MIO GELATI: Pioneering Gelato Dessert Truck in Manila (OAP)

Mio gelati

(This feature was published in OurAwesomePlanet.com last September 17, 2013)

At 23 years of age, Celina Nolasco was able to create her own food business.

It was in 2011 when she thought of putting up an ice cream business since the Philippines is a tropical country and this cool treat would be appreciated all-year round. She ended up with a gelato stand, but because of difficulties with logistics, her father suggested that she make her business mobile and go for a food truck.

It became easier for her then to travel from Quezon City to the Midnight Mercato weekend market where she launched her food truck, Mio Gelati, in April 2011.

She named it such because “mio gelati” translates to “my gelato”, a business in which Celina practically did everything—from experimenting with flavors, mixing them, and tasting all of it. Her experience in the culinary industry helped her with this business.

A graduate of Culinary Arts from the College of St. Benilde, Celina worked in one of the five-star hotels in the metro for about a year before deciding to build her own business. She is now full-time with Mio Gelati and is continually crafting new concoctions for gelato fans.

Her food truck has 18 flavors on display every weekend but she has around 50 flavors in her repertoire, which she rotates from time to time. There are mainstays though such as Ferrero, pistachio, blueberry cheesecake, mango cream pie, and cookie butter, which is one of her latest creations. My favorite among these bestsellers is Ferrero, simply because I’m a chocoholic. I love its milky chocolate-y taste and the crunchy texture from the actual chocolate. The pistachio comes a close second with its rich, nutty flavor and crunchy pistachio bits.

Celina gets inspiration from current trends and classic flavors. She believes Mio Gelati stands out because of the quality and taste. “[It is] homemade. We make it in small batches. We don’t stock a lot so the flavor stays fresh.”

One scoop of the regular flavor only costs P80 and two scoops will give you more value for your money at P150. The premium flavor is priced at P100 per scoop and P180 for two scoops.

Adults may indulge in more exciting flavors such as Bailey’s, Tequila Rose, and beer. But for those who are craving for something not on the menu, Mio Gelati accepts requests for customized gelato. It is even open to catering to private parties.

Maybe I’ll request for cronut-flavored gelato next time.

JASPER’S House of Chicken Food Truck Story (OAP)

Jaspers

(This feature was published in OurAwesomePlanet.com last September 16, 2013)

This generation’s youngsters are fortunate with all the available opportunities that surround them. One young entrepreneur, Jasper Daryl C. Pe, is currently in college while managing his food truck business.

The food truck is actually an off-shoot of the family business called Jasper’s House of Chicken, a stand-alone restaurant in the Manila area. “It is a collaborative effort in making the truck.” Jasper designed the logo and truck, aside from being the inspiration behind the brand’s name. According to Jasper, the family thought of getting into the food truck business because, “First, you are not limited with the rentable space you have. Second, you can go to your customers and your customers don’t have to go to you. And third, it is very flexible. We constructed the truck ourselves with blood, sweat and tears—literally. Then everything just came together.”

In Cucina Andare, customers may find Jasper’s dad, Joseph Pe, handling the operations of the food truck. Jasper deals with marketing, while his brother, Jeremy, takes care of the financials, and his mom, Debbie, is in charge of the recipes and purchases.

One the family’s recipes is the Bacon, Mac & Cheese (P95), a comfort food for kids and adults alike. The macaroni pasta is baked in a creamy sauce with bacon bits and topped with more cheese. It’s a rich dish that is filling as well. I heard this could get out of stock pretty fast since it’s one of the bestsellers.

For those who want the traditional rice meal, this food truck offers affordable options such as the Tapa Flakes(P120). Their version involves thin strips of sirloin steak that is cooked without oil. It’s very easy to eat and is a healthier alternative too, although best eaten while still hot.

Another must-try is the signature dish, Jasper’s Chicken (P120), fried chicken fillet pieces that is doused in a sweet, gingery sauce and topped with sesame seeds. It comes with a cup of steamed rice for a complete meal. It comes in another flavor that features honey barbecue sauce.

But the standout menu item for me was the Chicken Karaage (P95), a small tub of bite-size chicken skin/meat that is seasoned with cayenne hot chili. I like that each piece had a good portion of both the chicken skin and meat, unlike other places that only serve the skin. I have yet to try Jasper’s other flavors like barbecue, sour cream, and wasabi.

