Chef Justin Sarabia of Liliw, Laguna treats Makati to classic provincial goodness
Promdi is a colloquial term Filipinos use to refer to someone who came from the province (‘promdi’ = from the province).
While most Filipinos would agree that the term ‘promdi’ has somewhat of a negative connotation, Chef Justin Sarabia is proud of his promdi heritage. So much so that he actually named his first restaurant after his beloved hometown.
In July 2014, Chef Justin opened Rural Kitchen of Liliw, Laguna along Rada Street in Makati City. Dominated by fast food chains and bigger and more established restaurants, this quaint restaurant by the corner exudes provincial simplicity and the comforts of home—from the solihiya (woven rattan) seats to the flavors of his childhood, which evokes fond memories of his dear Lola Edad. He even displayed a huge artwork by his cousin, Jun Domingo.
“Most of our dishes are my Lola’s (grandmother) recipe,” Chef Justin tells Expat. “In a way this [restaurant] is an homage to her and how she taught me to love food and enjoy cooking.
He also chose the name ‘Rural Kitchen of Liliw, Laguna’ to pay tribute to his Lolo (grandfather) Juaning’s business: Rural Bank of Liliw.
Home was something he brought with him even when he went to New York City to study at the French Culinary School. Yes, he is classically trained, but his heart beats only for his Lola’s rustic home cooking—something he is now sharing with Makati.
News of good food easily moves from one mouth to another, but news of great food? It’s bound to cross international waters. In December 2015, famous YouTube channel ‘Munchies’ from Vice.com came to Manila and featured Chef Justin and his restaurant as a part of ‘Chef’s Night Out.’ He took the Munchies team around Manila for food and drinks—yes, even street food—and then headed back to Rural Kitchen from some home-cooked Sisig a la Justin.
“I didn’t expect we were going to be like this,” he said, pondering the people’s overwhelming reception to his restaurant. “We had zero marketing, just word of mouth. Table by table, we just started filling out.”
For this young chef, it is all a labor of love. While competition can’t be avoided, especially in this industry, he welcomes it with gusto.
“Competition drives me more,” he said. “I don’t focus on making more money or getting more customers than [other restaurants here.] I just focus on making great food and [making sure that our dishes] stay true to my grandmother’s cooking.”
Rural Kitchen also partnered with award-winning bartender Kenneth Bandivas of Alcohol By Volume (ABV) to create signature cocktails like the Laguna Mule, so make sure to order a glass or two. But of course, when at Rural Kitchen, make sure to try their bestsellers: Shiitake Buns (sautéed shiitake mushrooms, microgreens, and a parmesan disk between Chinese buns—meatless delights, I tell you), Crispy Squid (unbelievably caramelized squid rings—I think it needs a little kick, so ask them to make it a bit more spicy), Beef in Coconut (slow-cooked chunks of fork-tender beef in creamy coconut milk with a hint of heat from the green chilis—Lola Edad’s signature recipe), and Chef Justin’s very own Bread Pudding (soft and creamy bread pudding served with vanilla ice cream and a caramelized banana on top—the perfect way to end the meal). Rural Kitchen also serves a local Liliw delicacy called Bonete or hat-shaped bread. It is served with three sides: salsa, butter, and an interesting relish called Sinantolan made of finely grated santol (cottonfruit, Sandoricum koetjape).
Indeed, home is where the heart is; but for Chef Justin Sarabia, home is now open in Makati for more people to enjoy.
Rural Kitchen of Liliw, Laguna is located at HRC Centre, 104 Rada Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City. For reservation and inquiries, call (02) 779-8073. For more information, like them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram @ruralkitchenofliliwlaguna.
By CHING DEE