Say hello to Abdul Salam, owner, pattern maker and cutter at his own menswear brand called SIR. After a three year stint working at mens boutique TRUE in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, he decided to come back to the motherland, (the Philippines) to start his own business. I met up with him at a little turo-turo (literally point-point) slash grill spot in the Katipunan area of Quezon City called Que Rico for some typical, cheap-ass Filipino street food and a lot of conversation.
Being a Muslim-Filipino has made it sometimes challenging to find food he can eat, because many things in the Philippines have pork or might be cooked with pork or in pork oil, but this trooper found a few fun and interesting things to eat at this roadside eatery frequented mostly by students of nearby colleges because of their cheap grub and ice cold beers.
What Abdul ate:
Stir fried beef Tapa
Chicken ass on a stick
Grilled dried squid
What I ate:
Sizzling Sisig (Pig ears, snout and cheeks, chopped up and fried with onions until crispy)
Isaw (pig intestines barbecued on a stick)
Erica Paredes: What experience have you had in this field in the past that led you to where you are now?
Abdul Salam: Working at TRUE gave me the foundation I needed to do what I’m doing now. I found myself back in Manila mid-2009. I took a basic men’s tailoring class that taught me very basic sewing and pattern-drafting. I wasn’t too happy with the result so I ended up self-studying for another year-and-a-half. I hired my first tailor and opened up shop in February of this year and we’ve been making custom shirts for a little over seven months.
EP: How does the typical Filipino man dress?
Abdul Salam: The other day I saw a dude at a club in rocking a pea-coat like it was snowing outside. I think he might have even had a scarf wrapped around his neck too. That stuff doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m like, “Word? here in Manila? You couldn’t even wait ‘till your next Baguio trip to rock that?”
It would be nice to have a local brand that acknowledges that we’re not the US or Europe, that we don’t have four seasons, and that we don’t want all this over-embellished and corny shit on our clothes, we just want stuff that makes sense. Give me a proper fitting navy linen suit, a madras coat, seersucker trousers, voile shirts, or even, a dress-shirt made of pinya, and have it available all-year round because all it is is HOT-HOT-HOT here in the Philippines.
EP: Tell us more about Filipino cuisine. What is a defining word for it? What is the food like down South in Mindanao were your family is from?
Abdul Salam: The defining word for me would be silog. It’s the best breakfast dish in the world, folks. You got your fried egg, garlic rice and vinegar, soy sauce and atchara (pickled papaya) on the side, and your choice of meat: beef tapa (dried beef), longanisa (Filipino style sausage), bangus (milkfish), bacon, Hong Kong-style fried chicken, hotdogs… It’s a great way to start the day for all Filipinos.
Down south where my Dad’s from, Marawi City aka the Islamic city of the Philippines, the food’s very similar to Indonesian and Malaysian cooking: hot chillies, strongly flavoured spices, curry, and of course, no pork. Carabao/beef randang, piarin (meat with coconut base and yellow curry) and dilaw na kanin (yellow rice) were usual suspects at family get-togethers at home or at a relatives. It is an acquired taste to some but I do recommend you try it sometime. Durian, on the other hand - the king of all fruit in Marawi - was something I never caught onto.
EP: Do you like Filipino street food?
Abdul Salam: My top three choices would be:
1. Squid balls
You can’t go wrong at P2 pesos a piece! Plus, you have two choices of unlimited sauce to go with you squid: you got your sweet brown stuff, and your spicy brown stuff with chilli. Don’t ask any questions, the stuff goes great with the squid.
2. Dirty Ice Cream
The ice cream isn’t really dirty. It’s just called that because it’s sold in the street. They usually have four flavours to choose from - ube, cheese, mango and chocolate. The key to enjoying it though, is by having a pandesal (Filipino bread) sandwich. The cones don’t do dirty ice cream justice.
This is probably the best thing ever created by a Filipino. Tapioca, soft tofu, and brown sugar syrup.
EP: How do you think the essence of the Filipino is seen its cuisine?
Abdul Salam: We are what we eat. So, we are somewhere along the lines of calamansi (Philippine lime), toyo (soy sauce), garlic, brown sauce, sizzling plate, sinigang, tapsilog, lechon, unlimited rice, sugar, inihaw, inasal, and even a Jollibee regular yum with cheese. You’re bound to find the Filipino essence there. It’s easy, sweet, comfortable and full of sodium.
1. Que Rico’s fading menu. Painted on the wall for easy decision-making.
2. An order of grilled dried squid. Salty, a bit chewy and great with a bottle of cold San Miguel Beer.
3. Pork BBQ. Typically marinated in a sweet sauce and basted in it while it grills, it’s a tender, sweet pork typically eaten as a mid afternoon snack, at parties and well, almost anytime, anywhere.
4. Abdul sampling the Chicken ass. Yep, it actually does say “chicken ass” on the menu. I’m sure you have all had that little butt connected to everyone’s favorite dark meat of the thigh. We Pinoys just like to make it easier but sticking a bunch of them on a skewer so we can get a fatty explosion with each bite.
5. Beef Tapa. This is typically part of a Filipino Breakfast called a silog (sinigang or garlic rice and itlog or egg). Whatever you eat with it is added in the mix so if it’s tapa, you are eating Tapsilog, corned beef is Cornsilog and so forth. Tapa is a dried, cured beef that is in my opinion, the best cure for a major hangover.
6. Pork Sisig. Crispy pig face. I’m embarrassed to admit I only tried it in college, but I’ve been a fan ever since.
7. Garlic rice or sinangag. A Pinoy meal staple.
8. Isaw. Usually made with pig or chicken intestines that are cleaned, boiled and then grilled.
EAT WITH YOUR HANDS
by Erica Paredes