“The dishes here are totally different from what I’ve been doing before,” said Chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou as he welcomed journalists to his newly-opened Pandan Asian Café along Scout Limbaga in Tomas Morato, Quezon City last week.
His opening statement was both an invitation and a challenge, especially coming on the heels of his all-Filipino restaurant, Talisay, which he opened in the last quarter of 2019. Talisay, a bright spot in the gastronomic cornucopia that is Maginhawa St., also in Quezon City, embodies Chef Myke’s bold, brave, and unapologetic take on elevating traditional Filipino dishes.
“There is no ego at work here at Pandan in the sense that there was no need to own the dishes and come up with my own version. There was no effort to Filipinize the menu,” he said.
Chef Myke added, “The dishes here are very straightforward, and are as authentic and classic as possible. These are the dishes that I have come to love in my travels across Southeast Asia.”
Food, after all, evokes memories, and Pandan Asian Café does not disappoint.
The seafood laksa offers the same comforting sweet, sour, and spicy flavors that you would get had you been eating at a hawker stall in Singapore or Malaysia. The coconut milk provides the perfect foil to the spicy sambal, which is made from scratch—and treacherous, if I may say, as the spicy kick in other dishes such as the beef rendang and sambal ikan do not hit you until after a few minutes, when it is already quite late and you’d need to gulp down iced Vietnamese coffee or cucumber lemonade to assuage your taste buds, and then eat some more. The laksa comes with noodles, generous slices of fish cake, prawn, tofu, and boiled egg—a complete meal in itself.
There’s char kway teow—flat rice noodles cooked Penang-style, a personal favorite of Chef Myke. It is sautéed in pork lard (yes, pork lard, cholesterol be damned) and topped with crispy pork strips and Chinese sausage.
The beef rendang, an Indonesian dish, has a very intense flavor that it will be almost offensive not to eat it with rice. You can go for plain rice, but the aromatic nasi goreng—Indonesian fried rice with eggs, chicken, vegetables, and crispy dilis—will also go well with the rendang. As for me, I found the inasal rice more to my liking—perhaps it was because of the crispy chicken skin rice toppings that contrasted well with the very tender beef rendang chunks.
Perhaps the only dish that Chef Myke had to tweak a little was the sambal ikan. Traditionally, this would have used stingray, but he opted to prepare the dish with whole pompano, grilled on a banana leaf and served with a generous heap of sambal paste.
For samplers, there’s the Vietnamese platter that has fresh spring rolls, chicken and pork satay with peanut sauce, and fried shrimp rolls; while the Singaporean platter includes char siu BBQ pork, deep-fried lechon Macao, and the classic hawker staple, Hainanese chicken.
“Our menu was created in a way that even if you mix the dishes from different Southeast Asian countries, your food will not be confusing, and the pairing will not be weird,” Chef Myke said.
If anything, there is a sense of belongingness, of being at home, despite and because of the rich flavors that are foreign yet familiar, given the similarities in ingredients and the differences in preparation.
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