Food and Leisure

Filipinos, Japanese give the burger a makeover

Jan Milo Severo - Philstar.com
Filipinos, Japanese give the burger a makeover
From left: Chef Adrian Azurin, Max’s Restaurant Head for Culinary Research and Development, holding the restaurant chain's new Fried Chicken Sandwich; some of MOS Burger's bestsellers.
Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo, Jan Milo Severo

MANILA, Philippines — With quarantine measures easing in some parts of the Philippines, including Luzon, many restaurant branches are set to re-open, teasing foodies with more choices that deviate from their usual lockdown fare.

Among those expected to re-open more branches or expand menu offerings are Filipino restaurant chain Max’s and Japanese burger chain MOS, which both recently launched their new twists on a global staple snack, the burger, before the Luzon lockdown.

Pinoy play on a hand-held favorite

Way back to its foundation in 1945, Max’s signature fried chicken was served on hot dinner rolls by founders Maximo Jimenez and wife Ruby Trota to American soldiers.

“Everyone knows how good Max’s chicken tastes with rice, but perhaps, everyone forgot how good it is with hot fresh bread,” shared the restaurant chain’s Head of Corporate Communications Mark De Joya.

Thus, to mark the brand’s 75th year this year, the dining joint introduced the new Fried Chicken Sandwich reminiscent of the way the diner’s first customers would put chicken inside hot buns or dinner rolls.

“Technically, we already have a chicken burger. However, when we were creating this product, the idea was to adopt the continuity and renewal of our traditional recipe,” explained Chef Adrian Azurin, Max’s Restaurant Head for Culinary Research and Development.

Although the brand’s signature burger has been there for 75 years, they felt a need to “re-engineer” their products.

“One of the needs that we stumbled upon is to create a product that is more relatable for the younger markets. So, when we did our research, one of the trends that came out is the hand-held food,” he enthused.

“For Max’s kasi, we’re pretty much known for the chicken and the rice and the ulam. But we never really had that credentials in terms of hand-held food.”

Thus, as the second burger in their menu, the Fried Chicken Sandwich is made from one whole chicken leg and thigh muscle, unlike the first that is made of chicken patty. Although the first chicken burger is still on the menu, the new one is composed of more premium ingredients and a bread that is specially formulated just for it.

The new burger is flavored with three sauces – garlic, classic banana catsup and Worcestershire sauce. Chef Azurin made sure that the chicken would taste great with banana catsup, just like what the brand has been known for. Pickles and shredded cabbage are also added to tame the burger’s rich flavors.

Instead of French fries, the burger comes with sweet potato fries as side dish not only to give it a Filipino touch, but also to lessen the acidity from the cucumber relish, said Azurin.

So far, the restaurant chain has been receiving good feedback for the burger. According to the chef, diners have been seeing it as a fresh way to enjoy their restaurant’s classic chicken.

“It’s already a meal on its own. It’s good enough to cover one meal,” he vouched.

“Today’s foodies are so global. They’ve been exposed to so many culinary creations that people 10 years ago might not have even heard of. If you look back 15, 20 years ago, the only foreign food people knew were Chinese, Japanese, Italian,” De Joya observed. 

According to him, while it is “so nice” that people on social media nowadays are very international in taste, he wished that the people, too, would dig in more of their homegrown cuisines. 

Related: Iconic Makati resto-bar reopens with 24k gold burger, other treats

Japanese takes on a Western pride 

Japanese burger chain MOS Burger has finally reached the Philippine soil as it opened their first store in Robinsons Galleria.

MOS Burger Philippines President Araki Masahide said that the burger chain aims to give Filipinos a different kind of burger dining experience with their menu of bestsellers.

“We have brought our well-loved burgers to the Philippines. Now, you don’t have to go all the way to Japan to have your fill of our best-selling yakiniku rice burger and other burger selections,” he said.

Hubert Young, Chief Executive Officer for the burger joint’s Philippine arm, told Philstar.com that their different burgers will capture the taste buds of Filipinos. Among them are the top-sellers Cheeseburger, Yakiniku Rice Burger, Wagyu Burger, Teriyaki Chicken Burger and the Seafood Tempura Rice Burger.

The Japanese-style cheeseburger comes with the brand’s special meat sauce poured over a pile of beef patty, tomato, onion and cheese, while the Yakiniku Rice Burger comes with marinated yakiniku beef with green lollo rosso (lettuce) and onions in an equally delicious rice patty.

The restaurant also offers the natsumi yakiniku which is yakiniku wrapped in fresh lollo rosso instead of being sandwiched in a bun or rice patty.

Another popular choice among its diners worldwide is its wagyu burger, which also comes in two options—one with the buns and the other with the rice patties or wagyu rice burger. 

