I was born in Mindanao, in the south of the Philippines, but I grew up in Sydney. We used to return quite often when I was younger, but there was a lot of instability during the late 1990s and early 00s, so we stopped and I never really went back. I tried to be as Aussie as possible, assimilate as much as I could. “Budgie” is an old nickname I’ve had since high school when I fell off a balcony trying to catch a friend’s pet budgie I’d let out of its cage.
Cooking was something I got into in my mid-20s. But it wasn’t until I moved to London that I began cooking professionally. By 2017, I was head chef at Foley’s. I had started a supper club – Sarap – in late 2016 as a chance to be creative and learn about Filipino food. I don’t speak Filipino, so it was a way to reconnect with the culture. We did a pop-up at the Sun & 13 Cantons in Soho in 2019, and started getting a name. Jimi Famurewa, the restaurant critic from the Evening Standard, gave us four stars for the food and it exploded from there.
By January 2020 we had our first site, in Brixton. We had an amazing February, and then Covid happened. It was difficult to do takeaway with our kitchen design, so I went back to the drawing board. In December, we reopened as Sarap Baon, which loosely means takeaway and is inspired by the street food and food-court culture of the Philippines and south-east Asia.
My mum had a small repertoire she did very well, a lot of classic Filipino food such as adobo and pinakbet. The cassava cake recipe is her speciality; she would make that whenever there was a celebration. Now I’m on the other side of the world I want to make some of the dishes she cooked. That’s where it all started, with that feeling, with that inspiration.
This soured soup uses whatever is available as the souring agent – anything from unripe fruits to tamarind. For this recipe we use tamarind paste or powder as it is easily available, but at the restaurant we use local ingredients such as rhubarb or fermented tomatoes. The food writer Doreen G Fernandez suggests sinigang might be the dish that is “most representative of Filipino taste”.
Note: This recipe involves cooking the ingredients one at a time in the broth, so you will need a kitchen spider strainer, colander, slotted spoon or anything that allows you to place each one in the stock and then remove it with ease.
fish stock 1 litre
fresh bird’s eye chillies 3, split in the middle
tamarind extract 3 tbsp or 50g tamarind powder
shallots 2 large, roughly diced into 1-1.5cm pieces
tomatoes 4, quartered
long beans (snake beans) or green beans 250g, trimmed and cut into roughly 2-2.5cm lengths
firm white fish fillets 500g, cut into 4cm chunks
large prawns 450g, shelled and deveined but head and tail kept on
morning glory 1 bunch, thick stems removed
fish sauce to taste
Pour the fish stock into a large heavy-based saucepan, add the chillies and tamarind paste or powder, and bring to a boil over a medium heat. Add the shallots and tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 5 minutes until the shallots are translucent.
Put the beans in a spider strainer and place them in the simmering broth. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the beans are tender but still vibrant green. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Put the fish in the strainer and place gently in the simmering broth. Cook for about 5 minutes or until just cooked (take care not to overcook the fish). Remove, transfer to a plate carefully and set aside.
Put the prawns in the strainer and place in the simmering broth, and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Remove and set aside. Lastly, put the morning glory in the simmering broth and cook for about a minute, or until tender and bright green, then remove, transfer to a plate and set aside.
Divide each of the cooked ingredients between 4 serving bowls. While the broth is still simmering, add the fish sauce to season to your taste. Once you’re happy with the seasoning, ladle the soup into the serving bowls with the seafood and vegetables.
Serve the dish piping hot with jasmine rice.
This barbecued chicken, marinated in coconut vinegar, calamansi (Philippine lime) and lemongrass, then basted in annatto butter, is a regular on the menu at Sarap. Inasal is Ilonggo for “grilled”, and comes from the city of Bacolod in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines.
For the marinade
garlic 8 cloves, peeled and minced
fresh ginger 30g, peeled and minced
lemongrass 3 sticks, tough root and outer layers removed, then roughly chopped
7up or Sprite 100ml (use full sugar variety)
calamansi juice 80ml (available at Waitrose, or substitute with 40ml each of lemon and lime juice)
Filipino cane or coconut vinegar 80ml
annatto oil 60ml (see below)
freshly cracked black peppercorns 3g
chicken 1 whole, spatchcocked, skin and fat removed and reserved for the annatto basting butter
For the inasal dipping sauce
calamansi juice 30ml (see above)
Filipino cane or coconut vinegar 30ml (see above)
light soy sauce 120ml
shallot 1 small, finely diced
garlic 1 clove, minced
bird’s eye chilli 1, finely chopped
For the annatto basting butter
annatto oil 60ml (see below)
reserved chicken fat and skin
salted butter 100g, softened
garlic 4 cloves, peeled and minced
calamansi juice 30ml (see above)
For the annatto oil
annatto seeds 40g
neutral flavoured vegetable oil 150ml
To make the annatto oil, place the annatto seeds and the oil in a small saucepan and put on a medium heat. Stir constantly until the oil takes on the colour of the seeds – if you have a thermometer, you want it to be around 70C – or when very small bubbles start to form when you stop stirring. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool completely before straining and discarding the seeds.
Place all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add the chicken, cover the bowl with clingfilm and marinade overnight in the fridge.
Combine all of the ingredients for the dipping sauce. This is also best made the day before so all the flavours can meld together.
The following day remove the chicken from the marinade, pat dry and allow it to sit out of the fridge for 30 minutes or so to come to room temperature.
Meanwhile, make the basting butter. Place 60ml of annatto oil in a small saucepan and put it on a low to medium heat. Add the reserved chicken skin and render slowly for around 15-20 minutes. Strain and discard any solids, then add the annatto/chicken oil to the rest of the basting ingredients and mix well.
