Thitid Tassanakajohn or Chef Ton
By Monica Araneta Tiosejo | Images by Noel Pabalate
Happy New Year!
It seems like the general theme of the past holiday season was food. While the caviar, champagne bottles, and jean buttons have popped, the celebrations are not yet over. At The Grid at Rockwell’s Power Plant Mall, Thitid Tassanakajohn or Chef Ton, Patrick Pasengco, and Charles Paw are lighting fireworks in diners’ mouths with authentic Thai food.
“What we’re trying to bring in here is what’s on the streets of Bangkok, the taste. We wanted to bring it to the Philippines. We wanted to offer the best value for the price,” says Chef Ton, who is also the owner of Michelin-starred Le Du.
A quest for authentic Thai food in Manila led the three business partners through the city’s clogged arteries, knowing that regardless of the street or soi (Thai for alley) or even country, the heart of street food should always be the food. Filipinos are food lovers, but one of their big heartbreaks is traffic. Food is accessible in the Philippines, but the streets aren’t always so. City-living can be stressful, so many take refuge in the sanctuary of air-conditioned malls like Power Plant, specifically, inside the food mecca that is The Grid, a creation of Tasteless, Paw’s restaurant group. Pasengco of Novateur Coffee Concepts completes the dream team.
Patrick Pasengco, Chef Ton, and Charles Paw
This trinity is playing with the concept of street food, pushing the boundaries of its very definition. Must street food be sold at the street or its origin be the humble pushcart? If you consider gentrification, changing tastes, and even globalization, does it matter where your food comes from? Are convenience and value for money still factors? What if the same dishes are offered in brick and mortars, or even in a Michelin-starred restaurant?
“We talked about this project for a long time. Maybe for almost a year. We set up everything. The team came to Bangkok and trained with me at my family restaurant, so they know the exact ingredients, what exactly we do, and the thing that we’re trying to do here,” Chef Ton narrates. He says Thai food and Filipino food have a lot of things in common. For this reason, he believes Manila is a good market for this concept.
“We do a very small menu, but want to make everything right. We’re not like a Thai restaurant that has 50 items. We have maybe eight items, but we make sure every order of the eight items is done correctly. We guarantee all the time, even for the Thai embassy people, they come and they say, ‘This is Thai food, better than others in Manila.’ That’s what we want to do. We want to provide something authentic and different,” he adds.
There is Tom Yum Soup, of course. This is the recipe Chef Ton does in his other restaurant, Baan. Some people like clear soup, but he prefers one with more texture and mouthfeel, hence, the addition of evaporated milk. It’s a fragrant bowl with a lot of finely chopped herbs like lemongrass and, happily, there is no MSG.
Tom Yum Soup
Thai Grilled Chicken
The Thai Grilled Chicken is marinated with many ingredients, most notably, coconut milk and turmeric. Toasted rice powder adds a hint of smokiness, elevating the sauce made of tamarind, chilis, palm sugar, fish sauce, and scallions. If you want to really taste the marination and the sauce, which are done in the Northeast Thai-style, order white meat. But for more fat and flavor, make sure to request for the chicken thigh. In Thailand, this dish is eaten with a papaya salad.
Bagoong Rice is another street staple. Herbs and seasoning separate the shrimp paste’s taste from local bagoong. It’s food for the Thai people, meaning everyone can afford it. It is made in big batches, the ingredients tossed and mixed like a salad. “This is my favorite lunch dish. It fulfills everything. You have every taste. You have spicy, you have sour from sour mango, from lime juice, the sweetness from the pork, the meat, the celery, and the umami from the shrimp paste,” Chef Ton says.
Another rice option is the Tom Yum Fried Rice, the dried version of the popular soup. Squeeze some lime on the mound decked with squid, prawns, and fish. Mix it all together. Close your eyes and taste that bit of sweetness completing the traditionally spicy, sour, and salty dish.
Tom Yum Fried Rice
Pair your preferred rice dish with Pork Krapao, similar to adobo. If you ask 10 Thai people what they want to eat, eight of them will say this. It’s a no-brainer food. Chef Ton personally eats it four times a week. His version uses no vegetables. The real Pork Krapao should only have garlic, chilis, meat, and krapao, which is Thai basil. That’s it. “Thai restaurants outside of Thailand like to make Pork Krapao that looks like it has gravy. I don’t like that. It looks like you’re eating soup with a piece of meat. That is not Pork Krapao. Pork Krapao is stir-fried, and when you stir fry something, the sauce has to go inside,” Chef Ton says.
For something with more of a kick, order the Beef Massaman Curry. It’s a simple dish of potatoes, beef, and onions. Again, no other vegetables because vegetables, fresh ones especially, leak out a lot of water. The intensely-flavored stew should be eaten with rice. For Pork Krapao and Tom Yum, customers can choose the level of spiciness, but not for the curry. It has to be ordered and eaten as is. Chef Ton feels Manila can take the heat and fireworks of flavors. If he’s wrong, wash your meal down with a tall glass of Thai Iced Tea.
Samyan is at The Grid, R2 Level Expansion, Power Plant Mall, Makati