For chicken lovers, the Teriyaki Chicken Burger is the brand’s own version of chicken teriyaki sandwiched with green lollo rosso, sliced onion, and mayonnaise. It is also available in the diner’s signature rice patty as teriyaki chicken rice burger.

Meanwhile, for seafood lovers, the Seafood Tempura Rice Burger consists of seafood tempura with kakiage sauce and sandwiched between signature rice patties.

MOS Burger’s Robinsons Galleria branch is for open for takeout and pickup orders in-store or via Foodpanda, Grabexpress Pabili or Lalamove, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Likewise, select branches of UCC and CoCo Ichibanya, along with Mitsuyado Sei-men in Jupiter Street, Makati City andTendon Kohaku in Burgos Park, Taguig are accepting orders for pickup and delivery.

Menu selections, however, will be limited so customers are advised to call the restaurants about their available dishes prior to ordering their takeout or placing an order through Grab Pabili, Lalamove, and other third-party providers servicing their areas. All stores strictly observe “no mask, no entry” and social distancing policies.

Rise of alternative burgers

From lab-grown "seafood" to dumplings made with tropical fruit instead of pork, rising demand for sustainable meat alternatives in Asia is spawning creative products to appeal to local palates. 

Meat and seafood consumption in Asia is projected to soar, fueled by growing middle classes in booming economies, but green groups warn of the environmental damage such a trend could bring. 

Demand for plant-based meat alternatives is still nascent in Asia, but is nevertheless rising by about 30 percent annually and is particularly strong in developed markets such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, industry players say.

"We do see that there is a growing environmental consciousness among consumers around the world -- and that's not different in Asia," said Andre Menezes of Country Foods, which distributes products made by US alternative meat outfit Impossible Foods in Singapore.

Meat consumption is an environmental threat as cattle produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, while logging forests, which take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, to make way for animals destroys natural barriers to climate change, environmentalists warn.

Eating seafood meanwhile can deplete already under-pressure fish stocks.

US alternative meat titans have already seen the opportunity in Asia, with Impossible Foods seeking to establish a presence in China and rival Beyond Meat, which makes plant-based burgers, planning to open a production facility in the region.

But they face competition from local startups, who are thinking beyond simply making faux burgers, and may be better in tune with what consumers want in a diverse region that is fiercely proud of its culinary traditions.

They are planning products ranging from Chinese-style steamed dumplings filled with fake pork made from jackfruit -- a yellow, chewy tropical fruit -- to imitation crab and fish balls, a processed seafood snack popular across Asia.

Startup Karana is behind the jackfruit dumpings, which it plans to launch this year, and is also developing buns filled with imitation barbecue pork to mimic a mainstay of "dim sum" restaurants -- where customers choose from an array of small dishes.

Company co-founder Blair Crichton hopes to create familiar products that can win over meat eaters. 

"We're not necessarily going to be promoting that it's jackfruit... it’s about packaging it in a way that is familiar to consumers," he told AFP.

Singapore-based startup Sophie's BioNutrients is working with scientists at a local university to grow microalgae in nutrient-rich soybean residue, a waste product from the food processing industry.

They plan to convert the algae to protein powder, which will then be used to make imitation seafood products, such as fish balls and crab.

The process does not deplete seafood stocks or cause environmental damage, which traditional fishing can.

The company's founder Eugene Wang said people in many Asian countries saw food as their best tradition -- and that simply trying to sell them plant-based patties would not cut it.

"If you want to market to these people, you want to sell it in a burger format? No way," said Wang, whose company received Sg$1.0 million (US$700,000) funding from the city-state's sovereign wealth fund Temasek.

Wang also founded Sophie's Kitchen, a US company selling plant-based crab cakes and shrimp in North America, Britain and Australia, but he is planning a range for Asian palates under the new company, which is independently operated.

Several sustainable food startups have chosen to launch in Singapore and use it as a base to sell products across the region, with Temasek providing some financial backing.

Still, such companies may have a hard time convincing consumers with traditional tastes to change to their products. 

Seow Chin Juen, an analyst focusing on food and nutrition in the region at consultancy Euromonitor International, said the "novelty aspect" was currently driving most sales of alternative meats.

But this was "not sufficient to convert mass market consumers to consume these products on a regular basis,” he added.

Olivia Hayden Ong, a 28-year-old food and lifestyle writer in the city-state, was also sceptical people would rush to switch to jackfruit dumplings and algae fish balls.

"I think it'll be slow (to catch on)... we still like our chicken rice, we still like our spare ribs," she told AFP. — Reports from Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo, AFP/Catherine Lai

RELATED: WATCH: Hanoi eatery serves up 'Coronaburger'



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