In a hole-in-the-wall joint south of Russian Market, a former Filipino professional basketball player tends to the grill out front. Cris Bolado’s Inasal Nation has few of the trappings of a trendy Tuol Tompoung eatery: no fussy menu, no airy atmosphere, and just a handful of expatriates on lunch break.
At least for now.
“The barangs keep coming,” says Anne Christine Waje, one of three part-owners, and Boludo’s wife, of the eatery’s attractions. “They love the chicken inasal and the beef kinulob.”
For Waje and her two family business-partners, who have lived here for years, establishing the restaurant was first and foremost about catering to the cravings of Filipino expatriates – a few of whom were scattered through the small restaurant one afternoon this week. Despite a growing Filipino population, Waje says, there are still only a handful of Filipino restaurants in the capital.
Part of the attraction is Cris Bolado’s name. He played centre for a team in the Philippines for 10 years. “If you are Filipino, you probably know who he is,” Waje says with a laugh. But what will likely keep people coming back is the simple, five-item menu: “All Filipino favourites.”
Highlights include the chicken inasal ($3.80), a heaping serving of chicken basted with a vinegar marinade, grilled and served with rice and soy sauce; the lechon kawali ($4), fried pork belly with similar trappings; and the beef kinulob ($5), tender, slow-cooked beef sautéed with garlic and served with a mix of fish sauce, vinegar and secret spices imported from the Philippines that give the dish its yellow tint.
For those with bottomless stomachs, grilled dishes are served with unlimited rice.
The beef kinulob is the standout, and a specialty of Bolado’s Quezon province, southeast of Manila. A chalkboard out front also lists two or three off-the-menu choices. The dishes change daily, ranging from classic adobo to chop suey.
The décor leaves a little to be desired: dim lighting, retro tables and a television that blasts out a pop music competition show. But “inasal” means “real”, and those behind the venture seem committed to authenticity in food above all.
Exemplary of this is the finishing touch for the adventurous: the trademark halo halo dessert, made with shaved ice, condensed milk, “young” rice, boiled sweet beans, yams, coconut and a sprinkle of cheese. It’s a bit of a mix of everything, served the Filipino way.
Inasal Nation is located at #28AB Street 456, and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30am to 9pm. Tel: 095 260 148.