Every chicken-eating culture in the world has a recipe for barbecued chicken, and every mall in the Philippines has an inasal restaurant. Chicken inasal is the Big Mac of Pinoy dishes; there’s no shortage of inasal in the Philippines that claim to offer a “taste of Bacolod.” The term “authentic” can be a selling point or a marketing strategy; all too often, though, it’s just a collection of words.
Mang Inasal at SM Megamall is fairly easy to find, but like every restaurant that serves Filipino cuisine fast-food style, it’s a hit-and-miss. I was taught that inasal is a fairly simple yet flavorful combination of ingredients used to marinate barbecued chicken: calamansi, garlic, salt, sukang sasa, lemon grass, and annato oil. When this blend of ingredients are turned into a prepackaged mixture that makes life in the restaurant kitchen easier, you pretty much end up with a dish that tastes more like chicken tocino than authentic chicken inasal.
Like almost every chicken dish (yes, tinola included), chicken inasal is beer food. It’s not because I’m a drunkard, but many alcoholic drinks serve to enhance and stimulate the taste buds rather than dumb them down. Hence the habit of many frou-frou restaurants to serve apertif and digestif; sensitizing the palate and the tongue. Chicken is best served with beer, but even the coldest (watered-down) bottle(s) of San Miguel Pale Pilsen wasn’t enough to save a dish that was too marinated, too sweet, and too artificially caramelized. Fast service is a plus at Mang Inasal, though, although you expect that same speed from fastfood restaurants.
I have to give it to the chicken, if only I ordered chicken tocino, that is. Giant shiny gas grills are no delights for fans of authentic Pinoy cooking, since the skin of the chicken had the faint flavor of butane (don’t ask me how I know the flavor). The best point of comparison I can think of is a couple of plates of inato I had in Dumaguete, which were cooked in giant coal grills. You can taste the difference; while chicken cooked in a giant gas grill is more evenly-cooked (to the point of burnt cartilage and blackened bones), the bit of juice left in coal-grilled chicken adds more… character, to the meat. Here’s where this serving of pa-a fails; the caramelization and flavoring is so strong that I had to dip everything in a lot of white vinegar to cut the sweetness.
I should have had dessert (OK, I don’t usually eat dessert) and a few more skewers of giblets, but for P168.00, you really can’t do much with it. Fastfood inasal, represented here by Mang Inasal, fails in the same way that Andok’s and Baliwag did when it comes to litson manok: too much flavor, too little chicken going on. About the only thing going for this restaurant, as far as I’m concerned, is that it’s great for the occasional inuman if you’re in the mood for drinking at a mall.
Methinks a trip back to Negros is in order.