Are you excited to have the famous original Orange Chicken?” asked Joseph C. Tanbuntiong, treasurer and executive director of Jollibee Foods Corporation. “I’m also excited for you.”
Panda Express, the family-owned Chinese-American food chain which traces its roots to Glendale, California, in 1983, has expanded to 12 countries— a list that now includes the Philippines, thanks to Jollibee.
According to Tanbuntiong, it began with a casual meeting in the US between Jollibee Foods Corporation founder Tony Tan Caktiong and Panda Express founder Andrew Cherng (who runs Panda Express with cofounder and wife Peggy).
Tanbuntiong recalled, “They struck a very good vibe. They felt a connection and realized that their values and passion are very aligned. They stayed connected and eventually agreed to have this joint venture to bring Panda Express here in the Philippines.”
The first branch opens today in Megamall.
Five more branches are in the pipeline, said Tanbuntiong. “We will start with Metro Manila and of course, we will eventually go outside Metro Manila.”
The first Panda Express in the Philippines is serving 11 entrées: everyone’s favorite Orange Chicken, String Bean Chicken Breast, Kung Pao Chicken, Mushroom Chicken, Beijing Beef, Broccoli Beef, Shanghai Steak, Savory Shrimp, Asian Grilled Chicken, Black Pepper Chicken and Eggplant Tofu.
A number of the entrées are marked Wok Smart, which means they are 300 calories or less and contain 8 grams of protein or higher.
Side choices include Chow Mein, Fried Rice, White Steamed Rice and Mixed Vegetables.
Were the recipes tweaked for the Filipino palate?
Jeff Jimenez, International Culinary training manager for Panda Restaurant Group, said, “Not at all. If you were to come here and taste the food and go to the US and taste the food, it’s consistent.”
We tried the Orange Chicken (crispy chicken wok-tossed in sweet and spicy orange sauce), the signature dish of Panda Express, and we agree—it does taste like the Orange Chicken we’ve enjoyed in Panda Express restaurants in the US.
Jimenez says the dish is close to his heart.
“A mentor of mine, chef Andy Kao, is the creator of this dish,” he said.
Inspired by flavors from Hunan Province, Kao developed the entrée for Panda Express in 1987.
According to Panda Express, 285,000 people order the dish every day and they now serve 90 million pounds of Orange Chicken each year.
The Kung Pao Chicken (Szechwan-inspired dish with chicken, peanuts and vegetables, finished with chili peppers) is a must, too. It’s one of the favorites of their founder, said Jimenez.
The Broccoli Beef is a mix of really tender beef with fresh broccoli in a gingery soy sauce. Eggplant Tofu (lightly browned tofu, eggplant and red bell peppers tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce) is another great choice. Asian Grilled Chicken (grilled chicken thigh served with teriyaki sauce) is hand-sliced when you order.
The prices are more affordable here than in the United States.
You can go for a Bowl (one entrée and one side) starting at P195; a Plate (two entrées, one side) starting at P245 or a Bigger Plate (three entrées and one side) starting at P295. Kid’s Meals (jr. entrée, jr. side), starting at P180, are available, too. All meals come with a fortune cookie.
Eating with a group? Try the Family Feast (three large entrées, two large sides) starting at P1,200. It’s good for three to five people.
You can get the entrées and sides à la carte also. To order premium entrées like Shanghai Steak, Mushroom Chicken and Asian Grilled Chicken, you’ll need to add P40 to the price of your meal, P30 to a Kid’s Meal or P130 to a Family Feast.
There are appetizers (chicken egg roll, veggie spring rolls and fried cream cheese wontons), soup (hot and sour or egg drop) and dessert (mango sago, coffee jelly or crinkles), too.
Tanbuntiong and Jimenez are excited for Filipinos— those who are already fans of the brand and those who’ve never tried it—to try the food.
Jimenez said, “If you are a big supporter of great flavors, good food, food that is made with love from our chefs, Panda Express is a great restaurant to come and visit.”
Are they bringing in our favorite Honey Walnut Shrimp? (It’s so good it’s won awards.) “I’m excited to say it will be coming,” he said.
Panda Express, U/GF, SM Megamall Building A, Mandaluyong City