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Hot Star - Large, sumptuous, affordable fish and chix.

State dinners and diplomatic functions with an international guest list almost always serve chicken and/or fish, the main courses most universally accepted by people of different regions and religions.

Chicken is leaner than pork or beef; while fish fillet is very light, rich in protein and, just like chicken, readily adapts to many cuisine styles, the most popular of which is breaded and fried.

And just when we thought there are enough chicken fastfood joints in Manila, another one has just joined the fray - Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, a Taiwanese snack chain that has successfully invaded Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Indonesia and Australia.

REALLY LARGE FRIED CHICKEN - Hot Star's first outlet in the Philippines, at the Blue Bay Walk on Macapagal Avenue (across the street from Blue Wave), opened its doors for the first time a few days ago, introducing what is possibly the largest fried chicken fillets in town.

I could not believe my eyes; the fried chicken fillet, enveloped in a golden crunchy crust, was really 30 centimeters (1 foot) long, filling the serving plate almost to the brim. And the price is incredibly low: P110 for the chicken, add P35 for a cup of rice and a glass of refreshing drinks.

The chicken could also be ordered by itself, nestled in an environment-friendly paper bag that protects diners' hands from the super-hot filet, the way it was popularized in Taiwan where thousands of night market patrons line by the thousands in front of the original Hot Star outlets.

To eat on the run, one can order Fried Chicken Sandwich (P145), consisting of a humungous fried chicken fillet inside a freshly baked long sesame bun. Curly lettuce and homemade honey-mustard spread provide contrasting textures and flavor. The sandwich is large enough to be shared by two friends or lovers.

EXTRA LARGE FRIED FISH FILLET - For those who prefer to stay away from meat, Hot Star has huge fish fillets, breaded and fried to eat either by itself, with rice, or in a sandwich. As with the chicken, the crusty fillets are 30 centimeters long, so big the ends jut out from the bun.

Hot Star uses imported Cream Dory fillets, which are marinated and breaded in secret mixes that come all the way from the company's Taiwan headquarters.

CRISPY SKIN - One of the best Hot Star bargains is their version of crispy breaded chicken skin, threaded through bamboo skewers and glazed with a secret sauce. For only P45 per order of 3 sticks, they are almost cheaper than sidewalk chicharon. Great to make papak, or as viand with plain rice.

Like me, the other food writers at the restaurant's sneak preview could not help but ask for more chicken skin, undeterred by reminders about cholesterol and uric acid. Truly addictive!

UNIQUE ICE CREAM - Desserts at Hot Star are truly unique: soft serve ice cream in flavors developed by managing partner Richard Chua. Served in old-style cones, the ice cream comes direct from the machine, glistening in contrasting colors: Black Gulaman and White Almond.

"The ice cream flavors are familiar to Filipinos, who always order cubed Black Gulaman and Almond Jelly at Chinese restaurants," Richard explained.

He has even devised a way to serve the two flavors together, twirling in a pretty pattern recalling my childhood Dairy Queen delights.

At P15 per cone, the lightly sugared ice cream is a steal.

TRADE SECRETS - The Taiwanese restaurateur who started the chain devised a slicing technique that produces a foot-long breast fillet that holds its shape and stays together throughout the process of marinating, breading and shallow-frying.

The fillets are then marinated in a mix of spices and flavorings that enhance, rather than overpower, the chicken's natural taste. In the Philippines, all of this happen in the Hot Star commissary; the fillets are delivered to the outlet all sliced and flavored.

Breading for the fish and chicken comes to the Philippines from Hot Star's Taiwan main office. One could only guess what types of flours and starches are mixed to produce the delicious and crunchy coating.

P50 PINOY SPAGHETTI - For kids and spaghetti lovers, Hot Star has Spaghetti with Beef-Tomato Sauce in the sweetish blend Filipinos love. A sizeable serving, for P50, is filling enough for a meal, or as a large side dish for fish and chicken.

"Filipinos, young and old, really prefer sweet tomato-based sauce for spaghetti. We make sure there's a lot of sauce atop the pasta to make customers feel they are getting their money's worth," Richard Chua said.

This early, plans are afoot for outlets in Quezon City (Timog area) and Greenhills, adjacent to the mall.

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Title Annotation:Food & Travel
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9TAIW
Date:Feb 27, 2014
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