One of the hidden gems of Manila’s foodie scene is Sunae Asian Cantina, the eponymous restaurant of chef Christina Sunae, who is Korean-American but was raised in Pampanga by a Filipino family who not only nurtured her with love but also with the incredible cuisine of the region.
Now based in Argentina, where she named her restaurant Apu Nena after her grandmother Pinoy, Sunae is back in the Philippines to launch a new menu for Sunae Asian Cantina that taps into the plant-based trend and highlights value the chef’s inventiveness. with umami flavors.
The new Tiger Cracker appetizer is a fitting gateway. Named so because the cracker is shaped like a small tiger’s head, it’s completely vegan, filled with vegetables, rice noodles, fried tofu, and peanut hoisin sauce.
Another delicious vegan starter is the generously sized Curry Puff, filled with chickpeas, coconut curry, potatoes and carrots. “I decided to pay a lot of attention to vegetarian dishes,” says Sunae. “We put in a little Sriracha for the spice and the masa (dough) is a little oilier, but it’s vegetable fat.”
The canteen is part of Carlo Lorenzana’s Nikkei group, known for its eateries that combine modern cocktails with great food, and Sunae is no different. For the launch event, they had an Aperol Spritz cart that served bottomless glasses of the popular drink, and they also offered Engkanto beer and Luisita rum made by the Cojuangco family in new cocktails like Tikling (Luisita Jungle Bird), a mixture of Luisita Oro rum, pineapple juice and Campari; and Antigo (Coco Old Fashioned), where rum is blended with coconut sugar syrup and orange bitters. An all day deal is three cocktails of your choice for just P550.
Chef Sunae said: “Talking to Carlo he’s like, ‘You know, everybody wants more things to drink with drinks’, that’s why we have the empanada, the curry puff, things you can have with cocktails – because we have a great cocktail menu to eat with that – but at the same time focusing on bringing more vegan dishes here because the public here is asking for it.
Even in Argentina, a carnivorous country, she says, the plant movement took hold before the pandemic.
“I opened a restaurant in a young, hip neighborhood where you can go bar hopping and everyone wants vegan food,” Sunae notes. “People want to eat healthier, exercise and take care of themselves.”
That’s why she tried making a burnt cabbage dish a few years ago “and I really liked it; It went well. It’s actually a dish from Apu Nena, my restaurant in Argentina. We put it on the menu there because we have a charcoal grill right in the middle of the restaurant, and it’s a bar that goes all the way around.
“So a lot of the dishes are dishes that I made in Argentina and I bring them here based on what we think the public would like here. And I like cabbage and peanut sauce together. Those are two things that are going very well.
Luckily, she brought her burnt cabbage dish to Manila, and it’s a must-try. The cabbage is charred black on the outside but pure white on the inside, sliced to show the layering of the leaves, and I loved its crisp freshness contrasting with the richness of the peanut sauce.
For me, it’s this kind of dish that showcases Chef Sunae’s creativity, and I wish more people would taste and experience his innovative twists on Pinoy, Asian and global cuisine. (For meat lovers, there are plenty of dishes to try, like Sunae’s Sisig and Lechon Liempo.)
Lorenzana notes, “We have a lot of Mindanao food, Zamboanga food, Pampanga food, Bicol food… all developed by Christina in her own style. I would say that’s high.
He would know. Carlo travels the world in search of the best cuisine and inspiring concepts he can bring to Manila, and when he met Sunae in South America, he was so impressed with her and her food that he decided to open Sunae Asian Cantina at BGC.
The slender chef still has family in Pampanga, and they came to eat at the canteen a few days ago. Apu Nena from Sunae died in October, so the chief went to pay his respects in Pampanga. “Yesterday I was with three of my aunts, my dear and my little nephew.”
Her favorite dish at home is bulanglang, so when she arrived at her aunt’s house and opened the door, she sniffed the air and it smelled like home. “Ah, boulanglang! I was talking to my mom, and my mom said she called my aunt. She said to me, ‘What are you going to do to him?
“She’s like, ‘Bulanglang! What do you think I’m going to do to her? That’s what she likes! (laughs) But bulanglang in Pampanga is guava and pork with kangkong and taro, or gabi. That’s how I like it. With sawsawan, dark soy sauce and chillies.
Perhaps in the future, Chef Sunae can also include this tribute dish to her home province on the menu.
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This Sunday, August 21, the restaurant will offer a brunch featuring the new dishes, as well as a surprise from Chef Sunae.
Sunae Asian Cantina is located at 2/F View Deck of One Bonifacio High Street Mall, PSE Tower, BGC, Taguig, with tel. our. (0916) 607-4903, (0956) 469-2836 and 7746-9046.