Friday, February 28, 2014

Freshly Baked! Pork Chops




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Some time ago, a friend wrote about this little hole-in-the-wall silogan in the Little Baguio area for Pepper.ph. Quirkily named the “Yakitate Pork Chop House”, I encountered this little shack in the woods—so to speak—quite often, especially back when I was commuting to the Greenhills area on a daily basis. I’ve never had the time (or, truth be told, the guts) to give Yakitate a shot, but after Nico’s review, I knew I just had to stop by and check out what they had to offer.

You may be wondering why I would be so interested on a roadside eatery like Yakitate. The reason behind this is the fact that the restaurant is named after a popular anime called Yakitate! Japan—which is all about making bread. But the disconnect notwithstanding, the name Yakitate translates to “Freshly Made!”, which is unusual when it comes to something as pedestrian as pork chop.

But that’s where the, shall we say, uniqueness of Yakitate Pork Chop House begins. On the outside, it won’t seem that different from any other roadside eatery you’d find here in Metro Manila.

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When you enter the store, it’s easy to imagine that cleanliness isn’t one of their strongest areas, since the plastic tables and chairs are old and scruffy, the floor is stained and faded, and the walls are such a dirty yellow that it wouldn’t be surprising if the color was a mix of the paint and the smog from both their kitchen and the pollution from the traffic along the nearby Pinaglabanan road.

The dismal interior, however, isn’t enough to deter the droves of people who visit the restaurant regularly. The local neighborhood of Yakitate is populated by the old rich, affluent families who built their homes in the Little Baguio area when it was still quite the remote location. Nearby are two of the more prestigious schools of the Metro, the Immaculate Concepcion Academy, and the Xavier School for boys. These people lining up aren’t there to dine in the eatery; they’re there to buy several porksilogs—a portmanteau of pork chop, sinangag (fried rice), and itlog (a fried egg), and bring them home to their walled houses. Often you’ll see a classy car in the sidewalk next to it, with the driver waiting patiently for the meal of his charge. In other words, despite its appearance, Yakitate serves a decidedly uppercrust clientele.

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If you choose to dine in the premises, however, you will be given the choice of eating either at the bar overlooking the kitchen, or on one of their tables. If you’re alone, you will most likely choose the bar, which will give you an additional treat of seeing how your meal is done. Majority of the cooking is done on a burger stove overlooking the street; the pork chops are deep fried on one of two side burners. After placing your order, the cook will dip a piece of pork chop in a vat of flavored flour—flavored with salt and pepper, I would imagine—and then plop it in a pan of gently bubbling oil.

Afterwards, she scoops up a cup of freshly cooked rice from another vat, and places that on one side of the burger stove. The stir frying commences, during which she sprinkles a mixture of what I imagine to be salt, garlic powder, and MSG onto the rice. Most people might find this a bit unnerving—what the hell, after all, are they putting in your rice?

Once you get past the initial shock of seeing a couple of tablespoons of Mystery Powder being sprinkled onto your fried rice, however, you will notice that by then, the cook has now placed an egg ring on the other half of the stove, and was quickly cooking your egg. She doesn’t sprinkle any salt on this, strangely enough, but the amount of salt found in the rest of the items on your meal should more than make up for what was left out of the egg.

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Once the cooking process is done, the sinangag is once again placed into a cup, which is transferred onto a plate. The pork chop and the fried egg are then arranged on top of it. Well, perhaps arranged isn’t the word for it. But at the price you’re paying for your meal, you don’t expect an artisinal plate to be presented for your inspection.

After the first bite, you will discover that whatever it was they placed on the pork chop and the fried rice, it works. The flavor of the meat is immersive and rich (although it did have the tendency to be a bit dry), whereas the fried rice doesn’t taste like artificial flavoring at all. There’s a hint of the garlic powder, but nothing that would overpower the taste of the pork chop so much to inhibit your enjoyment of the main dish.

The egg, on the other hand, was the star of the show. It is very difficult to get an egg fried on both sides without drying up the yolk in between; the timing required to get this done is really difficult, especially for a fry cook handling anything from two to five orders at any given moment. But if there’s anything that Yakitate does right, it would be the egg. Fried on what looks like melted butter to an almost crispy brown on either side, the center of this humble side dish was liquid gold oozing out from an otherwise toughened exterior. I found myself thinking that this wasn’t the cooking skills of somebody you’d expect to find on a roadside eatery. This was quality cooking!

While the service staff of Yakitate was what you’d expect from a silogan, the quality of the food, and its popularity, made my visit quite the exciting little trip. I am willing to go out of my way for a good deal on good food (what Pepper calls its “ghetto grubs”), and it can be really difficult to improve on what Yakitate has to offer. Now if only they served bread.

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