The flavours of Kapampangan and Ilocano food are showcased on the menu of Mangan Grill in Calgary’s northeast. It’s a couple of unique Philippine regional cuisines to feature for a Calgary Filipino restaurant, but the influence is due to the backgrounds of the three owners, Alvin Salunga, Tessie Caluza, and Lear Nuñez.
With Salunga from Pampanga, Caluza from Ilocano and Nuñez from Mindoro, the concept for Mangan Grill, comes from the meaning ‘let’s eat’ in the Kapampangan and Ilocano dialect.
Having just opened on March 1, Mangan Grill is making an impression with the variety of dishes on their menu.
“When Filipinos find out what we’re serving, they know that the food is good because Kapampangan food is known to be good,” explains Nuñez who operates the marketing and the front of restaurant.
Of pride for the trio of owners are a few select dishes. The Seafood Salpicao is a different take on a sizzling salpicao that normally features beef. The Pinaputok na Pompano is a steamed fish with a special sesame Thai sauce. And the Inasal Chicken is a Mangan specialty.
“While many other Filipino restaurants are more authentic, the food at Mangan is inspired by where we come from and our experiences,” explains Salunga.
For Caluza and Nuñez, they and their families have helped influence the menu, but both admit that Mangan Grill’s menu mostly comes from Salunga.
Before coming to Calgary, Salunga worked as a chef in Saudi Arabia and on cruise ships. From those experiences he learned a lot about other international cuisines.
“I got some sauces from a Vietnamese colleagues which I’ve used in some of our steamed fish,” says Salunga. “I’ve also used a Thai inspired sauce which I use in the Pinaputok na Pompano and the crispy pork. It was a combination of these different flavours and sauces that I created my own for Mangan Grill.”
Alvin takes pride in the fusion between authentic Filipino food and his sauces from other nationalities. He points to his other dish, the Seafood Salpicao which features a sambal and Indonesian influence on his cooking. Experimenting with those flavours and taking a twist of replacing the traditional sizzling beef with seafood is what represents the new take Mangan Grill is having on Filipino food.
Other interesting takes on Filipino cuisine on the menu include different presentations of sisig – chicken and bangus versions, and kare kare with the sauce on the side so the meat stays crispy.
For the trio, one of the main goals is to expose people to inasal. Mang inasal is an authentic dish for Filipinos in Ilongo and Bohol and Mangan Grill is trying to share their unique take on theirs. They offer an original version that is sweet and spicy, a lemon version and a devil spicy option.
“The Mangan Inasal is our specialty and best-seller,” says Salunga.
The menu has been something Alvin has been thinking about for a long time. Ever since his most recent job working at Adobo Experience.
“It was very motivating being at Adobo Experience and learning a lot from Jeffrey Angeles,” says Salunga. “They gave me a lot of suggestions and ideas. As a foreign worker, Jeffrey told me I should become my own employer.”
It was a dream for Alvin to start his own restaurant and finding like-minded individuals he connected with Caluza and Nuñez. As two other entrepreneurs in the city they formed a partnership last year to explore the possibility of opening a restaurant and last month they fulfilled their dream.
“It feels like it was our destiny coming together like this,” says Nuñez. “It really shows you don’t know the person who you’ll end up working with.”
As a new restaurant, Mangan Grill is working to spread the word of their new restaurant on their social media channels on Facebook and Instagram. Together, satisfied with the team they’ve made, the food they’re offering and the work they’re putting into the restaurant, Caluza, Nuñez and Salunga are hoping for success.
“Of everything I’ve experienced and what we’re doing as a team, it shows how important it is to have guts in life to pursue what you want,” says Salunga.