Food and Leisure

Manila Inasal: Fired up by a lockdown

Anna Martelino - The Philippine Star
Manila Inasal: Fired up by a lockdown
A Manila Inasal Platter (chicken, pork belly, tuna and bangus) at P1,850 (above).

MANILA, Philippines — Chef Natalia Moran thought that lockdown was the perfect time to start a new business since no one wanted to go out “ordering food to eat at home became the new normal,” says the owner of Manila Inasal, a home-based delivery business she put up with her siblings Enrique and Bella. “And since my work, culinary consultancy, had come to a pause, I kept myself busy by creating new recipes and setting up what is now Manila Inasal.”

Chef Natalia is not new to food innovation and setting up kitchen systems, as that is what she has been doing for last couple of years. She is a consultant for the Sunny Side Group of Restaurants in Boracay. She shares that she started creating the Sunny Side recipes seven years ago in her home test kitchen.

She also started Granivore in Rockwell, and is the culinary consultant for PizzaExpress of the Tasteless Group.

Her home in San Juan has served as her test kitchen during this pandemic. It is there that her food concepts are tried, tested and developed.

“I continue to do testing for new recipes for the restaurants that I am a consultant for during the lockdown,” she shared. “I thought I could do the same and set up something like that as my personal business from my home.”

For the family to share: Chicken Inasal Salu Salo (right, P650)

So one day she cooked inasal at home and thought that this could be what she would offer — for delivery.

“I have always thought the best kind of meals to have for delivery would be those that could be family-style,” she said. “Think roast chicken for a family and that was the concept I had when I started Manila Inasal.”

It is no surprise that the first products that came out of Manila Inasal were salu-salo boxes and bilao platters that contained a whole chicken, slabs of pork, or one whole bangus that were good for sharing by at least two to four people.

Going back to the start

Chef Natalia studied Hotel and Restaurant Management at UP while taking various courses at culinary schools around Metro Manila.

After graduating in 2007, she spent a year in Italy, also for culinary. When she got back to Manila to start as a chef she began her career setting up kitchens, doing catering and joining food markets.

Bangus Salu Salo (left, P520)

“I do R&D, recipe ideation, kitchen setup, kitchen layouts, train the staff. I also create concepts for some clients,” she says. “When the resto is operational, I stay on with some of them and do regular retooling and teaching of the staff, continuous R&D, recipe ideation and food innovation, which is necessary to keep a restaurant running and growing.”

But it was with the Sunny Side Cafe in Boracay that her professional consultancy work started and continues until today. She also helped set up Spice Bird, the piri-piri grill at D’Mall in Boracay. She continues to do work for Boracay restaurants.

She is also a consultant for the Tasteless group of restaurants, which include PizzaExpress, Granivore and Ohana bowls at the Grid.

“Manila Inasal was born during the pandemic because I realized being a consultant for many restaurants can change in an instant,” she said. “I could lose my job, and that made me think that if we (my siblings Enrique and Bella) set up something of our own we could manage it — and if we worked hard at it could succeed.”

The food at Manila Inasal is relatable and tastes good, too, which is why she decided to go for it.

“I wanted a catchy name,” she shared. “I did not want a name like Aling Natalia. So, Manila Inasal — because I’m from Manila, and we know that inasal is really from Bacolod, so here is a Manila take on inasal. I am thankful because a lot of Negrense clients have tried Manila Inasal and we have gotten good reviews from them.”

For those who want healthy choices, chef Natalia has vegetarian options on the menu because her dad and sister are healthy eaters. Her dad is vegan, so at least he can have tofu inasal and their often-ordered tortang talong.

“Actually I have started to include vegan options in our restaurant because we know people are eating healthy and we want to be able to serve something for them,” she shared.

Three for the grill: Chef Natalia Moran flanked by siblings Bella Moran and Enrique Moran

What started as a home business in San Juan has now expanded to a second cloud kitchen at the Atrium, Makati.

The chef shared that when they started in her San Juan home she knew that she would eventually have to expand to different locations because Manila Inasal is a delivery service. She had to have a cloud kitchen to serve the south and the north if the business was to grow.

“There were plans to set up a kitchen in Makati, which we have done this July. Hopefully one more location before the year ends,” she said. “Just small cloud kitchens so that the delivery or pickup would be more accessible to more people. From our database we have a lot of orders from the Makati, Taguig and Alabang areas, so the move to bring it closer to the people has become inevitable.”

As the business grew there was a need to add to the menu. So last January, Manila Inasal started with solo meals, as there was a demand for it. Collaborations with Himpossible recipes and PizzaExpress have been launched, with more in the pipeline and more interesting dishes to watch out for in the next couple of months.  In fact, there is an ambitious plan to put up a popup store within the year.

“During the second lockdown sales went up, then went down when lockdown restrictions were eased,” Natalia said. “So now we are looking at a space with a drive-by with stools where people can dine in. Fast food ang dating. Yes, the plans are there for a resto concept.”

Something different: Tortang talong pudpod (P180)

As lockdowns and restrictions continue to ease, more people will be raring to eat out, so chef Natalia and her siblings want to be ready for that time.

“But I can’t imagine it yet because I can only think of the cloud kitchen setup for now,” she says. “Our setup now is for delivery and the next step would be how to translate that into a restaurant. We want to continue to build our delivery market first and have drive-by shops where you can drive by and pick up your food, just like the concept of a food truck. But not inside a mall or dine-in just yet.”

Just for one: The inasal meals also come in solo sizes, with Chicken Inasal solo (P295); Bangus Inasal solo (P280); Tuna Belly solo (P350); Boneless Chicken solo (P260) and Tofu Inasal solo (P250).

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For information, call 0998-998-1987 or check them out at @sarapmanilainasal on IG.

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