Why Makansutra is more than just a food hall
K.F. Seetoh walks up to us as we wait for Makansutra to open. After the requisite introductions, the conversation turns towards sisig. The photojournalist turned culinary advocate lowers his voice. “It has the most salacious history!” he exclaims, referring to sisig queen Lucing Cunanan’s mysterious death in 2008.
There is no sisig in Makansutra, the recently opened hawker center in SM Megamall. The wide 500-seater is a local conversion of a food park in Singapore, and comes complete with two semi-private sections, 12 booths, and an urban charm. Seetoh, who handpicked the concessionaires, skipped Filipino cuisine in his selection, reasoning that it would be difficult to compete with what’s already available.
But the Makansutra founder is fascinated by stories. He’s been to the Philippines before, gathering tales behind the country’s most iconic dishes. “You only need one good dish to be successful. Poor people in the past needed to survive and that’s how they came up with these dishes,” Seetoh continues, the origins of most street food in a nutshell. Leftover ribs became bak-kut-teh, curry welcomed the addition of noodles when it crossed Singapore.
He motions towards Makansutra’s distressed architecture. “Street food was born in this kind of environment and we honor that.”
Makansutra is candidly casual about their menu. “It’s just really good, not necessarily gourmet,” says Seetoh with conviction. What Makansutra does, instead, is to sell stories, share history, and give opportunities. JJ Yulo, who helped bring the hawker center to the Philippines, says that they hired underprivileged employees to man the booths. They’re also being trained to cook so that they could someday follow in the footsteps of these one-dish entrepreneurs.
“Three of our employees actually come from halfway houses,” says Seetoh. Yulo puts emphasis on making their workers satisfied. “We want people who are really passionate and are really happy with and take pride in what they’re doing. We don’t see a lot of that [in the Philippines].” The food may not be gourmet, but chances, it seems, add a different kind of flavor to their dishes.
Makansutra is at 2/F SM Megamall (between Yellow Cab and Burger King), Mandaluyong City; open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.