Around the Philippines, the city of Bacolod is associated with their barbecue chicken before anything else.
The deliciously tasting chicken is actually roasted, not barbecued in the way a Westerner thinks of barbecue, drenched in a sauce or dry rub. Instead, the flavor comes from the cooking style: skewered and roasted over an open flame, with banana leaves adding a hint of smoky flavor, and the signature sauce (made of garlic, soy, vinegar, salt and Sprite) periodically basted on. This is the signature Inasal taste… but what completes the experience and makes it unique here?
A Foodie’s Savory Dream
While I was in Bacolod, I ate nothing but barbecue chicken. Why not? This is the chicken capital of the Philippines “Manokan Country”, and I love tasting the local cuisine.
Luckily for any food tourist, most of the famous inasal restaurants are on one street, right next to the massive shopping mall: SM City Bacolod. Perhaps its no coincidence that the food stalls popped up next to the busiest street in the entire city. The volume of traffic here, exceeds just about anywhere else in Bacolod because it is a major jeepney hub.
So this large amount of people traveling through the area, and the high number of enterprising Filipino cooks, has led to the creation of a foodie dream. This section of Father M Ferrarro St. is nearly a half kilometer of shops, restaurants, carts, food stalls and even a public market. There are only local shops and vendors here, no chains or name brands... though many of them have grown quite the reputation with Pinoy foodies.
This strip is the very heart of barbecue chicken in the Philippines and the serving traditions here are the most authentic way to eat chicken inasal. But first, lets talk about where inasal has spread outside of Bacolod City.
A Well-Traveled Heritage
Throughout the Philippines, there are three restaurant chains bearing the Inasal name, two of them even having Bacolod in the name itself.
Mang Inasal is perhaps the most famous of these chains. By far the largest, with over 460 locations nationwide; Mang Inasal was founded just across from the water in Iloilo City. The restaurant, and its signature yellow and green colors have been owned by the Jollibee corp. since 2010, so all roots to the region are gone. Mang Inasal doesn’t necessarily even specialize in roasted chicken anymore. Their menu is diverse, and honestly, is one of my favorites of the chains in the Philippines islands. Their food is consistently delicious and affordable no matter where you are in the country.
Bacolod Chicken Inasal was founded in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, but still comes with an authentic flavor and preparation style. Their restaurants are always so clean and well run. I visited their McKinly Hill location.
and last but not certainly not least, is Chicken Bacolod. While it is the smallest of the three, with 5 branches, the quality of the food was outstanding and affordable. I ate at their busy Greenbelt location in Metro Manila.
How it Compares to the Original
The recipe and cooking process is not difficult to replicate, so you would expect most restaurants offering chicken inasal to be consistent in flavor, and they are.
All of the above had offered me delicious meals, but now that I had actually visited Bacolod, I could see what was lacking when it came to authenticity.
In Manokan Country, there is very little variation as to how barbecue chicken is served: on fresh banana leaves, with a scoop of garlic rice that has been drizzled with chicken oil. Inasal is always accompanied by a small dish for fish sauce or soy sauce (‘patis’ and ‘toyo’) calamansi, and two chili peppers.
All three of the above chains missed some part of that formula. In my opinion, if you vary from THIS serving style, you are missing what inasal is all about. That is all the more reason to visit Bacolod city!