Isaw the light at Sarsa
I was teased in high school because I didn’t like isaw. All the cool girls loved it; I hated it. This dish, posturing as barbecue, tastes nothing like barbecue. It’s sneaky that way. The first time I tried it — a product of peer pressure — I ended up chewing forever. I figured the taste for skewered innards would develop over time, but after several more attempts (at being cool, having it with beer), I still don’t love it. To me, it’s right up there with foie gras on the list of things I don’t like eating.
The minute I saw chef JP Anglo’s version of the isaw at the launch of Sarsa Rockwell’s new street food-inspired dishes, hope swelled in my tummy. It looked easy to chew, first of all, and the intestine (that’s what isaw is, ICYMI) was neatly and evenly stacked on the stick. But it satisfied more than just my OCD — it was the best isaw I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and, subsequently, eating. I asked chef Jayps how they do it, why Sarsa’s isaw is so good.
“We’re very good at it. It’s a trade secret,” he laughed. Obviously, this surfer-master chef wasn’t just going to just hand over the secret recipe.
He did, however, share details about their other dishes, like their new Sizzling Monggo, which belongs in a museum. The dish was a crowd favorite at the launch, because it tapped two things that Pinoys absolutely love: sizzling anything and comfort food. The lechon kawali and garlic toppings were a bonus.
“My style of cooking is always innovative, but at the same time the foundation and the true essence of the Pinoy flavor is still there,” he says. “May konting twists and turns, but 70 to 80 percent of the flavor is still there. Like the Sizzling Monggo, it’s still monggo, but it looks different and it’s green, because we puree the alugbati. So we try different techniques to it, but still familiar flavors. And if ever we do something new, there’s always that bridge ingredient for you to connect or understand the dish.
“I was in Samar two weekends ago, where I made a curry dish for the locals. But I needed a bridge ingredient for them to identify with it, so I added Sprite, for that sweet flavor. So it’s new, yet familiar.”
I get the feeling that chef JP creates dishes the way he tells his interesting food stories — spontaneous and unpredictable but never all over the place. And in the end, there’s always a takeaway.
At the launch, he shared the concept behind the new dishes. “We’re reinventing Filipino street food. Our bestseller at Sarsa is chicken isaw, so we’re presenting three new viands: pork, beef, and spicy chicken isaw. We also made two new variants of inasal: one is gata-based, and one is spicy. Then we have the Sizzling Monggo, Crispy Fish, Sinigang Fried Chicken, and the Coconut Grilled Liempo, which takes inspiration from the World Street Food Congress. There was this dish from Mindanao — what they do is they burn the coconut and pour it over the chicken. Our version is pork, with a different flavor profile.”
Since we couldn’t share the table with the busy chef, I asked him what his favorite street food is. “Batchoy,” he said. “You feel very good after having good batchoy, especially if you have it at a hole-in-the-wall place and they do it very well. Those hole-in-the-wall places are very passionate about everything they do. They’re like our version of hawkers, and I think they are so underrated. It’s very nostalgic. Basta, it makes you feel better.”
I gotta say, Sarsa’s ulam-fied street food is food for the soul. There’s something about Filipino food, whether it’s in a kawali or on a stick, that encourages people to linger at the table longer, share stories and interact like they never would over a plate of rib-eye steak (which is way too ceremonious and solitary, just ask Frank Underwood). And if you must know, I had three sticks of isaw that day, which is probably not advisable, but was an accomplishment I owe to Sarsa. My bullies would be proud.
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Sarsa’s new dishes are now available at Sarsa BGC, Rockwell, Legaspi Village, Mall of Asia, SM Megamall, and UP Town Center. For information, call 0927-706-0773 or visit Sarsa Kitchen on Facebook and Instagram.