Karenderias. I’ve really never taken to these rough-and-tumble, grind-and-grill establishments spawned on seedy backlots around The Island. Maybe it’s the heat and smoke. Maybe it’s the open-air setting and the flies. Maybe it’s having to return to the rest of the day smelling like the food and having to explain yourself to everyone. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good grilled tuna and there’s nothing like grilled food on The Island. Orange may have changed my mind.
Orange is a modern and refreshing take on the grungy karenderia. It may have been no accident that it is located behind the bigger Pizza Republic in homage to its humble inspiration but it definitely did not hurt to be housed in the same textured concrete-finished block building. The interiors were tastefully done in plain-finish with punctuations of its theme color, chalkboards and exposed beams on which pendant lights hung to illuminate the room. Its main feature was an open kitchen on the far end of the enclosed, air-conditioned space.
Smack during lunch hour, it was filled with a rogues gallery of patrons — the office set, college students, bros-who-lunch — all of which held palpable excitement over the recognizably local food. Owner Michael, manning the counter himself, offered their bestselling Tuna Buntot (Tail) and Betsy’s Crispy Chicken. I ordered the Crispy Tuna Bihod (roe) from their “Exotics” menu but they were fresh out and was given the alternative opposite, Bagaybay or the “male equivalent”, as Michael put it. A Google search spelled out sperm sacs.
We knew we, yet again, bit off more than we can chew when the supposedly small cut of Tuna Buntot arrived. Looking like a hefty half-kilo, it was deep-fried and coated with a light, crispy batter that did not distract from the meaty, delicacy of the fish — also crispy on the outside and juicy-tender on the inside. A veritable fish version of the porcine Crispy Pata, it was well-deserving of Sun Star’s Best of Cebu 2013’s Best Tuna Buntot Award (as rated from their first branch in Maguikay, Mandaue City).
The Bagaybay had none of that too-exotic-to-hold-down taste and was pleasantly fishy, helped by the onions and the vinegar-soy sauce dip. Nothing a first-timer would swear off.
Betsy, we were told, was Mike’s Uncle’s Girlfriend’s Mom (whew!), who developed their Crispy Garlic Chicken recipe. Here Sunburst Fried Chicken’s Crispy Chicken Skin wrapped itself around chunks of Jollibee‘s Chickenjoy and took a dip in Bonchon Chicken’s soy-garlic sauce in a crunchy explosion of sweet-soy and garlic flavors, to paint you a gustatory picture.
A liter of Iced Tea from a premix with the effort of real lemon slices and pulp bits added made for a good choice among the varieties of mostly bottled softdrinks and beers.
In every dish there was an authenticity that further elevates it to a new definition of excellence. Just three weeks into their operations at their Lahug branch, the three dishes I’ve sampled have left me hungry to try more.
Jakathra! Stop eating my rice!
Orange Karenderia is located at La Guardia St., Salinas Drive, Lahug, Cebu City.