Peranakan Perfection: Hey Handsome

8 months ago

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PERHAPS FOR SOME OF US, EVERY NOW AND THEN, IN THE MEANINGLESS MOMENTS OF WANTING TO TRY THE “NEWEST KID ON THE BLOCK,” WE END UP UNEARTHING SOMETHING TRULY WORTH RAVING ABOUT. With such a modern and industrial interior, decked out in glass windows, green-tiled walls, and an open kitchen, Hey Handsome is so much more than meets the eye.

As the sophomore venture of the team behind the huge success of Your Local, Hey Handsome is the long-time concept of its executive chef, Nicco Santos. I met Nicco a couple of years ago when I did a story about Your Local, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the success and accomplishments have not fazed him one bit. Armed with a young and passionate kitchen staff, together, they churn out unapologetically audacious Peranakan dishes day in and day out.

Santos is a visionary. He is adventurous. He spent some time in Singapore and there, instead of being an apprentice or an intern in hotels and restaurants, he trained in the kitchens of the mothers and grandmothers of his friends. There, he got a behind-the-scenes look into the history of Singaporean food through the eyes and experiences of the locals. He learned treasured family recipes and valuable techniques that formal schooling would never have been able to provide. He also spent some time in Malaysia where he was able to broaden not just his knowledge and skill set, but also his palate. “I am truly fascinated with Peranakan cuisine. I love how different cuisines come together, almost like a marriage of flavors and cultures. We have Singaporean, Indian, Malaysian, Chinese, Indonesian—it’s a perfect and seamless collaboration of very different, but bold, flavors,” says Santos. So when I found out that the name “Hey Handsome” is actually a term peddlers at hawkers in Singapore use to call and attract customers, I thought to myself, how brilliant!

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The Laap Phet is a perfect symphony of minced duck, fresh herbs, a deep-fried egg, and roasted cabbage. The flavor profile is so intense, but not overpowering, and is so easy to love. For vegetarians and especially for the non-vegetarians, the Beetroot Paneer is a must. This blush-stained dish causing all the oohs and aahs, is not only beautiful, it is also a revelation. The tartness of the homemade yogurt and the spice of the curry are complemented by quinoa tabbouleh, grilled onions, herbs, and crunchy papadum. For the serious Peking duck or duck confit lovers, the Bebek Penyet will surely make you fall in love all over again! It is an Indonesian recipe of a deep-fried duck cured overnight with a spice mixture that consists of galangal, turmeric, coconut, and curry. The meat falls off the bone because the duck is cooked sous vide before it gets fried. The fried duck is then dipped in an Indonesian soy sauce called kecap manis and is served with nasi ulam (herbed rice with spices and dried fish) and topped with a fried duck egg. The only thing I remember about this dish was hearing violins playing as I took one bite after another, savoring each and every one, with each of my five senses. For the folks who enjoy their seafood, the Nasi Lemak, is one that you must not pass up. And apparently, no one does, as this is the dish that always gets sold out. It is a sure hit for the sense of sight, as much as taste. A grilled sea bass wrapped in banana leaves, this Malaysian dish is served with fragrant coconut rice, spicy sambal, dried anchovies, a flaxen-stained egg pickled in turmeric vinegar, all balanced out with the sweetness and crunch of peanut brittle. This symphony of ingredients, textures, and flavors is truly culinary genius.

Barely half a year open, and rapidly following the steps of its older sibling, Hey Handsome continues to create bold flavors with cultural diversity that fuse together so naturally. You might be left wondering—what is the secret behind Hey Handsome’s success? The amazing people behind this monstrous hit of an operation genuinely respect, love, and care for their employees. They are treated like family, and the best part is, they eat as a family. I saw how Chef Nicco sat down with his chefs and dining staff to have an early dinner before service. Without a doubt, teamwork is Hey Handsome’s secret weapon. Coupled with this kind of momentum, the sky’s the limit for Chef Nicco Santos and his team.

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Words by Marga Medrano-Tupaz
Photographed by Ed Simon of Studio 100
Address: Ground Floor, Net Park Building, 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City


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