When I was a kid, there was a Chinese-style restaurant along Roxas Boulevard, near the old Asian Development Bank Building (now, alas, the Department of Foreign Affairs) where you could get a whole fried chicken that tasted good enough to rival the one served over at Max’s.
What you got was a succulent fowl with burnished skin, the flesh tasting of five-spice powder. It would come to your table (or in a white takeaway cardboard box) with gravy and fried saba bananas. It was good.
The name of the restaurant was Savory (pronounced SAH-bo-ree) and it disappeared in the 1990s, but is making a serious comeback today.
When our family went there for lunch one Sunday, we actually opted not to have Savory’s famous chicken. Instead, we checked out the rest of the comida China (Chinese food prepared to suit local palates) on the menu.
The meal started with the classic lomi soup. Lomi, a thick soup made with chunky egg noodles, an assortment of seafood, and veg all cooked in rich pork broth, has always been one of my favorite dishes and my dad’s uncle prepares it to perfection whenever the old fellow can be coaxed into cooking. But since Sangko Gene rarely ever gets to cook the stuff anymore (and I’m not at all that fond of the instant variety), Savory’s version works as well. You get a wealth of fat noodles cooked in a brown soup that’s so thick it could pass for gravy. The taste is shrimp-y but without the off-putting fishiness that steers most people away from the dish. Plus, it’s chock-full of diced pork, fish balls, shredded Savoy cabbage, and quartered shiitake mushrooms to add textural and flavor interest.
If you’re the sort of family that needs a plateful of veg at every meal, I recommend the lo han chai. What you get is a savory and satisfying mix of green beans, mung bean sprouts, cabbage, wood-ear fungi, button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and fluffy golden fungi that are crisp to the bite and are most flavorful.
The pork asado (char siu) is red-cooked and smothered with a sweetish-smoky sauce. I’ve had better versions of this, but my mom and sister are both asado-fiends so we had to have a good dose of red-cooked pork.
One of my mom’s favorite dim sum items is a dish of spareribs cooked in tausi (salted black beans) and Savory has a reasonable facsimile thereof on its menu. Lechon con tofu tausi approximates the classic sparerib dish by smothering chunks of lechon Macao (lechong kawali – deep-fried pork belly) in a thick, sticky black bean sauce together with slivered leeks and deep-fried chunks of cottony tofu (cotton-style [momengoshi] tofu). It is a great dish with a distinct umami quality to the flavors and it’s fab with plain rice. Truth be told, I’d order and eat this again and again.
Chinese food purists would do well to flee the localized fare at Savory, but hard-core gourmands like me and my family would never turn our noses up at this classic comeback.