Easy, Tiger offers “Thai food with a kick,” serving delicacies from Isaan, the northeastern region of Thailand.
At first glance, Easy, Tiger seems perfectly at home with the rest of the establishments in Bonifacio Global City’s Uptown Mall, with glass walls, comfortable seats, and bright letters above the door.
Step inside, however, and the restaurant’s distinct, old-timey vibe will make you feel as if you’d just entered a boutique full of quirky wonders — or, as co-owner Al Purugganan describes it: “a Thai shophouse stuck in the ‘70s.”
A familiar feline
If the name of this restaurant sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you’re a Thai foodie, a millennial, or both.
The pinnacle of Purugganan’s three-decades-and-counting love affair with Thai cuisine, Easy, Tiger started out as a food stall in the food court of an upscale mall in 2018. Designed to attract young and Instagram-savvy consumers, Easy Tiger’s unique aesthetic complemented its authentic Thai offerings, which put everything he had learned from his years of experience in the hotel and restaurant industry to good use.
Fortunately, the formula clicked, and Easy, Tiger quickly amassed quite a following.
“The millennials came, and they liked the food,” recalls Purugganan, who made it a point to distinguish Easy, Tiger from his previous attempts to introduce authentic Thai cuisine to the general public. “The hotel industry is dynamic; you have to get updated, and you have to reinvent yourself.”
Purugganan is the same mind behind local Thai restaurants Jatujak and Tamarind, as well as the Filipino-inspired KKK. “Actually, dati, ini-inject ko ang Thai food [in KKK] (Actually, before, I was trying to inject Thai food in KKK). Bagoong rice, sinigang with lemongrass — because it’s my specialty ,” Purugganan shares, citing the many similarities between Thai cuisine and ours.
“Ang Pinoy, mahilig sa maasim, mahilig sa inihaw, mahilig sa pork. (Filipinos like sour food, grilled food, pork) So I curated the menu towards what Filipinos would like in Thai food.”
The heat is on
Easy, Tiger lives up to its tagline (“Thai food with a kick”) by featuring delicacies from Isaan (also spelled Issan or Isan), the northeastern region of Thailand. Described as hot, harsh, and dry, the Isaan region’s most popular foods are noticeably spicier and more flavorful than the typical cuisine in Bangkok.
According to Purugganan, Isaan cuisine packs just the right ingredients to make you sweat (an effective way to cool down in the sweltering heat of the region) and fill you up. “The flavor is rich because they don’t want you to eat a lot,” he explains. “Just add a bit of rice on the side, mabubusog ka na.” (“Just add a bit of rice on the side, and you’ll be full.”)
Purugganan was also heavily involved in formulating the recipes for Easy, Tiger’s offerings, including some of his own originals (including the crispy pata curry).
The establishment accommodates requests to adjust its dishes’ spiciness levels, in order to make them more friendly to milder taste buds. The mix of flavors in each dish, however, never changes nor gets dulled: sweet, sour, salty, and spicy, all combined to replicate the authentic Thai dining experience.
Purugganan puts it succinctly: “All the flavors in harmony.”
From the Land of Smiles, for gastrophiles
While there are certainly Thai food enthusiasts in the Philippines, the cuisine itself hasn’t quite penetrated the mainstream consciousness yet. Or at least, not in a way that properly reflects its full diversity and uniqueness, beyond the usual pad thai. “Thai food in Manila is still underserved,” Purugganan laments.
Interestingly, Easy, Tiger has maintained its cult following—and now that it has gone from food stall to restaurant, its fan base continues to grow.
“My secret is that it’s reasonably priced,” reveals Purugganan. “I just want that old, casual feel, for people to enjoy Thai food at a reasonable price. I aim for longevity.”
Another unexpected boon that helped propel Easy Tiger’s growth was the massive popularity of milk tea in the Philippines. “The formula for success is just falling in my lap,” Purugganan quips.
One of the biggest challenges for the restaurateur, however, is the lack of availability of the herbs they use in these dishes. “My ultimate dream is to grow my own herbs, so that I can be generous with [using them].”
Purugganan says that he still goes to Thailand at least once a year. In the past, he used to go there to source ingredients; now, he does it to keep himself updated on the latest Thai food trends. “I keep myself updated, from street food to high-end and everything in between.”
A taste of destiny
“Easy Tiger is the culmination of everything I want in Thai food,” says Purugganan. “It’s cheap, it’s young, and it has that street vibe.”
Easy Tiger was established with a simple goal in mind: to popularize Thailand’s must-try dishes in the Philippines
. “I want Thai food to be the next comfort food of Filipinos. That’s why I want to make it affordable.”
To this day, Purugganan still remembers his first taste of Thai food. Back then, he was fresh out of college, but with no immediate career options in sight. A colleague offered him the chance to work in a Thai restaurant; to convince him, he was made to try Thai food for the first time.
Sure enough, all it took was one bite to make him fall in love with Thai food — and it’s the same experience that he wants other Filipinos to have as well.
“This is literally how it was for me: When I tried Thai food, I really had an epiphany… It was love at first taste. It was like I tasted my destiny already.”