In Dish Decoded, we break down all of the components, stories, and techniques behind the … well … dish of a restaurant we’re obsessed with right now.
For many Filipinx people, Jollibee is synonymous with fast food, especially for its crunchy crispy chicken and spaghetti peppered with fire-red hot dogs. But even if the Philippines’ fastest growing restaurant export is expanding into the US, it is still far from ubiquitous. “Some people drive three hours just to try what’s wild,” says Tom Cunanan, one of the two chefs behind Pogiboy in Washington, DC. “We thought, why don’t we make our own version here?”
Cunanan and co-chef Paolo Dungca – they worked together at the groundbreaking Bad Saint restaurant – opened Pogiboy in March. Tagalog for “handsome boy,” Pogiboy is a nickname that aunts from all walks of life generously shower on pretty much every Filipino boy. It’s also a wink to the nostalgia the team is serving. Instead of focusing on exclusively traditional dishes, the duo draws from childhood memories of drive-thru hamburgers, their identities and the food in the suburbs.
Where Bad Saint was a groundbreaking celebration of Filipino cuisine, Pogiboy is rather low-key and casual. For starters, there’s the bubbly, primary blue and yellow Pogiboy logo, reminiscent of the Maryland suburb of Bob’s Big Boy, where Cunanan and his siblings used to eat regularly as kids, and menu references to favorites from Jollibee and Outback Steakhouse: Sinigang roast chicken that draws flavors from a classic sour soup, and a deep-fried flowering onion served with an ingenious crab fat mayonnaise and spring onion seasoning.
But the main event is the To “Chino” burger, a stacked smash burger that rethinks Filipino flavors and execution. “We can’t claim this burger as our own,” says Cunanan. “Our friend Charles Olalia [chef of the shuttered Ma’am Sir in Los Angeles] had a longanisa sandwich on his menu and this is our homage to him – we wouldn’t be here without our friends and family. ”
This is where Cunanan and Dunga break up their version of the burger.
This is a 50-50 mix of tocino, pork belly cured in annatto and garlic, and longanisa, a type of sausage found in the Philippines. Smashing the patties adds to the slightly sweet taste that both types of meat are valued for – something Cunanan learned in his twenties as a burger joint line chef.
The bread bun
Cunanan and Dungca couldn’t make a brioche (too sweet for the patties) or typical soft potato buns (too rubbery after soaking up the pie juices). Her business partner Arturo Mei recommended the robust, hearty potato rolls from Ottenberg’s Bakers in Baltimore. Precisely.
“In my experience, as a Pacific Islander, let’s say from Guam, the Philippines or Hawaii, you always want pork with pineapple,” says Cunanan. Sliced thinner than the canned food and quickly charred on the grill, fresh pineapple rings “add acidity and texture, plus a caramel-like note”.
Every burger needs a cucumber. Enter Atchara, a Filipino green papaya pickled with Datu Puti sugar cane vinegar fortified with carrots and onions. “Vinegar is almost sacred to Filipinos,” says Dungca. “It is served in some form with every meal.”
The secret sauce
Jufran banana ketchup, another staple of Filipino cuisine, is mixed with Duke’s Mayo, Gochugaru, gherkins, homemade chili vinegar and Maggi Magic Sarap seasoning. “This is Filipino Thousand Island,” says Cunanan. “If they eat this, I want Filipino customers to be slapped in the face with nostalgia.”
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