“The [Greek] tavernas I went to seven years ago are not that popular anymore,” said owner-chef Robby Goco of the local restaurants in Greece that inspired Cyma. The tavernas that are so ingrained in the Greek culture may have taken a hit when the Mediterranean country slowly opened their doors to the world after joining the European Union in the 80s, but small, more progressive ones were built its place. “The new ones, the souvlaki shops, the more colorful ones—people patronize. If you look at the food, it’s [now] very global. It still uses Greek olive oil, Greek feta, and the principles of Greek cooking are still followed, but you see more international ingredients such as quiona, cranberries, salmon roe, or uni.” Beamed Chef Goco, who had to bring this fresh attitude towards Greek cuisine back home.
The Lemon to our Kalamansi
It was eleven years ago that Cyma and Chef Goco initiated the affair of the cuisine and the Filipinos. A decade of embracing one of the lesser represented countries in the gastronomic scene in Manila. But he didn’t chance upon it by luck. “It was a very intelligent thought process. A famous restaurateur before told me that if I want to be successful in Manila, I need to “own” a cuisine.” One in particular stood out to him. After a visit to the US and Canada to speak with progressive Filipinos (who turned out to be his market back in Manila), he packed his bags and set off for Greece and learned just how similar our foods were. This convinced Chef Goco that Filipinos can embrace the concept. “If you look at the map, Greece is also an archipelagic country. Both [the Philippines and Greece] rely heavily on the seas for sustenance. We’re so used to fresh seafood that they fry it to smithereens like us. There are a lot of mountainous areas, not a lot of grazing land for cows. Their milk is from goat or sheep—same as [us], it’s all goat. Even their cooking techniques [are similar with ours]! Since cow are working animals like [here], the meat is tough. So how do they cook it? [They] boil it, braise it. Same here: how do you cook Bulalo? You boil it, braise it. They have Stifado, we have Caldereta. They have Pastisado, we have Bulalo. They like their fish grilled with lemon, we like our fish grilled with kalamansi. We love our sour soup—they have Avgolemono. It’s all very similar.” Even the Greek pantry reflects the traditional Filipino kitchen: apart from extra virgin olive oil, the most common vegetables are eggplant, okra, and green beans. The Filipinos, it seemed, were waiting for the arrival of Greek cuisine all this time.
The New Greek Order
“The reason why we opened Souv! is because there’s a New Greek Order.” By “new,” Chef Goco explains that although the food remains very healthy, with a lot of grains, good fat and no sugar, the experience has changed drastically. Meals were customarily enjoyed through the course of appetizers, soups, salads, mains, and pasta. However, nowadays, people tend to enjoy eating from small plates or mezze. “More variety but smaller portions.” Souv!’s backbone remains 100% Greek from the traditional flavors to cooking techniques. On a visual note, the colorful and fresh ways the dishes are served are more appealing to the progressive market, and adaptive of the modern diner’s eating habits. The food in Souv! can be customized to satisfy any particular diet and weight-loss requirements. Whether you’re on a Soutbeach, Paleo, Atkin’s or a Ketogenic diet, there’s something for you on the menu. “[Those who are on Keto] would even request on extra fat to be placed on their chicken or their corn, they want the fat. We would be happy to satisfy their needs.” Reveals Chef Goco.
This Place is a Mezze!
Souv!’s menu is designed to fill the hungry tummies of the AB working class with a budget of P550-600 for lunch. They can only afford 45minutes to an hour to dine out, so Chef Goco makes sure that their food arrives no later than 5 minutes after they place their order. Their lunch menu is incredibly popular. Choose from roast lamb, pork, chicken, or the vegetarian option and have it as a wrap (P500), as a salad (P530), or as a grainbowl (P530), and a side of salads, juicy potatoes, Avgolemono soup, or Lahanosalata. From their Mezze (small plate) offerings, get a plate of their Smoked Salmon and Bread Salata (P390), easily an indulgent pita dish favorite. Smoked salmon and bread, mixed with milk and cream are emulsified with a bit of olive oil to serve as dip similar to hummus, and served with a handful of bright orange salmon eggs that add to the overall rich salmon flavor. Put a dollop on every bite of their grilled sourdough and rye. Their Greek Scrambled Eggs or Strapatsada (P280) is a light and hearty hot plate of scrambled eggs mixed with in-house tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and oregano. Get a mouthful of zest out of the succulent cherry tomatoes in bites in between while the feta lends a smoky earthiness to the otherwise citrusy plate. If you’re partial to seafood, try their Prawns and Shellfish Saganaki (P470), flash sautéed amalgamation of prawns, clams and mussels served with a sauce made of tomatoes and shrimpets and finished with feta cheese. If the small plates haven’t filled you up, order a huge bowl of their Super Souv Salad (P510 small, P710 large), a type of cold salad made of saffron cauliflower rice that tastes light and bouncy, and feels like quinoa. It has generous slices of cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and a weighty amount of a protein of your choice. Drizzle some tahini dressing over your bowl to fully enjoy the different flavors of the dish. Try a bowl of Tuna Roe Pasta (Avgotaracho) (P410 small, P630 large) for a light pasta option. The roe is made and prepared in-house. When it’s dried and ready, they grate it to make a very elegant sauce with sautéed chickpeas, and cherry tomatoes. The best way to eat the Avgotaracho is to mix the arugula it’s served with with the pasta for the extra fresh kick.
Straw in the Wind
Chef Robby Goco took everything that we love from Cyma, repackaged it, and ingeniously crafted contemporary Greek dishes that complement it, and served it in the hip tables of Souv!. Staying true to Mediterranean tradition and embracing the playfulness of modern Greek cooking and dining, the newly minted nosh destination will surely satiate the current palate. When asked how Chef Goco describes the restaurant, he quips that “Souv! is like Cyma’s younger sister who went abroad, and studied in a cosmopolitan city, and came back with a tattoo. More of a citizen of the world,” and that’s exactly how it tastes.
Photography by Floyd Jhocson of Studio 100
Text by Kit Singson