In the Philippines, a karenderia (or carenderia) is a roadside eatery serving comfort food. “If your karenderia is near workplaces, that’s ideal,” Sydney Cebu Lechon owner Will Mahusay tells Broadsheet. “Construction workers, taxi drivers – they can stop by and have a quick meal. It’s very affordable; probably the cheapest type of meal you can get. Ours is the first karenderia in Australia.”
Mahusay recently closed his Newtown restaurant, Sydney Cebu Lechon, and reopened under the same name as a karenderia behind the Blacktown space he runs as a production and catering kitchen. As in the Philippines, there’s no menu. “There might be three or four pots sitting on gas burners, and you can lift the lid and take a peek to see what’s in there. We cook everything before lunch or dinner, and we serve it until it sells out.”
The offering consists of ulam – or main dishes – plus a handful of sides. There might be osso buco bulalo, a slow-cooked, clear beef broth with cabbage and potatoes; chicken adobo (tangy braised chook); beef caldereta, a tomato-based stew with gravy and beef slow-cooked for hours until tender; inihaw na liempo (grilled pork belly); or grilled chicken inasal, with a sweet-sour-salty marinade that includes annatto oil, giving the meat a red colour. Sides include house-made longganisa (sweet pork sausage), pan-fried until caramelised; inihaw na baboy (grilled pork skewers); and sinigang, a sour tamarind-based soup.
Save 20% when you buy two or more Broadsheet books. Order now to make sure they arrive in time for Christmas.SHOP NOW
Mahusay’s lechon – rolled and roasted pork belly with plenty of crunchy crackling – is a constant fixture on the menu. It’s served with rice, achara (pickled papaya) and sawsawan, a vinegar and garlic dipping sauce that cuts through the richness of the meat.
During a period where the cost of everything is rising rapidly, Sydney Cebu Lechon karenderia’s prices seem to come from another decade. Most ulams are $10. Halo-halo – an elaborate layered shaved-ice dessert that includes jellies, fruit, sweet beans, leche flan, milk, ice-cream and ube (purple yam) – is $15, and a substantial meal of lechon with rice and sides is $20.
Opening in 2019, Sydney Cebu Lechon was a pioneer of the local Filipino food scene. Rather than open in Blacktown, a suburb with a high Filipino population, Mahusay deliberately chose Newtown to expose non-Filipinos to the cuisine.
Leaving Newtown was purely about business: costs went up, and a King Street lease no longer made sense. Blacktown is a new chapter for Mahusay as a champion of Filipino food and culture.
“Running Newtown for four years, appearing on SBS’s The Cook Up, founding the Filipino Food Revolution with [recipe developer] Christine Caisip and Kenneth Rodrigueza [Donut Papi], I feel I’ve played my role in promoting Filipino food. It was something I did not out of obligation but out of love, and while I’m still involved I think it’s time to pass the torch to the next generation.”