According to restaurateur Sandee Siytangco-Masigan, there is no better way to experience the Philippines than through its wonderful flavors.
“You experience the souls of Pinoys when you eat their food,” she guaranteed as she welcomed The Manila Times to her pair of restaurants—the XO 46 Heritage Bistro and The Visayan Room.
Both are proudly Filipino restaurants, conceptualized by Sandee and her husband Andrew, who have been in the restaurant industry for over 25 years as originators of brands like Popperoo and Dimsum and Dumplings Chinese fast food.
XO 46 Heritage Bistro has been named as such for its featured recipes from the Siytangco and Masigan families, served in amid a very homey ambience that takes you back to your ancestral homes in the province.
According to Masigan, XO stands for “extraordinary” to describe their dishes, while “46” is the year the Americans left the Philippines (July 4, 1946).
“My husband likes to think the Americans were the last major influence and when they left, we were left to our devices. That’s when everything came together for Filipinos—its nationalistic actually,” Masigan shared.
“We want our guests to feel like they are in their lola’s house, having another cup of coffee with their dessert or with some home-made puto,” Masigan said, describing what a typical XO46 diner can expect.
A self-confessed foodie who also works as a food stylist for different publications, Masigan said she and her husband wanted to help raise the bar in quality Filipino food, bringing in rich flavors to every dish as well as presenting them with aesthetic awareness.
“We’d like to help our fellow Filipinos appreciate our food in a way that it’s at par with the famous cuisines of the world,” she said.
“The food that we have may all sound familiar to you, but at the same time it will be a bit different because they are all family recipes—specialties from both sides of our families,” Masigan added.
XO opened in 2011, while The Visayan Room followed in 2012, and so far, Masigan and her husband have been happy that they are able to share with the public something personal from their lives through the restaurants’ food.
“We thought back then it was time to come up with something of our own. This country has been good to us, and although there are a lot of things that are wrong, there is also a lot of good things to say about the country,” Masigan, who is the daughter of the late businessman Sonny Siytangco and journalist Deedee Munson-Siytangco, shared.
“This is our way of giving back—through comfort food. We’d also like to introduce Filipino food to foreigners, so they get to experience the soul of the Pinoys.”
Masigan has personal stories to share about XO’s menu.
“A lot of people say that our laing is the best in Metro Manila, and I think it’s because my dad is from Bicol. If he were to cook it using his original recipe, there would be 10 times more sili than the usual! But we have to make it more palatable for our guests, though the quantity of coconut milk is the same—rich and thick just the way he liked it,” she reminisced.
As for her mother’s side, “The lechon kawali is a Siytangco family favorite. People would always come up to our house in Tagaytay and ask for the dish—it’s so delicious!”
The Masigans are particularly proud of how they prepare and set everything in their restaurant, with all-Filipino ingredients and with dishes made from scratch.
“Like our kare-kare, it’s not just dumping peanut butter into the dish—it’s about roasting the nuts and grinding them ourselves. It’s the whole food process that completes the experience,” Masigan said.
The restaurant’s staffers are all dressed in baro’t saya and camisa chino and would speak in very deep Filipino. Upon arriving, the staff would bring freshly-made puto and sweetened butter and their aligue (crab fat) butter for starters.
Open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., guests can come for a quick lunch or spend hours with friends and family. The same can be said of the more modern Visayan Room, which in turn serves an-all Visayan menu, with such dishes as Dumaguete Express and of course, the Cebu Lechon, which again is cooked in-house.
More than preserving their family heritage, the Masigans hope that through their restaurants, they will be able to pass on to their children—and their children’s children—the care that Filipinos give in preparing their food, as they grow up in the world of fast and instant food.
“We want to remind Pinoys that this is how we used to cook before, that our food is actually very healthy and nutritious. We want to preserve the old way of doing things, also for our kids who are growing up with a lot of McDonald’s or KFC, which is fine. But we want them to learn traditional Filipino cuisine as well,” she elaborated.
Must-try’s are the ginataang langka, adobong baka sa gata at bawang, ginataang sigarilyas, bangus salpicao made with bangus belly, and lechon sisig. Their desserts are equally sumptuous, such as the sapin-sapin, champorado eh and mala-ubeng panaginip.
XO 46 is at G/F, Le Grand Condominium, 130 Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City. For inquiries or reservations, call 553-6632.