I munched on the chicken karaage like chips and had to stop myself from eating the whole thing before I gain five pounds on the spot. Maybe next time I’ll bring it home so I could gorge privately.

KUYANG: Pinoy-style Food Truck (OAP)

(This feature was published in OurAwesomePlanet.com last September 12, 2013)

Inspiration can strike anywhere and in the case of Lyle and Jane de Leon, it was an international television show called Eat St.

At first, they wanted to produce a simple grilling station that is mounted on a tricycle, which could go around their village. But they thought of upping the ante a bit and turn their food truck dream into reality. According to Lyle, “We’re a fan of food trucks and we realized that it’s such a new industry in the Philippines that’s why we wanted to bring the concept here, not knowing that there were already existing food trucks in the market.”

It was a couple of years ago when the business-minded couple created their first food truck, Kuyang, which offers classic Filipino food in the form of rice toppings. They initially catered to students around the Katipunan area, and the duo had fun manning the truck while it was still gaining ground. They didn’t have any crew, just a driver. It was the couple doing all the food prep, cooking and everything in between.

Fast forward to the present time where Kuyang has four franchisees already—in Los Baños, Quezon City, Manila and Cucina Andare.

It wasn’t a walk in the park though, as they had to go through some birthing pains with this line of business.

“Right now we are trying to boost the popularity of food trucks in Manila.” Lyle shares that he’s part of a group that formed an association to support local food trucks, Philippine Food Truck Association. The organization was established just recently and Lyle was appointed president of the group.

“Why did we form it? It’s because it’s a fairly new business here in the Philippines and we want to support all the food truck owners on how to do business legally. We wanted of course to have the support of the local government because, as of now, food trucks are not classified as anything. It’s such a gray market in the Philippines.”

Food trucks are sometimes mistaken for food carts, which are two different business concepts. Jane further shares, “Actually, we’re very thankful to Cucina Andare for giving food trucks a chance to expose themselves because there are a lot of new players who just came in. They must have thought that’s fun but didn’t know that behind the scenes it’s quite difficult to thrive the business.”

Slowly, it’s becoming easier for food trucks to manage a business in the metro.

At the same time, Kuyang’s is gradually becoming a household name with its affordable rice toppings such as the Liempo Meal and Lechon Kawali Meal, both bestsellers. Other items on the menu are the traditional Tapa Meal, Chicken Longga Meal, Barbecue Meal, Hotdog Meal, and there’s also a Tenga Meal.

But the standout item on the menu, for me, is the ChickaPork Chicharon, a combination of crunchy chicken and pork rind bits that is truly a heart-stopper. Although it is convenient to munch on like chips, it should not be mistaken for such. Best to eat in moderation.

I learned that Lyle and Jane have their own research and development team that continually formulates products for Kuyang’s. By September, they will be coming out with must-try items. (Hint: one of the items is a creative mix of rice porridge and bulalo.)

Both are full-time with this food truck business. “We believed in the concept that’s why we pushed for it,” reveals Jane. “The concept of the food truck is there but we localized it. The size of the food truck is small so it’s easier to park in our streets. Our food is rice toppings, which is on-the-go food.”

“It’s a community-based business,” says Lyle. “Eventually, we hope that at every corner, you’d see a Kuyang going around catering to their needs. We want to become a household name. When you say Kuyang, you know already it’s grilled, a food truck in the corner.

NEW YORK MINUTE: Freshly Made Home-Cooked Paninis (OAP)

(This feature was published in OurAwesomePlanet.com and Mercato Centrale last May 2, 2013; Photo from New York Minute Panini)

If I had a minute to go and grab something to eat, it would be some sort of all-in-one meal—like a sandwich. A more fun alternative would be the panini, Italy’s version of stuffed bread or sandwich, which typically uses ciabatta that is horizontally cut in half and filled with all kinds of meat and/or veggies and cheese.

I recently discovered a panini place in Cucina Andare, New York Minute Paninis, which offers eight different variants and creates them upon order. A must-try is the Empire Steak, a bestseller that has sautéed beef, bell peppers, onions and mozzarella cheese. Their version of the classic Philly cheese steak is spot on with the delicious combination of the beef, veggies and the melted cheese. This is a panini that would satisfy even those with big appetites!

