While most top of mind choices for Filipino cuisine come from Luzon and Visayas (lechon, anyone?), there are many underrated gastronomic dishes down South in sunny Mindanao. Fortunately, you don’t need to travel far to get a taste of it because Palm Grill has brought these Southern flavors to us Manila folk three years ago.
Palm Grill was established in Tomas Morato in 2017. Although it’s a pork-free restaurant that serves halal dishes, the place has consistently been a hotspot not just for Mindanaoans, but to foreigners, adventurous foodies, a hungry family – you name it!
The first of its kind to introduce this diverse Mindanao cuisine in Manila, Palm Grill is a culmination of Miguel “Miggy” Moreno’s family heritage. Born in Jolo (the capital of Sulu), but having lived most of his life in Zamboanga, Miggy grew up eating his grandparents’ cooking: Mindanao comfort food. Since he is proud of his heritage, he opened a restaurant that highlights the specialty dishes from that region.
Miggy also focuses on all of the little details that make up Palm Grill: the bright interiors, the occasional splash of color, the wooden tables, and even the way the vines hang from the ceiling. All of this make Palm Grill a picture-perfect site! Aside from the festive setup, you can find native Tutup hats on the wall and handwoven Pis textiles, and Yakan table runners that add a pop of color. In their three years of business, Miggy has made it a point to integrate bits of his culture not just in the food, but in the decor, too.
Speaking of food, a key ingredient in most, if not all of Palm Grill’s dishes lies in the Pamapa, a spice blend featuring ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, galangal (blue ginger), and toasted coconut. This is carefully mixed in their commissary down at Mindanao, where it is ground into a powder, frozen into blocks, and shipped to Manila. Adding this blend to heirloom recipes straight from his grandmother, Miggy takes our palates on a culinary adventure unlike any other.
Palm Grill’s bestsellers include the following:
Pyanggang Manok (Php290 for Solo / Php390 for Duo)
This green chicken started it all. Made with seven spices— lemongrass, turmeric, ginger, onion, garlic, toasted coconut and pepper— the chicken is slow cooked in coconut milk to allow the flavors to seep in before being grilled. Overall, it has an earthy taste, somewhat like a cross between curry and chimichurri, but with tender flakes of chicken meat. It’s best enjoyed with their bestselling turmeric rice, yellow fried rice with a consistency like risotto, thanks to the coconut milk it’s cooked in, but with a smoky flavor from the toasted coconut topping.
Tiyula Itum (Php390)
Known as the black Bulalo of the South, this soup includes the same spice mix as the Pamapa along with some additional aromatics. It gets its dark color from the toasted coconut that Mindanao is known for. It’s a soup/stew hailing from Sulu that features tender pieces of beef, leafy greens, and the star of the show: a slab of bone marrow torched for maximum beefy flavors, resulting in a soft, almost jelly-like consistency.
Locon ala Zamboanga (Php550)
Mindanao is known for their seafood, where you can always get them fresh and at great prices to boot. The Locon ala Zamboanga pays homage to the abundance of the sea with fresh Tiger Prawns cooked in garlic, crab fat (aligue), and coconut milk. The resulting sauce can be likened to a slightly spicy and creamy curry sauce. The shrimp is plump, tender and comes out of the shell easily (that’s how you know it’s cooked properly!). It is also best paired with turmeric rice to really bring out its flavors. To cleanse your palate, the dish comes with atchara, pickled radish and veggies to cut across the rich flavors.
Beef Kolma (Php279)
This sizzling dish features tender chunks of beef tenderloin and potatoes cooked in a mix of Pamapa spices and coconut milk. It’s a savory curry with mild heat designed to “melt in your mouth”. This Tausug dish is slow-cooked until the beef is soft and tender, disintegrating into shreds as you eat and savor it.
Chicken Satti (Php200)
Not to be confused with the peanut-based Satay of Indonesia, the Satti is a thick soup made with taro, but with none of the powdery grittiness that it comes with. Instead, it’s a bright red soup that’s served with sticky rice balls and your choice of barbecued chicken or beef skewers. Upon drinking the soup, you’ll get a sweet taste first followed by some mild heat in your mouth that briefly lingers. The rice balls act as neutralizers to chew on in-between bites, while the tender piece of grilled chicken adds a smoky and savory flavor.
Miggy fondly describes this soup as his go-to for hangovers with memories of drinking it late in the morning after a fun night in the bar. You can get this dish as hot as the original Mindanao version if you can take the heat. Just let the servers know.
Knicker Iced Treat (Php190)
Dessert is a great way to end a flavor-bomb of a meal! The Knicker Iced Treat is the Southern cousin of halo-halo sans the ice and beans. Instead, it is replaced with creamy vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry syrup, and with layers of diced watermelons, ripe mangoes, and slices of banana in the middle and pandan-flavored coconut jelly (nata de coco) resting at the bottom. Just like the layered sundaes and parfaits, this icy dessert requires you to dig deep to taste all of the flavors. The interplay of textures from soft fruits to chewy jelly and the smooth flow of ice cream will have you polishing it off in seconds! What makes this normally rich dessert so easy to finish, you might ask? The secret is in the creme, the ingredients of which Miggy doesn’t reveal. He does hint at using lemon, though; so perhaps the refreshing touch makes it unique from all other treats.
Before you leave, try their Kahawa Premium coffee, as well, a Sulu blend featuring single-origin coffee beans roasted in wine and butter. It’s strong, flavorful, and fragrant. Whether it’s a wakeup call in the morning or a pick-me-up during the afternoons, this coffee has enough caffeine to help you power through the day.
This March 2020, Palm Grill will be celebrating their third anniversary. Known for their wide variety of exotic Mindanaoan dishes since their opening, the restaurant aims to improve and innovate, while continuously introducing a new side to Filipino cuisine.
175 Tomas Morato corner Scout Castor, Quezon City
Mondays to Thursdays 11AM-11PM / Fridays to Sundays 11AM-12MN
8373-1668 / 09165604583