FOOD REVIEW

Filipino street food: a sticky, saucy culinary joy ride at Kanto

Edgar Gutierrez, one of the owners of Tres Carnales and Rostizado, has gone back to his roots at the Kanto 98 St. Eatery, serving up liempo, talangka fried rice and kaldereta beef.

Eat with abandon, advises Edmonton AM food critic

The menu at Kanto is limited but interesting, says Edmonton AM food critic Twyla Campbell. (Twyla Campbell)

Edgar Gutierrez, one of the owners of Tres Carnales and Rostizado, has gone back to his roots at the Kanto 98 St. Eatery, serving up liempo, talangka fried rice and kaldereta beef.

Gutierrez, partner and executive chef at the aforementioned Mexican restaurants, is not of Mexican heritage, as most people assume — he's Filipino.

At Kanto at at 10636 98th St., Gutierrez, gets to cook the street foods he grew up eating in the Bataan province of the Philippines.

I suspect many a hangover to be cured with this.- Twyla Campbell

The menu is limited but interesting. Take the chicken and spaghetti for instance, a rendition of a dish made famous by Jollibee, a Filipino a fast-food chain phenomenon. 

I suspect many a hangover to be cured with this sweet and savoury, carb-loaded, culinary joy ride of pasta topped with fried chicken, bits of wieners, sweet red banana ketchup and cheddar cheese. The dish may not be for everyone, but it's oddly appealing in small doses.

Gutierrez is in his element at Kanto and it's obvious that he's having fun not only with the food but with the relaxed vibe he's trying (successfully) to create.

Expect hip-hop and similar genres pumping from a boom box. Expect it to be loud.
The décor at Kanto is a big, bold mash of graffiti and cartoonish art, says Campbell. (Twyla Campell)

The décor is a big, bold mash of graffiti and cartoonish art with characters from comics Gutierrez read in his youth.

A Tagalog phrase, kara y krus, is painted on the wall behind a counter. It means "heads or tails" and refers to a childhood game played on a kanto (corner) where markets were set up and people gathered to feast on grilled meats and foods provided by street vendors.

You'd do well to order any of the char-grilled meats served by Gutierrez.

The chicken — marinated in calamansi, annatto seeds and garlic — and served two skewers per order, was a table favourite. The liempo, chunks of pork belly and loin cooked in shallots, garlic and peppercorns, arrived as a heaping pile of succulence in a red plastic basket.

All barbecued meats are glazed with a lip-smacking sauce made of banana ketchup, pork stock, garlic and palm sugar.

'Unapologetically rich'

Take note: Gutierrez's food is unapologetically rich.

The fat on the pork belly is why that meat arrives flavourful and tender. Accept it for what it is.

To combat the richness, each table sports a bottle of magic water — a mixture of shallots, garlic, peppercorns and Thai chili steeped in vinegar. Use it with abandon.

The menu is big on flavour but shy on vegetables. Meat-averse diners have the option of kale and bok choy salad, and a trio of rice dishes: steamed, garlic-fried or talangka — rice fried in butter and seasoned with crab paste.

The Kanto fried chicken is prepared two ways: original and spicy. I'd suggest the latter as the original is standard issue —if any marinating or seasoning has taken place, it's hard to detect.

The spicy version, however, arrives in full-impact mode with a covering of a well-balanced sriracha, butter and sweet chili sauce. And, should the kitchen ever offer thighs (as stated on the menu) as opposed to only the wings they've had on my visits thus far, I'd rush down and demolish an order of two. 

Hopefully, by then, they'll have the Philippines' largest selling beer, San Miguel, in stock, too.

You'll have to follow @kanto98_yeg on Instagram to find out if and when that happens.

You can hear Campbell's reviews on Edmonton AM every second Friday. You can also see more of her reviews on her blog, Weird Wild and Wonderful, and can follow her on Twitter at @wanderwoman10.