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BABY BOOMERS will recall celebrating family moments at the Savory restaurant in Escolta. It was established by Tony Ting, an emigr from Fujian, and his brothers, Mariano, Jos and Vicente, who was the cook. Before the war, they opened Tops Caf in Binondo which later became Savory in post-Liberation. The main attraction was the star anise-scented, mildly garlicky chicken, based on a Chinese recipe. They came in three sizes: spring, medium and regular at the price range of P4-P6.

A generation later, the different branches of the Ting clan have set up their own restaurants using the Savory brand: Savory, Original Savory and Classic Savory. Ramon Tan, president of Classic Savory, the biggest of the three chains, is bullish about making a distinction.

Tan owned a chain of photo-processing stores. As the digital-camera trend started to kill his business, he decided to take over the branches established by his late father, Tony Ting. He collaborated with his nephew Kristofferson Ting, now the operations manager, and his buddy, Larry Mallari, as creative consultant. Tan?s brother Henry, who worked as a kitchen hand in Savory Escolta, provided the restaurant?s famous recipes.

Dewy chicken

During his father?s time, Savory?s repertoire was a hodgepodge of all the salable items which included steaks and hamburgers. Since malls require a concept?albeit a focused one?Classic Savory turned to its Filipino-Chinese roots. Mallari took the bestsellers in the Chinese restaurants, from the noodles to the sweet-sour dishes, and made the classic chicken the lone star product.

Customers claim that Classic Savory?s chicken is no slouch in the flavor department. While other restaurants rely on thick gravy to camouflage the meat, Classic Savory?s chicken is lacquered, salty-sweet and dewy, served with a brown slurry of sauces and stock, through which to douse the meat. Tan says the secret is in the marinade.

?Our famous chicken is even better today. We made it crispier and juicier,? he claims.

The menu?s concept revolves around comfort foods: kikiam with mushrooms from a traditional Chinese recipe, fish fillet, pork liempo, beef tenderloin with oriental sauce and onion greens and yang chow rice with toppings which are budget versions of the a la carte menu. A popular appetizer, seafood relleno is a crisp brown sheet of crepe blanketing a prawn and minced pork shrimp that is crunchy and soft at once. Crab foo yung is a glistening omelet mound with shredded crab meat and shrimps, bathed in brown sauce.

For the health-conscious, malunggay pancit, made from vitamin-rich moringa, is shrouded with young corn, snow fungi, taenga ng daga, abalone and button mushrooms and pechay. Lohon chai is a classic variation that includes glass noodles, cauliflower and tofu.

There are many pork-and-shrimp variants that are rendered as golden dumplings with scalloped edges; balls in sweet and sour sauce and wonton filling in chicken broth.

The piquant black-bean or tausi sauce, a Pinoy mainstay, flaunts more of its flavors in the lechon with fried tofu chunks and beef with ampalaya dishes.

Recently, Tan?s restaurant got the nod from judges, including PDI, for having the best pancit canton in town. Its custom-made noodles are springy, infused with a secret sauce and laden with chunks of meat, shrimp, fish, pork, mushrooms and vegetables that are rich but not soggy or oily. Tan adds that its subtle sweetness, favored by Filipinos, comes from juices of the meat and vegetables, not from sugar.

Hot seafood salad

When the first Classic Savory opened in 2007 at the Mall of Asia, the outlet exceeded expectations in sales. People queued for the sweet-sour pork, pancit canton and lomi aside from the chicken. Ting points out that Classic Savory is different from other brands because it is mostly mall-based. Hence, the high standards of cleanliness and sanitation. In three years, Classic Savory flourished into 31 branches, mostly in the SM Malls, a few in Ayala and Robinsons. One of its most profitable outlets is Cash & Carry mall. Plans are afoot to open more branches in the future.

Mallari cites the menu?s additions: pata tim, hot seafood salad which mixes breaded seafood with papayo, kaong and sweet mayonnaise, chami or fat miki noodles in satay sauce and buttered breaded chicken.

?We?re not trend-setters in food,? declares Tan. ?We like to bring back the warmth and comfort of the old days when life was simpler.?