Three weeks since it opened, Merkanto St. International Street Food on 38 Mayaman Street in Diliman has been drawing in a lot of foodies.
Every item on the menu is a certified street food. “If it’s not food that’s sold on the street of the country of origin, we don’t serve it,” underscores BJ Ching, one of the partners.
The food park is a unique dining concept that gathers street food from different countries in a no-frills, 80-seater hall. Diners go to the stall to place orders, then get a stub (name of the chosen dish printed on a slip of paper that is laminated). Afterwards, they go to the cashier, give the stub and pay for their orders. When the food is cooked, attendants call out the customer’s name so he or she can claim the order. Diners can choose cuisine from five different countries: Vietnam, Brazil, Morocco, India, and Indonesia.
It traces its beginnings to last year’s Maginhawa Food Fest when the initial group of business partners had a stall that served Indonesian street food. The Indonesian stall did so well that a few months later, more partners were invited to invest. All of them belong to the same batch at Claret School of Quezon City and one of them is University of the Philippines’ football coach Andres “Anto” Gonzales.
In the midst of preparation for the UAAP football semifinals wherein the UP Men’s Football team is on top of the standings, fullcourtfresh.com chatted with aimable Coach Anto about his new endeavor.
“I was the second-to-the-last to confirm my participation,” Coach Anto shares. “I liked the concept and I was also motivated because a lot of good people are part of it. Partner Chef Niño Laus of Ninyo Fusion Cuisine is known to be very meticulous. PJ Lanot of Pino, Burger Project and Breakfast & Pie, has a good track record. I saw that the business is worth investing in,” he explains.
Nowadays, the busy coach makes time to drop by Merkanto about three times a week to motivate the staff, talk with customers, and help run the food hall. Coach Anto, a graduate of Sociology from UP, has tried two other entrepreneurial ventures: malunggay capsules and leather goods. Merkanto seems to be the best he has tried so far. “Eto, may pakialam ako talaga. I enjoy food and I enjoy trying new things,” says Coach Anto.
Part of Merkanto’s appeal is the interesting design by Paolo Sayo, also another partner. At the center of the hall is an artwork of water pipes crafted to look like a tree. Lightbulbs adorn the “tree” and provide illumination. Beside it is a black bicycle fitted with a metal sink for washing hands; the paper towels are placed on the bicycle’s basket. Like the materials of the food stalls, everything is made from discarded or recycled materials. “Paolo prefers to call them upcycled materials,” BJ points out.
Certainly, the best thing about Merkanto is its delicious food. Bestsellers like the Brazil’s Churasco Skewers, Indonesia’s Nasi Goreng and the Satay (Chicken, Fish, Beef Rib) from the Indonesian food stall, Morocco’s Chicken Tagine, India’s Roti (one of the personal favorites of the partners), and Vietnam’s Pho Bo Ko have kept people coming back for more. The dishes are reasonably priced from 50 pesos to a little under 200 pesos, so a student on allowance won’t go broke, or a young professional doesn’t have to wait for the next payday to savor fine global cuisine.
In the future, Merkanto will be offering desserts on their menus (“Chef Niño is thinking of at least one dessert per food stall,” says BJ) and special events like bazaars and live entertainment. The partners also hope to add more food stalls to make Merkanto truly international.
Merkanto St. International Street Food is located at 38 Mayaman St., U.P. Village, Diliman, Q.C. and is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 5 pm to 12 midnight and Sundays from 3 pm to 10 pm.