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Thai on a cloud

By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

PERHAPS it’s because Thailand was never really colonized by any European power, but nobody quite does Asian-tropical food quite like the Thais. Heavier colonial fare’s influence on its cuisine is minimal. Its dishes hit a sweet spot of being lively and light enough for days under the sun, but with enough heft and gravity to warm up the belly during one of the region’s rainstorms.

We were able to think of this while munching on treats from Miam Miam during a hot day last week. Miam Miam sent over a tray of its fried chicken, pad thai, and bagoong rice, and suddenly, sitting in the heat stopped being a chore.

The name itself isn’t even completely Thai, according to founder and celebrity chef Rob Pengson, who developed the dishes with his team (and especially giving thanks to his chef de cuisine). Miam Miam comes from a French phrase children use to say “yummy,” which Mr. Pengson overheard while in France many years ago, he said during a Zoom call earlier this week.

While developing the menu for different concepts, everybody at the table — partners and staff alike — liked the Thai offerings so much that they pushed the Thai dishes ahead of the others in line: through a cloud kitchen network, Mr. Pengson is developing about five brands at present, with a wings concept coming next. This comes at the heels of his present venture, a tapas bar called Beso Beso, which might open its rooftop for small events; but which is currently offering party trays and private dining at home.

CHOOSING CHICKEN
Going back to the name, its French provenance also allows for some slack when it comes to strict authenticity. “We’re not full-on traditional Thai,” said Mr. Pengson. “It can accept some kind of fusion from other cultures.”

For example, the pad thai, a spicy fried noodle dish, did not have the traditional prawns or chicken as in the original. For weight and flavor, Miam Miam’s version uses mushrooms. This is influenced by Mr. Pengson’s plant-forward diet, having been vegan for a period. “What we wanted was to strike a balance,” he said, citing that while he felt the benefits of a vegan diet on his health and planet’s, the lifestyle is still a bit away from the mainstream, and it wouldn’t be as popular. “We have to be realistic about it.” As a compromise, while Miam Miam is billed as a fried chicken brand, it has vegetarian and vegan options, such as the aforementioned pad thai, and the som tam papaya salad.

Asked why they decided on building their brand on chicken, their own market research via food delivery apps showed that “Fried chicken is very easy. Fried chicken is the number-one seller, everywhere in the Philippines,” said Mr. Pengson. “You have to have a version of fried chicken.”

The pad thai, by the way, was delicious. It was scattered with spring onions and herbs and had a spiciness that flirted with, and not bruised the tongue. The bagoong rice, laden with strips of green mango, was a similarly tasty experience. It’s unfortunate that the vibrancy of these dishes would outshine the fried chicken itself though.

The chicken is good — very good. It’s crispy, and it hits the right notes, and with a dip made from fish sauce, vinegar, herbs, and chili, it feels like a vacation in Thailand. “Every time we eat it here in the office, everyone always goes ‘miam miam,'” said Mr. Pengson.

We also have to commend the brand for delivering the chicken from Makati to Quezon City, and finding it steaming and still crispy. Not even the chicken chain a 15-minute walk from my house could do that. Still, sitting beside more flamboyant siblings like the pad thai, its flagship product takes a backseat.

CLOUD KITCHENS VS BRICK AND MORTAR
“The plan for the F&B brands is eventually to have brick and mortar restaurants,” he said. But of course, this is the plan for when things are safer and better. In the meantime, he and his team are making do with cloud kitchens. Weighing the advantages of a cloud kitchen vs a real restaurant, he said, “Less costs, for sure. But it’s a different game.”

“The pros are lower costs, and you can scale up to as many brands as your operations can handle. But for us, we want quality, so we’re only looking at five brands, max,” he said. On the other hand, “The cons are, everyone’s selling online, so it’s a completely saturated and competitive market. You have to really find ways to stand out.”

Cloud kitchens aren’t the only things Mr. Pengson has picked up from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He gives his observations on how disaster after disaster on the restaurant industry has changed the atmosphere in kitchens. “More people treat each other more like colleagues now, and not like competitors,” he said. “Now, everyone takes care of each other.

“I think the industry gave a lot of attention to things that aren’t — I’ll use the word — essential. There was a lot of luxury, and vanity strategies: trying to get on this list, that award. But in reality, it’s good to be practical.”

To order from Miam Miam, call 0966-795-6709, message @miammiamchickenph on Instagram or @miammiamthaichicken on Facebook. It accepts orders from Monday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and is located at 257 Don Chino Roces Ave. Ext., Makati.

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