The self-contained community of BF Homes Parañaque is one of the metro’s bestkept secrets when it comes to discovering unique, value-for-money cuisine—at least for those of us living in the North. Cozy hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants that line the stretch of Aguirre Street and El Grande Avenue attract not only the residents of Asia’s biggest subdivision, but also city dwellers who willingly brave traffic for a taste of the laidback lifestyle southerners seemingly lead.

Such was the charm that lured Ng Sardjono, a businessman from Java, Indonesia, into converting an old house into an authentic Indonesian restaurant on the fringes of El Grande Avenue. “Since my wife is a Filipina, we decided to settle down in the Parañaque area,” shares Ng. “The idea at that time was to put up a business near where my son went to school, and this particular environment interested me. El Grande used to be strictly residential, but when the government opened this area for commercial use, I’m glad I grabbed the opportunity because the place is booming.”

‘Big Kitchen’

Putting up Pawon Ageng—which loosely translates to “Big Kitchen”—in the corner of El Grande Avenue and Djakarta Street, was a case of serendipity. “I liked the design of the old house because it looked like it would be a homey restaurant,” shares Ng.

“However, what cinched my decision to take this location was when my wife told me that the corner was Djakarta Street. That, as well as the house number being lucky 333, was a happy coincidence.”

Admittedly a stranger to the restaurant business, Ng enlisted the help of his son Lawrence to run the place. “It’s a family effort,” shares the younger Sardjono, who graduated with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. “We’re both very handson when it comes to running the business. We have a chef, but I help out in the kitchen, while dad is outside taking care of the customers.”

The Java native, who possesses a green thumb (most of the greens dotting the Pawon Ageng lot were painstakingly grown and cultivated by him), regularly interacts with his customers, some of whom are former expats in Indonesia. “What makes me happy is when Filipino expats who worked in my country come here to eat and we have conversations in Bahasa,” shares Ng.

Birthing Pains

Pawon Ageng is no stranger to the usual birth pains of a start-up, the foremost of which was introducing Indonesian food to the Pinoy palate.

While well-known Indonesian dishes like the nasi goreng fried rice, ayam bakar kalasan (roast chicken), sop iga (a beef spare rib soup filled with Indonesian spices), and the sate ayam madura (barbecued chicken with peanut sauce) are given bestsellers, the menu also features unfamiliar dishes that are generally spicier than what most Pinoys are used to. “The first two weeks after we opened, we had to adjust the spiciness of dishes like the beef rendang because the Indonesian version is really spicy and some Filipinos cannot take it as it is,” informs Ng.

The Sardjonos are also trying to determine the perfect system with which to run the restaurant. “We’ve changed our schedule hours a few times,” shares Lawrence. “We used to close at 1 a.m. because we thought people would also come here to drink, but later we realized that they really come here for the food. Aguirre Street is still the place for drinking, so we decided to close earlier at 10 p.m.”

The goal now, adds Ng, is really “to make our foundation stronger. For us, it’s still new and we’re learning, but we’re very optimistic because of the feedback from our customers. We used to be closed on Sundays but our customers requested we open our restaurant because they want to dine here on family day.”

Published in the February 7, 2011 issue of the Business Agenda section of Manila Bulletin.