[caption id="attachment_32073" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Fresh squid stuffed with herbs (Photos by Kyle Victor Jose)[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_32076" align="alignright" width="144"] Yan Kee meals are unique and affordable.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_32078" align="alignright" width="144"] Pancit Canton laden with homemade toppings[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_32079" align="alignright" width="144"] Silken tofu stuffed with chicken and herbs[/caption]
Decades before Martin Yan fascinated TV audiences with his relaxed manners in Yan Can Cook, the world was introduced to the joys and adventures of Chinese cuisine by a humorous TV show “Wok With Yan” hosted by Stephen Yan.
In Manila, a very young Dave Limsico was enthralled, as he watched the familiar food prepared before a world audience. With good friend Robert Dy, Dave fulfilled his dream in the 1980s, with the opening of Wok Inn on Remedios Street, across from Malate Church and a few steps from the popular hangouts Hoobit House and Oarhouse.
Wok Inn’s concept of a kitchen visible to diners was an instant success; branches sprouted in other urban cities. But the success of the venture made the duo restless; for them the voyage is more exciting than the destination. They sold out and moved on, even retiring from the food business for an extended period.
But food is in their blood and soon, Robert was serving food in his garage along San Juan Street in Pasay City. Word spread and he had to build a roof, walls and hire staff. Today, with his bosom buddy Dave, Robert is running the most popular little food house in the metropolis: Yan Kee, alluding to their idol Stephen Yan and the Chinese word for memory – Kee. Thus, the play on words: Yan Kee,
[caption id="attachment_32082" align="alignleft" width="240"] Kitchen whiz kids Dave and Robert[/caption]
PLEASANT, FRIENDLY – Located on San Juan Street between Donada and Taft Avenue, Yan Kee is almost adjacent to the prestigious Manila Sanitarium Hospital and sits smack in the midst of Seventh Day Adventist territory, a Mecca for vegetarians and health gurus.
Clean, unpretentious furniture and uniformed personnel welcome customers into the Yan Kee Peking Park twin eateries, which are comfortably cool and breezy even without air conditioning. Thanks to the unique design of slatted walls and dividers.
A long Teppanyaki stainless steel griddle in the middle of one of the dining rooms proves to diners that their orders are cooked from scratch upon ordering. No frozen or microwaved shortcut dishes here.
There is a healthy ratio of staff to customers, assuring prompt service.
AUTHENTIC INGREDIENTS – One secret to the quality of the food is the use of rare and authentic ingredients sourced by Dave and Robert from Metro Manila’s best wet markets and obscure Chinese stores in Binondo.
For example, a simple dish like Pancit Canton tastes so different at Yan Kee because of the Canton noodles bought from a store in Chinatown that has been making them since before World War II.
The crisp Spicy and Buttered Chicken, though battered, are not heavily coated with greasy flour coating but instead use premium starch not available from supermarkets.
Their Stuffed Squid starts with two large squid bought hours before and stuffed with fresh Kuchay chives, minced chicken and herbs. Breaded briefly and deep-fried, the squids fill the serving dish but unbelievable cheap at only P95.
EVERYTHING HOMEMADE – Almost nothing is bought frozen or pre-mixed, even the fishballs, meatballs and kikiam for the pancit. Every morning, the staff makes a fresh batch of stuffing from minced chicken breast for use in Stuffed Tofu and other dishes.
Two large triangles of fresh tofu are filled with a stuffing of chicken and herbs, then deep-fried and served with a soy-based gravy. All that work, and each plate sells for only P48!
INNOVATION, INVENTION – An original invention, Sipa, has become so popular I have encountered it in menus from Ilocos to Mindanao. Generous to a fault, the inventor of the dish never patented the recipe nor the name of the dish, which has become generic.
Dave explained that he adapted it from a popular traditional Chinese baked crisp pie with thick, lard-enriched dough enclosing kuchay and ground meat. He used lumpia wrapper instead, twisting the ends to resemble an ancient foot-kicked toy, which is why it is called Sipa.
HEALTHY BEST SELLERS – Aside from the Spicy Chicken, Yan Kee best sellers are the Grilled Liempo (P98) and Chicken Teriyaki (98), both served with a generous serving of buttered garlic rice and coleslaw.
Those with light appetites sometimes prefer the Chinese style of eating Chicken Bola-Bola Congee (P48) with Sipa (two pcs for P32).
The world of foodies is certainly happier and better fed because Dave and Robert have restlessly refused retirement and insisted on returning to the kitchen.
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[caption id="attachment_32089" align="alignleft" width="162"] Firm Canton noodles to share[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_32091" align="alignleft" width="162"] Crisp Soy Tofu with radish-ginger tempura sauce[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_32093" align="alignleft" width="162"] Thick grilled liempo with garlic butter rice and coleslaw[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_32094" align="alignleft" width="180"] Sipa, originally invented by the duo[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_32095" align="alignleft" width="108"] Cooked to order on site[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_32096" align="alignleft" width="180"] Grilled Chicken Teriyaki set[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_32097" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Yan Kee brightens Pasay neighborhood.[/caption]