Styling himself as the Banksy of dining, Leo Reyes swoops in at lunchtime to drop off dishes inspired by his native archipelago
In a small flat above a beauty salon, down a narrow alley off Street 63, Leo “Bandoy” Reyes prepared the day’s lunch: stewed pork adobo, wrapped in banana leaves and accompanied by salty boiled egg, eggplant salad, tomato chunks and rice.
Almost every day for the past month, this one-man operation has been delivering tasty Filipino lunch-boxes – on his mountain bike – to Phnom Penh homes and businesses.
“I like to think of it as a guerrilla kitchen,” said 43-year-old Reyes who styles himself as the Banksy of Phnom Penh’s food industry – a mysterious figure who swoops in at lunchtimes to drop off cheap traditional Filipino fare.
Over a meal of leftover adobo in his tiny flat this week, his kitchen in one corner and bed in another, Reyes told how he started up the small-scale foray into the world of food delivery, which he calls Bandoy’s Binalot (“binalot” is a Filipino word referring to the method of wrapping in banana leaves).
The project he was working on with a forestry NGO ended in July, he said, and he found himself with some extra time on his hands.
“One day I said to myself: ‘I’m going to be cooking lunch anyway, why don’t I call up a few of my friends to see if they want some?’”
So far it’s a very small-scale operation – with only about 10 to 15 orders per day – and he only does lunch. In the morning, he spends about an hour cooking up a big batch of adobo – and sometimes other Filipino dishes – then wraps them up and delivers them on his bike.
He said he enjoys delivering the meals himself on bicycle because it fits with his eco-friendly attitude.
“It also keeps the balance; I have to taste test the product when I’m cooking, but then I burn it off riding around.”
Reyes said adobo – a slow-cooked meat stew with soy sauce, vinegar, lime, peppercorns and garlic – was Philippine’s unofficial national dish.
The name is derived from the Spanish word meaning “sauce” or “marinade”, and the dish is thought to go back to when the Spanish colonised the archipelago in the late 1500s.
“There’s a lot of debate back home about where the dish comes from – is it Chinese or European? It probably came over with the galley trade with the Portuguese and was influenced by the Chinese.”
“Filipinos are like a melting pot of all these influences, and so is adobo all mixed together.”
Each region in the Philippines has its own variety, Reyes said, but he bases his recipe on his mother’s, which he learned growing up in the Central Luzon islands.
While there is a similar Cambodian dish, adobo is less sweet and more salty, he said.
At the moment, Bandoy mainly cooks pork or chicken adobo, but he also offers pinatisang atay-balunan (chicken gizzard and liver in fish sauce).
As the business expands, he said he would like to offer more dishes, including vegetarian options.
“In the Philippines, we do this really nice vegetable soup, but it uses a special kind of fermented fish paste, known as bagoong,” Reyes said.
“It’s different to prahok, but it’s difficult to bring into the country because it’s so stinky.
“I was working at an NGO back in the Philippines a few years ago with an Australian who found a jar of it in the kitchen while cleaning up. The next time we went to use it, she told us it had smelled so bad she buried it in the backyard.”
He said Bandoy’s Binalot was going “better than expected” and was already almost as lucrative as his previous NGO job.
He has plans to expand – firstly by buying a longer kitchen bench and a bigger wok – and down the track he might team up with a Colombian friend to offer South American dishes too.
“But at the moment, I’m just starting small and we’ll see how it goes.”
Details: facebook.com/BandoyBinalot. The lunches cost $3.50.