MANILA -- When one mentions Filipino food, the culinary capitals of Luzon and Visayas are top of mind. Yet very few know about the recipes from Mindanao.
Palm Grill in Tomas Morato has quietly been spreading the word about Southern Mindanaoan and Tausug cooking since it opened in 2017. The restaurant features food from the ZAMBASULTA region of Mindanao or Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi.
“My close friends thought that I was crazy for putting up a restaurant in Manila. Considering that there's a lot of bad connotations to when you say Southern Mindanao. They said that it would probably be hard for me to introduce this cuisine here, because of the fact that those places are less traveled. And those places always are being thought of unsafe,” recalled Miguel Cabel Moreno, one of the owners of Palm Grill.
Moreno, who was born in Jolo, Sulu and was raised in Zamboanga, is really proud of the culture and heritage he grew up with. Palm Grill is part of his advocacy to champion Southern Mindanaoan cuisine and for it to be recognized as a true Filipino heritage cuisine.
It’s the small touches that make the food exceptional. Take the complementary cup of soup that’s served as you come in. This is not your typical throwaway cup of soup. Rather, it’s a strong fragrant gingery soup that reminds one of halaan.
A key ingredient that Palm Grill uses is the pamapa. This is a mix of ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, galangal, and toasted coconut that is used in its specialties. Moreno has blocks of this prepared, frozen, and packaged back from their farm in Mindanao. These are then shipped to Manila for use in their dishes.
A must-try is the Green Chicken, Palm Grill’s version of Tausug specialty chicken pianggang, made out of the pamapa and more toasted coconut. The toasted coconut’s creamy flavors and the spices really shine through. Traditionally, the coconut bits are burnt to the point of being charcoal black. Palm Grill’s version is more brown and green than black as they avoid the carcinogenic effects of blackened ingredients.
Shrimps cooked in coconut milk and spices is what makes up the Locon Zamboanga. The thick orange sauce is similar to the Alavar sauce which Palm Grill also uses with the curacha.
Toasted coconut is also the highlighted ingredient of the Tiyula Itum. Think of this as bulalo with the exotic spices used in the pianggang. The soup is rich and has an exotic spin to it due to the galangal, turmeric, ginger, lemongrass and other herbs and spices mixed in with the beef broth. Adding another level of richness is the addition of bone marrow which is torched on the table right after serving.
Satti, or skewers of grilled chicken and beef, is a favorite Zamboangeno breakfast. Long lines form at satti restaurants at the early hours of the morning. The skewers come with a bowl of soupy sauce that is similar to spicy sweet fishball sauce.
The Chicken Labuyo is not for the faint of heart and faint of palate. This is a massive serving of wings basted with Palm Grill’s labuyo sauce. The pool of dark red oil below the chicken should serve as a warning to proceed with extreme caution as one bite can set your mouth on fire. But for people who love spicy food, the intense kick should be heaven. Order another cup of rice to scrape off the leftover sauce and oil if you’re still hungry.
For dessert, the Knicker Iced Treat is Palm Grill’s own version of the Zamboanga fruit halo-halo. What’s different about this halo-halo is that it uses ice cream in lieu of shaved ice and evaporated milk. It can be rather sweet with its mix of flavored gelatin, bananas, and watermelon.
Have a cup of Kahawa Premium Coffee made from single-origin Sulu beans roasted in wine and butter. The coffee is an excellent companion to the Knicker Iced Treat.
Moreno and his partners believe that the fastest way to spread the word about their food is through franchising. The group already has one kiosk at StarMall specializing in chicken pianggang and have plans to set up more around the city soon.
Palm Grill can be found at the corner of Tomas Morato and Scout Castor in Quezon City and is open daily from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m.