Never Heard Of It is a collection of reviews of the countless and often extraordinary hole-in-the-wall restaurants of the Lower Mainland that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve. Explore the NHOI archive here.
Filipino fried chicken. What is it?
According to Filipino fried chicken mythology, sometime in 1945 in the post-war Philippines (in Quezon City, to be exact, which is now part of Metro Manila), a man named Maximo Gimenez and his niece Ruby served American foods to soldiers out of their home. Their batterless fried chicken – marinated in a fish-sauce base, steamed and then deep fried – became their signature dish. Soon they opened Max’s Fried Chicken, which now has locations around the world including one right here in Vancouver.
Another style of fried chicken vying for the title of Filipino fried chicken is Chickenjoy, created by the cult favourite Jollibee chain (sort of like the McDonald’s of the Philippines). This chicken is “southern style”; think KFC — battered with seasoned flour dredge.
If you go further back in history, you will find another famous Filipino fried chicken in a restaurant that opened in 1929. Ramon Lee’s Panciteria serves Chinese fried chicken with flavours from Guangdong, where the founder’s family emigrated from. The bird is marinated in soy sauce and seasoned with Chinese spices (star anise, cloves and cinnamon) before being deep fried.
These three origin stories illustrate how some of the dishes Filipinos call their own are really coopted adaptations from another culture. I mention them because tiny little Win Win Chick-N in Steveston Village serves an amalgam of these three styles. It’s an American fried chicken restaurant with a Filipino twist. (To wit: the macaroni salad dressed in mayo, banana ketchup, sugar and sliced hot dogs is right out of Woman’s Day magazine recipe circa 1954.) The chicken is close to the style purveyed by Max’s, but it’s juicier and coated with a thin dredge batter. It’s first brined overnight in a marinade that is seasoned with….is that fish sauce? Maybe soy sauce? And perhaps calamansi lime? Black pepper for sure. Garlic powder? Who knows? Ant worthy fried chicken is always cloaked in the mystery of a secret recipe. It is then dredged, and finally fried in a pressure fryer, similar to KFC.
Is the chicken good? You bet. The skin is crispy and the meat has flavour to the bone. The gravy is no slouch either, and the crispy-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside fries are good too. For the full Filipino experience, ask for some extra banana ketchup for dipping.
The one thing I would definitely go back for is the ube cake. Ube is a type of purple yam that has been trending over the last couple of years because of its high Instagrammability (owing to its #purple hue). Its flavour (really more of an aroma because its flavour is so mild) is reminiscent of vanilla, almond, coconut milk, and pistachio. It’s not as sweet as it looks.