Meet the Lady Behind Boracay’s Favorite Thai Restaurant

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In Bulabog Road in Boracay, there is a small, unassuming restaurant that has become the go-to place for locals and tourists looking for Thai dishes. “Authentic, flavorful Thai cuisine, we only serve the best,” the signage proudly reads — and loyal customers wouldn’t disagree.

The name of the place is Congas, like that Latin American dance that Gloria Estefan used to sing, but with an ‘s’. Much like Gloria, the owner and chef behind this hole in the wall is a petite lady, and like the dance, she is lively and perky, blessed with an unmistakable contagious energy.

Congas along Bulabog Road can accommodate around 30 people.

Her name is Lorie Ponce Langley and, as her sign suggests, she’s not one to settle for less. Before deciding to start Congas in November 2020, she immersed herself in authentic Thai cuisine by learning from locals in Bangkok, visiting Thailand twice a year to get the tips and tricks straight from her local cooks.

No wonder the transport quality of its dishes, from its incredible lemongrass chicken to its popular curry dishes to its sauces. They really take you back to the streets of Bangkok. “Hindi also in Restaurants nagpupunta kasi hindi na yun authentic,” she tells ANCX of her training in Thai cuisine. “do it with me Locals talaga—sa mga streets at his probinsya.” Whatever she may have missed, the YouTube videos provide.

Lorie Langley of Congas
Lorie learned authentic Thai cooking from the locals of Bangkok.

No mountain high enough

Before opening her restaurant, Lorie made sure she had all the key ingredients on hand. She knew the secret to fabulous Thai dishes is fresh herbs, so she looked everywhere. “Kahit sa mga bundok naghahanap ako ng herbs,” she says. “Minsan umabot ng libo ang nagagastos ko per kilo of sweet basil, samantalang sa Manila mura lang yan.

Speaking of herbs, that’s one of the reasons the 50-year-old chef fell in love with Thai cuisine. “Mahilig ako sa herbs kasi mabuti sya sa katawan”, she says, adding that certain varieties have helped her deal with high cholesterol. She also incorporates locally available herbs into her dishes, from tangled with galangal ginger.

Lemongrass Thai Chicken Wings
Lemongrass Thai Chicken Wings. Photo by Jerome Gomez

Lorie is most proud of her curry dishes, which are among her bestsellers. She has around 15 on the menu: Thai Vegetable Crab Curry, Masaman Beef Curry, Thai Red Chicken Curry (also available in Green Curry), Panang Pork Curry, Red Shrimp Curry, the list goes on. We are fans of his red Thai chicken curry – every bite is an explosion of flavors.

She is happy to say that she uses only the most honest ingredients available to her. “Hindi is spoken [coconut milk] canned kasi may conservatives nah yan. Every day we buy fresh coconut. Nagpapakudkod kami araw-araw”, offers the lady. All the herbs in his tom yum are fresh, the chef proudly says, which contributes to his unmistakable Thai taste. Despite this, Lorie manages to keep her prices within an affordable range (P200+ to P400).

Sabungan summers

Lorie discovered her interest in cooking at a very young age. His aunt once had a restaurant and his father was a cook. In Davao, where Lorie was born and raised, they often sold food in the sabungan especially during school holidays. « Natuto akong magluto I was 14,” she says – that’s also when she started dreaming of starting her own restaurant.

She nurtured her love for cooking even as she entered married life at the age of 28. She married a Briton with whom she now has two children. Lorie had the chance to hone her culinary skills when she worked at her mother-in-law’s restaurant in England during one of her pregnancies in the late 90s. Eventually she worked as a caregiver where she was responsible for cooking for a hundred elderly patients at a time. She also worked as a hotel cook, which should explain her familiarity with dishes from other countries – Congas, in its early days, had a more international menu.

Beef Masaman Curry
Beef Masaman Curry

The Sorrow of Boracay

It was in 1991 that the Davaoeñas first set foot on the sands of Boracay. She fell in love with the place and has since considered herself a Boracaynon at heart. In 2003, she and her husband decided to settle on the island. He continued diving and Lorie found herself becoming a broker. The couple will eventually separate.

Broker remembers being so desperate and heartbroken after the split. “Hindi ako lumabas ng tatlong buwan,” she remembers.

It is by opening a restaurant that she finds joy. With the 750,000 pesos she saved, the Davaoeña found a way to fulfill her dream of becoming a chef and restaurateur. She built Congas from scratch, literally. “patient food ko ako lang nagpa panday nyan“, she remembers with tenderness.

The restaurant was originally an all-bamboo setup serving, as we mentioned earlier, international dishes. But when the island went into rehab for six months in 2018 and didn’t allow tourists in, Lorie decided to close up shop. It wasn’t until November 2020 that she reopened Congas, this time as a small 30-seat restaurant along Bulabog Road.

Opening a business during a pandemic might not be the best idea for some, but she started Congas anyway. While waiting for the Thai ingredients she ordered, she served Filipino food. When her orders came in, she decided to focus on what she calls “pure, authentic Thai dishes.”

It turned out to be a good business decision. “Nagula ang tao paano ko nakaya”, Lorie said, beaming with pride. “Sabi ko, tiyaga lang talaga. Kung magsabi ka na pandemic ngayon and hindi mo subukan, wala mangyayari. Subukan mo lang.

Beef spring roll with vegetables and cilantro
Beef spring roll with vegetables and cilantro

Positive attitude

As her regulars can testify, the lady is very involved in the management of her business. She is a waitress, in charge of customer relations, cashier and sometimes a cook. She is at the market at 7:30 a.m. to make sure she has the freshest meat and vegetables. “Pag minsan naubusan ng bulaklak, tatatakbo ako, sasakay ako single bike in hahanapin ko saan mai mga garden in kukuha lang akoshe says with a smile, always go-getter and resourceful.

She claims to be very strict when it comes to the quality of her food, not just in the flavors but in the handling of the dishes. “Sinasabi ko nga dito sa mga tagaluto ko, ayokong may magsasabi na yung pagkain mo hindi maganda. Dapat palaging the best,” she said. Whenever her cooks need to take a day off, she personally takes care of the cooking.

Sticky rice
Sticky rice

The diligent restaurateur takes inventory in the afternoon when the lunch crowd has left, and again in the evening after closing. “Sa negosyo, kung gusto mo talagang makita kung ano mali or ano pa ang dapat I improve, dapat andun ka mismo para personal na patakbuhin ito”, she tells us, sounding like a mother dispensing life advice.

Congas may still be considered a rookie in the business, but he’s gained his own group of fans and Lorie has even received offers to open a branch in Manila. But Boracay’s ‘Curry Queen’ says she’s happy where the restaurant is right now, serving the best to locals and tourists alike as the pandemic borders begin to open and the outlook brightens again. So if you’re in Boracay and looking for something to excite your taste buds, check out Congas and seek out Lorie. In fact, despite the size of the lady, you are unlikely to miss her.

Photos from Congas Restaurant Boracay Facebook page

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