When I asked Tey Kim Tiam, chef for newly-opened Singaporean fast food chain Cavana, what made his company decided to do business in the Philippines, he gave a rather curt yet simple answer: “Chicken.”


Having been in the business for nearly two decades now, Cavana serves chicken in a variety of ways: grilled, roasted, in black pepper and of course, Hainanese, the signature Singaporean chicken dish. Thanks to a local franchisee, Cavana opened its first outlet in the Philippines some four months ago.


Tey, who has been training local chefs since Cavana opened its first branch in SM Megamall last December, knows for a fact how crazy Filipinos are about chicken. Cavana has loyal customers among Filipino workers back in Singapore.


“Many of them keep asking when are we opening a store in the Philippines,” he recalls.


Singapore-based Carona Holdings Pte. Ltd. began offering Cavana for franchise in 1998 and after about ten stores in Singapore, the business expanded abroad with three more outlets in Indonesia and most recently in the Philippines. (Cavana is actually the name for outlets that serve Halal or Muslim food while those that serve non-Halal food are named Carona.)


Soon, Cavana franchises will also open in Malaysia and Dubai in the Middle East.


But as he describes it, Tey admits he had to make necessary adjustments to suit the Filipino taste. In some of his visits to the country prior to opening Cavana, he also did his own research about how we Filipinos like our food. “Filipinos love their food richer, more salty while Singaporeans prefer their food light,” he compares.


“After three months, I’m slowly getting used to the heavier flavor myself. When I go back to Singapore, everything there becomes tasteless,” he adds, laughing.


Aside from Hainanese chicken, which is Cavana’s specialty, Tey points to black pepper chicken and black pepper beef (yes, Cavana also serves beef dishes) as best-sellers ever since the store opened. At a price range of about P120-P130, it is a hefty enough serving along with vegetable sidings.


The chicken or beef dishes go well with a side order of coleslaw and lemongrass lemonade, another Cavana specialty. As with main ingredients like black pepper and curry sauce, Tey says the dressing used for coleslaw is likewise imported from Singapore. And to emulate that distinctively sunny Cavana atmosphere, the tables and chairs are likewise came all the way from Singapore.


In only about three months of living in Manila, Tey, who has been a chef for 15 years and spent almost half of it in Cavana, has grown accustomed to local food, pointing out kare-kare, sisig and crispy pata – which is not really surprising given his preference for places to eat out.


“Before, I like Centro in Greenbelt. Now I like going to Krocodile (Grill),” he says, with amusement, knowing exactly how un-Singaporean his newfound gustatory delights.


Cavana is located at the ground floor of SM Megamall Building A, beside PowerBooks.

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