My first conversation with Paolo Bernabe wasn't about their family's and (Bacolod's) pride, chicken inasal. It was in fact, about frozen yogurt. But upon drifting the topic from dessert to food, I then discovered that it's his family I have to thank for giving me my first taste of the Bacolod chicken inasal in Manila.
Aaah, I remember it well. My mom drove us to BF Homes, and parked beside this green-roofed bungalow restaurant that resembled a house. At the corner, a grilling area with glass panels, with lots of yellow-orange chicken skewers getting that slightly burnt, delicious tan. I remember the old signage clearly - green and white, a dark font spelling out "Bacolod Chicken House," with an outline of a chicken. Grade school me was so enamored by the first bite of the grilled meat that was soaked in a combination of spicy, salty, and sour sauces. Oh, the thought of devouring chicken inasal served with hot garlic rice just makes my mouth water.
We have Paolo Bernabe's late mother to thank for preserving and sharing her recipe. And now, the next generation is at the helm of the inasal business. The first restaurant they opened in the 80s is still alive and kicking, while Mr. Bernabe has opened several inasal restos of his own, promising the same authentic, addictive, lip-smacking flavors that demand extra rice. You can always feel at home with the authentic flavors of Bacolod chicken inasal, brought by the family that first introduced the savory specialty to Metro Manila.
At Bacolod Chk-N-BBQ House, you must try all the things chicken (and more), not just the good old reliable 'main parts' of the poultry product.
While some prefer chicharon or chicharon bulaklak as their crunchy oily treats, the Chicken Skin (P69), taken from the chicken's neck, is my heart-stopper of choice. Just consume in moderation, lest you want to feel dizzy and give your batok (nape) a good beating. I can actually order this pulutan as my ulam! Place it on top of a cup of rice, crush the crunchy little things into tinier pieces, and drizzle sinamak. Oh my, I am making myself hungry right now.
Isol, Atay, and Baticolon
Some of my favored greasy Pinoy comfort-food come in skewers, and can also be found at Bacolod Chk-N-BBQ House. In order of preference: chicken Isol (P32), Atay (P42), and Baticolon (P39). My mom and I never fail to order Isol (chicken tail) when we're at any inasalan, while I've developed my love for atay (liver) only in the recent years. I like Isol either dipped in vinegar with garlic bits, or in the sinamak-toyo-calamansi mix. Baticolon (gizzard), for my taste, is a bit gummy and can be laborious to chew.
Sinamak, sili, calamansi and soy sauce: the perfect inasal match!
And so after you've tickled up your appetite with chicken, it's time to have... well, more chicken.
Grab on to your favorite part: Pa-a (thigh/drumstick cut - P94), Pecho (breast/wing cut - P94), or Pakpak (2 pieces wings - P84). In my family, we all favor different parts -- I take the Pakpak, my brother orders Pa-a, while my dad always gets the Pecho. It's like we're eating one whole chicken.
But before you slice and tear the meat off of your chicken inasal and go on a rice rampage, better have your perfect mix of dipping sauce ready!
One thing to note is Bacolod Chk-N-BBQ's sinamak (a spiced Ilonggo vinegar). My tastebuds tell me they're a bit different than the other inasal restaurants' sauce. It's smoother, less acidic and not that stingy on the lips, if you consume a lot (which I often do). Mr. Bernabe shares that their sinamak is authentic, shipped from Bacolod, and is coconut based. My perfect inasal formula is 2 parts sinamak, 2 parts soy sauce, juice of half (or whole) calamansi, one crushed sili. Dip on it, drizzle it, drown the chicken meat. Heaven!
Mr. Bernabe urges me to try my inasal meal with chicken oil, just as the Bacolodnons like theirs. Their oil comes in bottles, tinged orange from the chicken drippings. I was a bit iffy since I was afraid of the health consequences, but since it's a recommendation by the owner, I drizzle a bit on a piece of meat and a little on my Garlic Rice (P25). It was as namit as namit can get! Just go easy on the oil, a little taste here and there.
Their chicken pieces are also ample-sized, especially if you order the pecho or the pa-a. The chicken is supplied by a reliable, classic brand, and is marinated daily to maintain freshness and flavor.
You can complement your chicken inasal with another Ilonggo staple, the La Paz Batchoy (Special with Egg - P99, Regualr - P89, Merienda Size - P72). Bacolod Chk-N-BBQ's version has a generous serving, a semi-sweet sauce, with lots of meaty textures that we're fond of in the noodle soup. Also try their Kare-Kare (P225). Although not necessarily Bacolod in origin, their version of the rich, nutty stew is simply comfort food at its best. Great for sharing.
Compared to more aggressive inasal players in Metro Manila, Bacolod Chk-N-BBQ House is quite conservative, with less fanfare or 'star quality.' But they are a classic example of how quality trumps quantity. From getting good-portioned chicken servings, a well-preserved family inasal recipe, and authentic Bacolodnon sinamak, the little details add that subtle difference in each bite of the soft and warm, orange-tinged chicken meat. With true blue Bacolodnon restaurateurs at the helm of Bacolod Chk-N-BBQ, you're all set for that Manamit Gid! experience.