If you have a barbecue, this is definitely the preferred and traditional way of cooking chicken inasal.
To ensure even cooking on the barbecue, make two cuts across the thickest part of each of the chicken legs down to the bone. Grill the chicken over charcoal skin side down first, turning and basting regularly. If the heat is too high, adjust the height of the cooking surface so the chicken sits further away from the coals. A little charring is OK, but you want the chicken to have a nice orange hue. The chicken is done when the thickest part of the thigh reaches 73C. Remove from the barbecue, baste all sides one more time and allow to rest for around 10 minutes before serving.
To cook in the oven, preheat the oven to 200C fan/gas mark 7. Baste all sides of the chicken with the basting butter then place it on a large roasting tray skin side up. Cook for about 40-45 minutes, basting regularly. The chicken is done when the thickest part of the thigh reaches 73C. You can also pierce the thickest part of the chicken leg with a skewer or knife and if the juices run clear then it’s ready. If it’s pink, cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and baste all sides one more time and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before serving with jasmine rice and the dipping sauce.
This is a Sarap take on a Filipino classic that swaps the dried taro leaves found in abundance in the Philippines with kale. It’s essentially kale stewed in coconut milk, ginger, garlic and chillies.
Bagoong, a Filipino fermented shrimp paste, is traditionally used in this dish, but substitute it with red miso for a similar umami – but vegan – kick.
This recipe has been converting non-kale eaters since we put it on our menu, and is one of our favourite staff meals, served simply over a bowl of jasmine rice.
vegetable oil 80ml
garlic 30g, finely minced
ginger 20g, finely minced
bird’s eye chillies 2, finely minced
bagoong alamang (Filipino shrimp paste) or red miso paste 50g
coconut milk 800ml
kale 1kg, thick stalks removed
black pepper 2g freshly cracked
salt to taste
In a large heavy based saucepan, heat the vegetable oil on a medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli, and sauté until lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add the bagoong or miso and cook for about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly to minimise it catching (it will catch no matter what).
Add 200ml of coconut milk and deglaze the pan before adding the remainder and increasing the heat to high, bringing the milk to a rolling boil. Stir in half the kale until it wilts a little. Then add the rest, stirring until the kale is coated in coconut milk. Lower the heat, bring to a simmer, then cover the pot with a lid, leaving it slightly ajar.
Cook until the coconut milk has reduced and the fat has separated, stirring occasionally. This should take about 1½ hours. Add the freshly cracked black pepper and taste to see if it needs any salt (both the bagoong and miso vary in salt levels so you may not need to add any more). Serve hot over a bowl of jasmine rice or as a side dish.
This vegetable stew is flavoured with fermented shrimp paste (bagoong) and often topped with crispy pork (chicharones or lechon kawali). It is one of my all-time favourite dishes and something I ask my mum to cook whenever I am home. The recipe is an ode to my mother and I have done very little to change her version.
vegetable oil 50ml
onion 1 large, cut into small dice
garlic 30g, finely minced
ginger 20g, finely minced
tomatoes 2 large, quartered
bagoong alamang (Filipino shrimp paste) 50g
kabocha squash 250g, cut into 3-4cm dice (or butternut squash)
Japanese aubergine 200g, cut into 5cm pieces (or regular aubergines)
bitter melon 100g, cut into 3cm half-moons (optional)
okra 100g, stems removed
snake beans or green beans 100g, cut into 2-3cm lengths
water 20ml (if needed)
salt and pepper
In a large heavy-based saucepan, heat the vegetable oil on a medium heat. Add the onion and sauté till transparent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and sauté till lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until very soft, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. Add the bagoong and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the vegetables in stages, cooking and stirring for 4-5 minutes with each addition. Start with the squash, followed by the aubergine, bitter melon, okra and beans. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and cook for another 5-6 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. The vegetables should release their own water but if it is looking a little dry after 3 minutes, add the water to help things along. Season to taste and serve immediately in a large bowl, sprinkled with roughly crushed chicharones and jasmine rice.
This recipe was perfected during lockdown. I have always had a cassava cake-inspired dessert on the menu at Sarap as another ode to my mum – it was her go-to dessert.
A marriage of burnt Basque cheesecake and cassava cake, this was prompted by a customer trying to decide whether she preferred our cassava tart or Brat’s burnt Basque cheesecake. Why not have both?
Makes enough for 8 slices
cream cheese 340g
caster sugar 140g
frozen grated cassava 450g, defrosted
coconut milk 400ml
condensed milk 400g
eggs 2 medium, cracked into a small bowl
Preheat the oven to 220C fan/gas mark 9. Place the cream cheese and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until well combined and smooth.
Add the grated cassava and mix well. Add the coconut milk and mix together until well combined, add the condensed milk, mix well, then add the eggs one at a time and mix together until everything is well combined.
At this stage, the mixture should be quite runny but with no visible streaks from the different ingredients.
Cut a large piece of parchment paper, enough to cover the base and sides of a 20-22cm round springform cake tin right up to the top. Scrunch up the parchment paper into a ball then unravel and place in the cake tin (the scrunching helps with the lining).
Mix the batter one more time to ensure the cassava hasn’t settled at the bottom, then pour into the lined cake tin. Place the tin on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. It should have a slight wobble in the centre when you take it out. Place on a rack and cool for a minimum of 6-8 hours, ideally overnight. Do not remove from the tin or slice it until the cake has cooled completely.
Ferdinand Montoya is chef-owner of Sarap Baon, London SW9