Another specialty is the Brooklyn Bird that combines grilled chicken, mozzarella, pesto and tomato slices in its filling. I like the traditional chicken-pesto combo where the basil gives a fresh flavor to the sandwich. Vegetarians may opt for the Veggie Delight panini that is totally meat-free, or the Fantastic 4, which features four kinds of cheeses. I found out that the names of all the variants are based on places in New York or movies that feature the Big Apple. It was actually the idea of Maxine Marcelino, the young entrepreneur who conceptualized the business at 18 years of age.

“I’m in college right now and I wanted to do something else on the side. So I told my parents that I wanted to do it and they told me to make a concept.” The parents of Maxine are in the catering business and are already serving two kinds of paninis. “I was looking for a concept and I wanted to make the name creative. Last year, I went to New York with my family and the place was so fresh on my mind. When I was conceptualizing I thought maybe New York theme na lang.”

It was in September 2012 when Maxine was able to finalize her business concept, and after a month or two, she joined Mezza Norte. She launched her first solo food business venture while still in school. Although it was difficult to balance school and work, she was able to do so with the help of her supportive parents. Her mother trained her cooks to prepare everything, and Maxine takes charge of the selling, although she can assemble her own paninis as well.

This 18-year-old mans the stall and makes it a point to talk to customers. “I find myself drawn to booths when I see the owners there so I make it a point to be always there.” She would sometimes go around the weekend market—with her small signage in tow—and offer her products to potential customers. That’s how she believes in her products, and it’s also a way for her to help customers decide what they want.

New York Minute Paninis are reasonably priced at P100 each, and it also offers Quesadillas that are jam-packed with choice toppings such as chicken, beef or vegetables. These are also made on the spot so you’ll be assured of its freshness.

 

 

WRAP BATTLE: The Pita Wrap of the Filipinos (OAP)

(This feature was published in OurAwesomePlanet.com and Mercato Centrale last April 5, 2013)

Sometimes, inspiration strikes in the most unusual circumstances. For Paul Wenceslao, it happened during one of his coffee breaks. He let the idea of putting up a food business brew until he found the perfect product—pita wraps. There are only a handful of stalls that solely offer wraps so he thought of bringing it to Mercato Centrale. And that was where Wrap Battle was born.

In the midnight market, he entices foodies with his creative concoctions. He currently has seven varieties and one of his bestsellers is the Beef Nacho Wrap. Those who enjoy eating nachos and dip would love this. It’s pita filled with spicy beef, nacho cheese sauce, tomatoes, onions and crushed tortilla chips. It’s crunchy, tasty and it’s a fun way of eating nachos.

Another favorite is the Chicken Pesto, a pita wrap with spiced chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, cheese and homemade pesto sauce. It is comes with either mayonnaise or a sour cream sauce. The mayo gives a fuller flavor to the wrap while the sour cream highlights the flavor of the pesto. The aromatic basil pesto is what makes this wrap my favorite—so far.

It’s a good thing that Paul is a serious coffee drinker since he gets his best ideas with a dose of caffeine. A cup of coffee would actually go well with his other wrap creation, Bacon and Egg, which reminds me of my favorite meal of the day—breakfast. This classic combination is a very comfortable choice and delicious as well. Of course! How can you go wrong with bacon? Add scrambled egg to it, some cheese, greens and mayo, and it is already a complete meal that you can eat while on the go.

It has been over a year now since he launched Wrap Battle and Paul continues with his wrap innovations. “The Greeks have the gyro, Mexicans have the burrito, and the Mediterranean guys have the shawarma. Why not Filipinos?” He is working on a new variant, the Adobo Wrap. It would be exciting to see Wrap Battle’s version of the traditional Filipino dish wrapped in pita. I wonder if it will replace my favorite wrap… I guess I will just have to taste and see.

 

WRAP BATTLE
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: www.facebook.com/wrapbattle

Available at Midnight Mercato and Cucina Andare:

MIDNIGHT MERCATO
Address: Corner of 34th & 8th avenue (near MC Home Depot), BGC Taguig
Mobile number: (+63 917) 840-1152
Email: [email protected] or [email protected]
Operating hours: Every Friday and Saturday, 10pm-3am

CUCINA ANDARE
Address: Glorietta 3 Park, Makati (in front of Makati Shangri-La)
Mobile number: (+63 917) 840-1152
Email: [email protected]
Operating hours: Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 4pm-3am