FAST BACKWARD: Chicken feast in Davao

Fast Backward by Antonio V. Figueroa

If there’s one food that has caught the fancy and taste of Davaoeños, Muslim or otherwise, it’s chicken. In fact, poultry meat has found its way in a cornucopia of dishes, from salads to sandwiches, and even in spring rolls and street foods.

Roasted, chargrilled, deboned, smoked, broiled, fried, buttered, stewed, or hot-plated, you name it, that’s some of the ways chicken meat is prepared. Long before franchised establishments stormed our taste with their fanciful menus, cooking poultry meat was already done in a variety of inspired epicurean preparations, mostly home-cooked legacies.

Among Davao tribes, free-range fowl, bisayang-manok, has been traditionally stewed with chunks of papaya (tula), red-eye pepper or moringa leaves, grilled over charcoal (sugba), cooked in bamboo (lutlut), or wrapped in layers of banana leaves (pais) sprinkled with native spices.

The Ilonggos also have their own nilagpang, which is grilled chicken stewed and cooked spicy with red pepper, lemon grass, green leaves, and other condiments. In the seventies, chicken menu started to migrate from the poor man’s carenderia to new dining setups.

Davaoeños’ fascination with lechon manok (strictly speaking, the skewered chicken, whether whole or half) erupted in the decades leading to the millennium.

The first grilled chicken house in town, which opened along San Pedro street, was Tambuli (conch), so named after a seashell traditionally used as a horn.

Two of the oldest fried chicken diners in the city are Goldie Chicken House, along Ilustre, and Harana, formerly in Matina. The first roasted chicken business, Golden Brown, did not surface until the first half of the eighties. Although it closed briefly in the nineties, Goldie Chicken House continues to offer reasonably priced and tastier chicken than other food houses.

Foodies are also reminded of the equally popular Chickies & Patties along Claveria; it is now operating in the Uyanguren area. And, who would have forgotten Sunburst along Anda?

The rise of ihaw-ihaw (charcoal grilled), a Tagalog-inspired food, revolutionized the concept of eating chicken meat by cooking it on the street and selling it cheap to the common tao. Using bamboo as skewers, the idea caught up immediately. The most popular drop-by in the eighties was the barbecue hub at Magallanes-Bolton. Stalls like Delumbar and Delongtes started here. And there was Malativas, a beehive of stalls, along Bonifacio Street.

Today, the most popular chicken barbecue address is at Roxas Night Market. Fowl meat sold here come in different categories (i.e., giblets, legs, tail, thigh, skin and wing) and offered chiefly as grilled or deep-fried food. The lechon manok explosion eventually gave rise to names like Molave, Mekeni’s Sawali, Banok’s, Colasa’s, Pedro’s First, Abe’s Place, Kini si Roger, Sarung Banggi, Marilou’s, and Tsunami Chicken.

In 2011, Toryano’s Chicken House, originally from Tagum City, opened its first branch at Torres Street, then the city’s food belly; it was cited as ‘No. 1 Native Chicken House’ in the city in the 2009 National Shoppers’ Choice Annual Award.

When the era of franchising started to gain national acceptance, chicken cooking took on a different twist. Western infusions and spices resulted in the making of new poultry meat preparations. As chicken sales rose, foreign-sounding food chains started altering the commercial landscape with their brightly-lit neon lights, with deep-friend chicken as principal offering.

Later, names like Kentucky Fried Chicken, MacDonald’s, Texas Friend Chicken, and Kenny Roasters drew more droves. Their monopoly, however, was challenged by homegrown enteerprises, among them the giant Jollibee, Max’s, Mang Inasal, Sr. Pedro, and Patok sa Manok. Belatedly, the Japanese-owned 7-Eleven has also joined the party. In the city, the emergence of chicken hubs was also palpable. Fried chicken houses like Wings & Co., Ombu, Nadies, Honey Bear, Ram, BC, Jenny’s Friend Chicken and Fowlplay, have become bywords in the local food world.

Chicken meat has also found its new niche in other tantalizing new creations. You find poultry meat, mainly in thin strips, in carbonara, buns, paella, noodles, roast, soup, and veggies, to name a few. And who can forget the chicken siopao the Chinese resto offers?

Even in the food lingo, western appellations have invaded chicken houses, with Buffalo wings as among the most popular. This dish originated from Buffalo, New York, where it first appeared in Anchor Bar, a family-owned business, in 1964. The original serving, the brainchild of Teressa Bellissimo, had a special sauce with a side of blue cheese and celery.

The lechon manok, a native fare, is practically the same in preparations across chicken houses. Freshly dressed fowl, without the innards, giblets, and legs, is stuffed with onion, garlic, lemon grass, salt, and other spices. Among Tagalog migrants, they cook the favorite pinaupo na manok (literally, sitting fowl), an Asian dish, with the meat cooked inside a can that is set on fire. Oven-cooked roast chicken, on the other hand, has been popularized by Chooks To Go.