AT the height of a downpour a few weeks ago, I thought about how much I would kill just to have a steaming bowl of kansi from Island Chicken in Boracay. Island Chicken is one of my favorite restaurants on the resort island because of its value-for-money dishes that smack of home cooking the Negrense way. I had to satisfy my craving with a bowl- and-a-half of champorado instead and some tuyo (dried herring) on the side. (Personally, I prefer some crispy dilis or dulong, dried local anchovies or silver fish, respectively.)
So when the call came to attend Island Chicken’s branch opening in Quezon City, you can just imagine how I salivated for joy! For my gang of foodies, it was an event not to be passed up for anything in this world. And what perfect timing for its owner, the Bacolod-born Niña Bustamante, to set up an outlet right smack in the newest food center in the metropolis, off the Tomas Morato and Timog restaurant row. This is an area where almost all day and all night, people are just looking around for new places to eat uncomplicated delicious meals that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. And if you can throw in a bottle of beer with it, so much the better!
Island Chicken’s outlet on Scout Borromeo isn’t hard to miss with a lit-up signage of a chicken just above it. The area is basically a quiet neighborhood with lots of available parking in the compound behind the outlet. The restaurant itself is small and cozy with benches and tables outside the main dining area. What is impressive is the restaurant’s ventilation and chimney that keeps the smoke away from the dining patrons and the neighbors. That means you won’t end up smelling like chicken inasal yourself when you leave, unlike in some grill joints.
The specialty of the house, of course, is chicken inasal (Ilonggo for “grilled”) in whatever part you desire—hita (thigh), pecho (breast), paa (drumstick), atay at baticolon (liver and gizzard), pakpak (wings), etc. The chicken parts—all fresh and not frozen, mind you—are marinated in a secret sauce whipped up by Niña’s specially-hired Negrense cook, and then grilled to perfection. Every bite is a delectable treat to the senses—succulent tender meat with a delicious aroma to wake up every sleepy bone on your body any rainy day. Dip your inasal in sinamak (the Negrense’s native palm vinegar) or toyomansi (calamansi with soy sauce) and crushed siling labuyo (small local red peppers), and eat it with garlic rice smothered with thick inasal drippings with some atchara (pickled green papaya) on the side. I swear, it is the next best thing to hot sex! (In photo, from left: mango shake, inasal na paa with garlic rice and atchara, grilled bangus, iced tea)
What will make your meal even more of a delight, especially amid these pouring rains, is a hot bowl of kansi (the Negrense version of nilagang baka or beef broth soup, soured with some batuan, a small green fruit with a big seed that is indigenous to the Visayas). The kenchi (beef shank with bone marrow) is boiled until the meat and ligaments are so soft, they fall off the bone. If you find yourself stupid-drunk one of these nights, try a bowl of kansi to gradually warm you up to sobriety…perhaps even long enough to again engage your friends in a few more rounds of beer.
Top off your substantial meal with some leche flan (caramel custard), mildly sweet to cleanse your palate, or—my personal favorite—the best buco pandan (coconut and pandanus/screwpine leaf gelatin) in the world. (That will soon be included on the menu.) The gelatin is just so soft and the creamy custard underneath so tasty, one order is simply not enough.
Niña says she is presently experimenting with some other items, like pork ribs, to add to her menu, which also includes other nonchicken fare like bangus belly or blue marlin. We had a taste of the grilled ribs and even if I normally shun pork, the tenderness of the flavorful meat, again marinated in some special sauce, was just too tempting to resist. Vegetarians beware!
The bottom line is your bottom line—and I’m not referring to your butt. One order of inasal na pakpak (three wings to a stick), for example, will set you back a mere P80, while an order of kansi, just P230. Comfort food at the right price. Who can beat that?
• Island Chicken is at 33 Scout Borromeo, barangay Laging Handa, Quezon City, two corners away from the Boy Scouts rotunda if you’re facing the ABS-CBN complex. Island Chicken is open from 12 noon to 2 am daily.
(Originally published in Business Mirror, Life, July 28-29, 2006.)