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  • Writer's pictureArmand

A Rose (Except it's Pork) by Any Other Name…

One Friday evening in mid-September of this year, my friend Diego called to greet me a belated happy birthday. As comfortable and spontaneous as one would expect from a decades-old friendship, he then said he wanted to treat me to dinner if I was free that evening (I was). After considering several options, we settled on JT’s Manukan’s Kalayaan Avenue branch located at the central area of Quezon City near city hall.

As we made our way inside the place, my friend volunteered that he has become a regular of JT’s Manukan since he first dined at one of their branches in San Juan City about a year ago. I told him it was my first time. All I knew at that point about JT’s Manukan was that its principal owner is actor Joel Torre and they serve chicken inasal. Inasal, from what I gathered, is the Hiligaynon method of grilling meat, which has gained a following even to those living outside its region of origin, particularly those in Metro Manila and outlying provinces.

Though I’m a life-long avid foodie who loves to be out front and explore new flavors and textures, I was completely fine with my friend ordering for both of us. On top of also being passionate about food (though not as adventurous), he was already a regular at JT’s Manukan and thus quite familiar with the menu. Besides, he was also paying for the dinner. The least I could do was trust his judgment. He picked as my main course the Paa, the dark meat portion of chicken consisting of the thigh and the leg, marinated beforehand and grilled to perfection the inasal way. We both had a light beef broth.

Notwithstanding his gastronomic zeal, my friend is handicapped with a number of food quirks, such as his longstanding and mysterious (even to him) aversion to chicken. A fact that I remembered only after I found out what he ordered for himself, which I did not hear when he did so, or perhaps I wasn’t paying attention so I missed it. When his order arrived, the meat on two skewers appeared slightly similar (at least to me, and at least at first glance) to our Pinoy pork BBQ. But even looking up-close, I still could not tell for sure. The meat on the skewers were overly plump and each seemed like a single elongated slab instead of several chunks, which what our pork BBQ usually looks like. The meat looked leaner and did not have that piece of fat at the near end of the skewer that had become a distinct feature of Pinoy pork BBQ . The color of the grilled meat was also noticeably paler than the red/orange tone that we’re familiar with.

Not wanting to appear ignorant (especially about food) by asking what it was, I picked up a menu to check if there was photo of it. Nada. So, I went online on my mobile phone and eventually figured it out. Sate Babi, the Indonesian (read as Balinese) version of pork BBQ. Oh, ok… It was certainly not something I expected to see in the menu of a local food chain, much less one that’s rooted in Hiligaynon cuisine. However, as a foodie, I deferred judgment and thought there must be a good reason why it’s in the menu. I don’t remember exactly how long it has been since the last time I’ve had Sate Babi (it must have been a while; perhaps it could’ve been at a Singaporean resto). This one even looked different from what I remember having, which isn’t to say that it doesn’t look good. It does. There’s only one way to find out, though. Sample the damn thing.

I really can’t say how different JT’s version of the Sate Babi is from the ones I had before; besides, I can’t even remember if they all tasted the same except for the peanut sauce that came with some versions, and I suspect even the marinades varied. It might be unfair, but my gut (no pun intended) tells me that I’m better off comparing it to pinoy pork BBQ since that’s what I thought it was. In which case, this was more tender, milder in taste with a hint of ginger (I could be wrong about the ginger) but still delicious. It did not come across as overly flavored, as most pinoy pork BBQ would seem, especially the ones sold at street stalls. I wish it had some of the highly carcinogenic burnt bits of fat that traditional Pinoy pork BBQ is known for (as some versions of Sate Babi as well), but its perhaps best that way, especially for someone a year shy of senior citizen status. I noted that it also didn’t give a cloying sensation that one gets when a film of fat gets trapped in the roof one’s mouth.

All things considered, I really like it and would have it again. This is also one of those rare instances that it didn’t matter to me what it’s called. Sate Babi, Balinese pork satay, pork BBQ…whatever. As the saying goes, a rose by any other name is still a rose. In this particular instance, it could just be generically called grilled pork in skewers, but one that’s exceptionally tender and deliciously light.

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