advocacy of introducing more vegetables to the Filipino diet. Most of the dishes are surrounded with raw string beans, som tam (green papaya salad), lettuce and cabbage. Dining here is somewhat similar to eating Korean samgyupsal where guests use the leafy vegetables as a wrap. The dishes come in what looks like hollowed out tree trunks adding to the rustic charm of Easy Tiger.
For example, the grilled Thai sausage (sai ua) may be an acquired taste. There’s a lingering sourness caused by the fermented pork and rice that’s used to stuff the sausage. Easy Tiger’s version is already tame by Isaan standards, but the slight sourness combined with galangal, kaffir lime, turmeric, cilantro, curry paste, lots of garlic and onion make for a truly unique bite.
Another dish that characterizes Isaan cuisine is pork neck. Purugganan had to go to the extent of butchering their own pigs because pork neck cuts are not available locally. These cuts, rich in fat and collagen, are tasty when dunked in Easy Tiger’s green curry dip.
Speaking of utilizing as much of the animal as possible, Easy Tiger also makes its own pork cracklings or chicharon from the pigs butchered for the pork neck. It’s not the usual ingredient in som tam but the saltiness and crunch make a nice addition to the salad.
Easy Tiger’s steak dish is also a salad dish. Their thai beef salad is made with grilled US flank steak with patis, fermented rice powder, wansoy and shallots. You can add fresh mint leaves to cool the dish down or chop up siling labuyo to spice it up.
The Isaan-style half-grilled chicken (gai yang) is like inasal. The chicken is a little sweet, and has a hint of lemongrass. This is served with two dipping sauces if you want to add heat.
If you’re looking for a quick affordable meal, Easy Tiger has meal sets to suit a budget. Just like this chicken sate meal, each one includes a cup of tom yum soup, rice, som tam, and dipping sauce. Other variants are curries, kra pows, and grilled meats.
The restaurant has a variety of Thai desserts on the menu like tako, a Thai tapioca pudding. Others include the Thai version of the halo-halo (ruamit), sticky rice with mango (khao niew mamuang), and grilled banana with coconut ice cream.
Wash this all down with their Thai drinks. Thai milk tea and Thai iced coffee are to be expected in any Thai restaurant. A unique option on Easy Tiger’s drink menu is the vegan Thai milk tea made with coconut milk. These are relatively cheaper than other milk tea joints as none of these costs over P100. There’s even a dedicated window outside the restaurant just for ordering these beverages.
Easy Tiger lets guests taste a different side of Thai cuisine. There’s still the sour, the sweet, and the spicy. Isaan cuisine takes these flavors and mixes them up in its own unique way.
In Easy Tiger, adventurous palates will be rewarded with flavors seldom tasted anywhere else in the country.