“I never thought it was going to be this big,” Jill Borja, owner of Manang's Chicken, told me with genuine marvel in her voice. We were then seated at the middle section of this a-little-less-than-fifty-seater joint that she just opened. Such a small space at the foot of an Ortigas building isn't exactly what one would describe as “big”. But if you would compare the storefront to what Manang's Chicken had just half a year ago -- a small, unassuming table with one fryer at Mercato Centrale -- you'd probably share Jill's sentiment.
Really. Who would've guessed that Manang's Chicken would become this big this fast?
Who is Manang?
“Ah! Always the first question I have to answer, eh?” Jill answered teasingly. She proceeded on telling me her fond memories of their then house helper, Manang Linda. “She was with our family for a long time-- since we were kids! We grew up with her fried chicken as our comfort food. Even then, we call her special fried chicken: Manang's Chicken,” Jill related. “But my mom taught her the recipe,” Jill clarified.
According to Jill, their family was so used to eating fried chicken of this sort (dark brown, sweet, and extra crispy) that they didn't think it was that unique. “But our friends would always request for Manang's Chicken during potlucks!” It wasn't long before Jill had an inkling that the sweet soy garlic chicken concept would be a hit.
As with other great concepts, it was just a matter of finding the good location and market. Since she's not well versed in the food industry (Jill's a lawyer and accountant by profession), she decided to open in a small place with minimal capital. The burgeoning of food markets answered her problems.
“When I was about to start this venture, I actually visited Manang Linda and told her I'm naming a store after her. I asked if she wanted to help out. But she politely declined,” Jill reported. While Manang is enjoying the slow-paced lifestyle in her province, the business named after her is taking the fast route.
“Ang bagong fried chicken ng Pinoy”
The long queues and positive comments Jill got from her customers that spanned different age brackets and market classes convinced her that the fast food route is the best way to take. Since Pinoys are naturally chickenitarians with deep affection for chicken, may it be grilled, roasted, or fried, introducing them to the concept of twice fried then dunked in a thick soy-garlic-sesame sauce chicken won't be too hard. As it turned out, “it was surprisingly easy!” Jill exclaimed. “People can't get enough of it,” she added.
I personally love Manang's Chicken, primarily because my palate is more inclined to sweeter options. I love how having a piece would always leave my lips smacking. The sauce-- honey-like and at the same time salty, works so well with the extra crispy crinkled skin. I usually go for Original but when I feel like it, I order Mild Spicy.
One-piece chicken plus rice would cost one P75. There's also the option to stuff yourself silly with 4 pieces of wings for P98. Whichever combo you go for, you are assured to be filled enough when needing a power lunch.
Chicken and then some
Since they're on their way to becoming a full fledged fast food, in addition to the twice-fried chicken, Jill decided to add on other items to the menu. One favorite of mine is the Garlic Pork (P89). This filling item, which is a steal at such a price, is one rice meal I wouldn't mind eating daily if only healthy eating isn't an issue.
There isn't too much to think of with regards to this dish. Get a few liempo slices. Deep fry them to an almost bagnet-like crunchiness. Drown it in bits of garlic fried 'til golden brown. Serve it with good old suka and a plate of steamy rice. Now really. Who wouldn't want this?
The Fried Pancit, another favorite, is also a good deal at P59.
This is another no-brainer hit. Drown crispy pancit with a succulent sauce (with loud but beautiful notes of ginger), mushroom, veggies and squid ball, and you'd get a wonderful merienda that doesn't taste rushed. This has got to be the least sweet item in the menu, and therefore_is your best bet if you can't tolerate the saccharine chicken sauce.
Their Cheezy Spaghetti (P49)--which uses cheese sauce in place of grated cheese), and Crispy Chicken Sandwich (P49)-- the same Manang's Chicken served in between buns, can be your budget friendly pantawid-gutoms in between meals.
Crispy Chicken Sandwich
I first tasted Manang's Chicken a few months back in a bazaar. The stall was bare. Their tarp wasn't even up. They only had a table, deep fryers, and a stack of styro containers. Fast forward to today: Manang's Chicken, Ortigas is bright and eye-catching, dressed in wallpapers especially designed by a graphic artist. Their kitchen's small but roomy. The counter's well-lit and functional. They even have their own motorcycle for delivery! And in a few months time, the Taft, Katipunan, SM North Edsa Annex, and SM Megamall Food Court branches will be up and running.
All of this happened in a span of six months. At the rate the business is going I'll be bold and predict that Manang's Chicken will soon be a household name-- a big game player in the fast food world, with children everywhere clamoring for another bite of its sweet and crunchy chicken.
I do hope Manang Linda's proud.