Restaurants can be excruciatingly secretive about their recipes and Ang Hang is no different. But what’s so secretive about making spicy dishes other than, maybe what kind and how much chili do you use? There’s a lot more to it, apparently.

Located at the heart of Malate (where the old Café Adriatico used to be), some people may think Ang Hang is the newest addition to restaurateur Larry Cruz’s culinary empire, which includes Café Havana, Africana, Bistro Remedios and of course, Café Adriatico.

But Cruz’s love for chili was set afire twenty years ago when he opened the original Ang Hang, then located at the Sunvar Plaza along Pasay Road in Makati in front of Don Bosco College. It quickly attracted a loyal following and became a haven for Makati denizens who share a love for spicy food.

Ang Hang re-opened around October last year in Malate and still serves original signature dishes like the Knockout Knuckle Ang Hang, the Black Pata Orient Express and the Reincarnated Lapu-Lapu, which are among the best-sellers way back during Ang Hang’s heyday in the 80s. It has also expanded its

At Ang Hang, the secret is not so much in the recipe but in the sauce. Chef Juanito Andaya, who has spent decades whipping up dishes for Mr. Cruz’s restaurants and now mans Ang Hang’s kitchen, won’t even budge when I ask him what Ang Hang’s “tamis-anghang” sauce is made of; he just gives me a sly smile while I repeatedly dip slices of Lechon Tandoor in it. Unlike chili sauce normally served in Chinese restaurants (usually of the oily kind), this one doesn’t fire up your mouth instantly but gradually builds up the “hotness” in your taste buds.

Sensing he won’t say exactly what is mixed in my tamis-anghang sauce (aside from chili, of course), I just listened to Chef Andaya reminisce about the good old days when he, along with Mr. Cruz himself, used to experiment and create sauces out of different fruits, even exotic ones like aratiles.

Mr. Cruz handpicked Mang Juanito to work for him during the 80s because of his impressive history. The latter used to work at the celebrated SMART Panciteria in Binondo ( panciterias during the 70s are like fine dining restos today) and began working for several Chinese restaurants at the tender age of 14, and was even sent to Hong Kong to study how the Chinese spiced up their cooking.

Samu’t saring sili ho ang aming nilalagay (We use many kinds of chili’s for our dishes),” Chef Andaya says, while he also talks about other original Ang Hang concoctions like the “santa” banana sauce. Again, he won’t say what exactly is in it. Nor how he is able to cook Black Pata Orient Express and not make it tastes burnt even if it looks like it.

Ang Hang is definitely a place for the people with mightier taste buds but the menu can be forgiving for the less adventurous can still. The menu sort of warns (or encourage) diners how hot a dish is by the number of chili signs attached to it, from one chili (“Sissy Spicy”) to four chilis (“A fire extinguisher on the ready!”).

Angela Backstrom, marketing manager for the LJC Group, says the best way to sample Ang Hang’s cuisine is to try the lunch buffet (P395 per head, add about a hundred pesos and you can indulge in Lechon Tandoor until you feel cholesterol-guilty) which is meant for the not-so-adventurous like me. Aside from the above-mentioned specialties, she also recommends the Lost Lamb Adobo, the Cambodian Fish and the Oxtail with Anchovy and Chili Sauce, Ang Hang’s version of the traditional Filipino dish kare-kare.

I did see some dishes in the menu with no chili signs – and I did try the buffet – although I keep remembering Bicol Orient Express with four chili signs and wondering how that must taste like.

(Ang Hang is located at M. Adriatico St. along Remedios Circle and is open for lunch and dinner all week. Valet parking is available. )