KF Seetoh gave up a successful career in photojournalism to establish Makansutra in 1997. Back then, the Singaporean developed guidebooks, creating a brand that celebrated the cuisine of Asia. In 2005, Seetoh curated a selection of some of the best hawkers in Singapore to rally along Raffles Avenue. He named it Gluttons Bay, after a similar setup on Orchard Road that shut down in the late 1990s. Since then, it’s become famous all over the world, now known as the place to go for a true taste of the country’s gastronomy. “We don’t sell food,” says Seetoh. “We sell stories.” He illustrates his point through the tale of Singapore’s famous bak kut teh. “The ribs were being thrown out. Someone decided to take them, put them in a soup, and cook them with sugarcane, white pepper, roasted garlic. Now it’s one of Singapore’s national dishes,” he shares. Makansutra hopes to remind diners about heritage and culture. “That’s someone’s history you’re eating.”
A dish from Gooba Hia, the only Filipino-run concessionaire at Makansutra
If you ask JJ Yulo, one of Seetoh’s local partners, how Makansutra managed a detour to the Philippines, he would say that it was all a matter of circumstance. Some forgotten number of years back, a common friend gave him the opportunity to meet Seetoh, and he joined the latter’s 24-hour food safari in Singapore. Their sporadic correspondence led to a friendship of sorts and Seetoh later invited Yulo to open a Makansutra in Manila. “I chose to partner with JJ because he has never done this. He’s not an entrepreneur. When you don’t have experience, you’re bound to break the rules, and that’s what we want to do,” explains Seetoh.
Seetoh further reveals that some of their employees come from halfway houses or grew up as orphans. “You can teach someone how to make one dish and they could be set for life,” he declares, citing the example of Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, two onedish hawker stands that have recently been awarded Michelin stars. Yulo adds, “We also want to make sure that the staff is happy.”
Seetoh is impressively hands-on with the Philippine outpost of hisgastro market. The expansive indoor establishment is an unassuming corner that teases the senses with mouthwatering, spicy fragrances as you enter. Its interiors channel the charm of street-side dining with graffitiinspired walls and bare construction foundations. “Street food was born in this kind of environment, so we want to recreate it,” Seetoh continues. Each stall also bears different designs because that’s how hawkers are supposed to look. The food court extends to two semi-enclosed areas that can be booked for private affairs.
Inside Makansutra, where each stall is designed differently to replicate the hawker setting in Singapore
Seetoh handpicked each of the stalls to bring over to the Philippines—some of them already having made an appearance at the World Street Food Congress held in Manila earlier this year. Included in the lineup are Hong Kong Street Old Chun Kee, Donald & Lily, Jin Ji Kway Chap & Braised Duck, Alhambra Padang Satay, Bao Ji Xiang, Mian Ji, and Adam’s Ribs. Makansutra Manila will also soon see the international debut of Singapore’s Geylang Clay Pot Rice.
Seetoh admits that he’ll be changing the stalls in the future. After all, there are more stories to be told—or, rather, eaten.
SM Megamall Building A.