If you sit down to a plate of sticky, glazed pork barbeque skewers at Smoky Cravings, your mouth will water. It’s served with sawsawan (vinegar dipping sauce), clear soup and garlic rice. The meat is succulent and flavourful thanks to the Filipino sweet-sour-salty flavour trinity, masterfully applied initially as a marinade of soy, lemon, sugar and an abundance of garlic, then as a brushed-on banana ketchup glaze during the barbequing process.

The flavour clearly appeals to the Sydney palate. Since 2022, husband-and-wife owners Rocky and Charisma Benzon went from a single Lakemba-based food truck to owning four restaurants across Sydney, the latest being a 22-seater in Kings Cross – right under the shimmering red of the Coca-Cola sign.

“The demand in Lakemba was so crazy we couldn’t handle it,” Rocky tells Broadsheet. “The lines were so long. My wife and I decided, why don’t we expand and divide the crowd? Now we have four restaurants. It’s quite overwhelming.”

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The menu at Kings Cross mirrors those at Parramatta, Tempe and the flagship Campsie store. There are pork, chicken and lamb skewers; chicken inasal served as a quarter chicken; and kare-kare, a dish of crisp pork belly served in a peanut sauce. Homey.

There’s Filipino comfort food on offer too, like sweet spaghetti, sisig (a sizzling plate of minced and fried pig’s mask with liver and belly), lumpia (spring rolls), barbeque offal (chicken or pig intestines, pork ear, liver) and balut, a steamed fertilised duck egg.

It’s similar to what you’d see sold by street vendors in major cities across the Philippines. “There are streets in the Philippines you’ll find barbeque place after barbeque place, some are just 50 metres away from each other,” Rocky says.

Like street vendors in cities like Manila or Vigan, Rocky’s hometown, Smoky Cravings also has a sweets offering. Find a towering serve of halo-halo – a vibrant, layered dessert of beans, palm seeds, strips of coconut and jackfruit, starchy saba bananas, coconut jellies, ube ice-cream and shaved ice. There’s also mais or saba banana con yelo (corn or sugar bananas with sweetened milk and shaved ice).

Since Rocky and Charisma first opened their food truck, they’ve noticed a surge in Filipino food vendors and restaurants. “We used to bring our food truck to Flemington Markets. In 2022 there were only 16 Filipino food stalls. We do a marquee tent now, and last time we went, there were 54. That’s a massive increase in a span of just two years.”

As they get up to speed with the new restaurant, the food truck has been temporarily retired, taking up residence in the Benzons’ garage. But it won’t be there for long.

“We’re looking to bring it to Wollongong. We need to get out of Sydney. I think four locations there is enough.”

Smoky Cravings
82–94 Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross

Hours:
Daily 11am–9pm

@smokycravings