As a former student of the state university in its Quezon City and Laguna campuses, I had grown accustomed to eating and loving “guts on a stick.” Known by its more popular Filipino name as isaw, it is a grilled food item featuring either a chicken or pig’s small intestine — cut up into little pieces, of course — on a thin bamboo skewer. Students and frequent visitors of the university often share a common love of this dish; sometimes it is even a conversation piece in casual alumni gatherings. Some even say that the isaw in the Quezon City campus cannot be beaten in terms of taste and in overall experience — crunchy on the outside with a semi-gooey bite sliding down your throat while your under shade trees. Seriously, how different can grilled guts be from place to place?
Anyway, I still get an occasional craving to head to the old campus but…I know I have to live with the fact that I just cannot drop everything for that grilled snack. With my often busy schedule, peppered with out-of-town trips, I’ve often wondered if I can find an isaw heaven without having to go to Quezon City. That thought is why, last year, I resolved to try out different places near my home just to satisfy this unique craving for something in which pig or chicken digesta passed through before getting excreted. (I can almost hear the “Ews!”)
So far, while in the vicinity of Pasig City, I’ve tried about four decent-looking places — real restaurants without the double-dipping people — that serve up the dish. Eating isaw in a restaurant-style setting won’t give you that harassed feeling that somebody else’s finger had been in your dip of spicy cane vinegar. Seriously, a true isaw aficionado won’t even mind that harassed feeling anymore.
Ewwws aside, one can have isaw in relaxed atmospheres in these places:
1. Balay ni Juan. The oldest place on list mini-list, it’s been around since early 2000. Conveniently located in Kapitolyo village, it’s the place nearest to my house. Although I’m a frequent visitor of this place, since I don’t know when, I only tried their isaw last year. Washed down with an icy bottle of SMB Light, I can say that their isaw is enough to satisfy a sudden craving. You can order either the chicken or pork isaw; a bit expensive than your average street grille but gives you that right fix. Beer there is around P 40.oo. The old house-turned-restaurant gives a feeling that you’re just in your living room — come in your flip-flops and put your feet up the chairs. Anyway, in case one is not in the mood for guts, the tofu with shitake mushrooms are also worth a try.
2. Tonio’s Grill(e?). I forgot whether grille is spelled with an E or not but what I do know is that this place is located in the Pioneer Center compound along, where else but, Pioneer Street. The compound’s supermarket is known for the significantly lower prices versus that of other large supermarkets in the area; the restaurants in the compound also reflect the same inexpensive approach to relaxing dining. Tonio’s has both chicken and pork isaw as part of its menu. I’ve tried both and I think both its isaw variants have a unique crunchiness, which is different from the other isaws I have tried before. The place also boasts of a great menu, if you’re into Filipino favorites. Beer is also at the P 35 to 40 range. The place is brightly lit, which is perfect for eating almost anything.
3. That chicken inasal place beside Calda Pizza on Madison. Honestly, I can’t remember the name of that food kiosk. Anyway, I took my family out for pizza at the Calda booth and discovered isaw at the inasal place there. As the theme of that store goes, it’s all chicken there. Tried the isaw and I can say that their chicken guts are puurrrrfect partnered with beer.
4. Ang Pulo. The grill/resto is over at the Ortigas Auto Camp, which is behind the Home Depot area and Metrowalk areas. I discovered the place through friends and I have been fond of eating their amazing — flavorful without the gooey sweet basting — pork barbecue every time I am there (the barbecue’s a fave, alright). Last night, I discovered their pork isaw and had about a couple of skewers — a couple of EXCELLENT pork isaw skewers! In a way, the pork isaw tasted like the pork barbecue — all flavor without the guilt…if you’re a daredevil when it comes to cholesterol and fat, that is.
Isaw, I conquered.