Kapitolyo’s cult favorite Thai restaurant continues to satisfy – Manila Bulletin


Kapitolyo food enthusiasts are familiar with Same Same, the Thai street food restaurant that has garnered a loyal following ever since it opened in 2018. Then called Same Same Thai Satay Bar, the restaurant had a small menu of Thai staples that catered to the dinner and after work crowd.

Before opening Same Same, owner Gee Jay Coleco worked in corporate marketing. After the last agency he worked for closed, a serendipitous trip to Thailand ended with Coleco working in the southern province of Surat Thani for two years. He returned to Manila to work in corporate again, but after the company he worked for shut down, he decided to go into business on his own. “All I knew was food,” he shares in Taglish. “But when you talk about the food business, it’s not just about the cooking. You also have to deal with finances. Accounting. Government. It’s not that simple.”

Thai favorite mango sticky rice is available to pre-order for Saturday delivery.

Brick and mortar

Coleco has always been into food. Around 2008, just as food blogs were beginning to gain popularity, he started lutonilola.net, where he posted Filipino recipes he learned from his grandmother. But he didn’t go this route. “I thought of putting up a Thai restaurant, but I thought, there are so many Thai restaurants in Manila, what’s going to make me different?” he says. “I tried the food from different restaurants and recipe tested…. I started with satay.”

Though he didn’t have professional training in Thai cuisine, Coleco’s senses were very familiar to the real thing. “I learned it by chance,” he shares. “My favorite restaurant was across from my apartment. I’d ask the lady there about the food. [She didn’t know English] so I had to learn a few phrases for us to understand each other, so I have a background on the ingredients.

“When I got back here… I researched online. I brought cookbooks with me. The cookbooks are important not because you want to copy them, but because they’re references to make sure you’re on the right path,” he adds.

His initial plan was to open a drinking bar patterned after the izakayas in Japan, but didn’t want to deal with alcohol-related conflicts, so he focused on street food, targeting the after office crowd. “I focused on street food but I wanted it to be… something that the general Pinoy palate would enjoy, which means not too spicy or maybe even not spicy at all,” he says. “That’s why I never claimed that it’s authentic. Because, how could (I)? If I made it authentic, people might not be able to eat it.”

Same Same enjoyed a robust clientele as a hole in the wall in Kapitolyo. But just five days after its second anniversary, everything changed, not just for Coleco, but the entire country.

One of Same Same’s bestsellers is its Pad Thai.

Surviving the pandemic

The restaurant remained open during the lockdowns, relying on orders for delivery and reaching customers through social media, something that Coleco’s former corporate job, which included social media management, prepared him for. “This is the only platform where we can reach our customers aside from word of mouth.”

He also introduced Friday Specials, which tended to be Thai home cooking or Royal Thai cuisine. “It’s a different aspect of Thai cuisine,” but all of what’s on the [regular] menu is street food.” Its social media posts not only include a mouthwatering photo of the dish, but an explanation of its origins and the ingredients used in it as well.

Because public transportation was shut down, Coleco had to walk to and from the Pasig market everyday to buy his ingredients. What used to take ten minutes by jeep now took an hour each way. “It wasn’t easy, to put it mildly,” he says.

Same Same managed to stay in its rick and mortar location until December 2020, when the restaurant’s lease ran out. “I’m sure you’ve heard all the sad stories in any business,” Coleco says. “I’m pretty sure my story is not different.”

Coleco actually had no plans of continuing the restaurant. His customers urged him to continue. A serendipitous conversation with a customer on the restaurant’s last day of operations led him to the apartment that Same Same operates out of now. It’s as if fate had decreed that he continue.

Choo Chee Goong, or shrimp in coconut red curry sauce, one of Same Same’s Friday Specials.

Comfort food

Now operating from a cloud kitchen, Same Same Thai Street Food continues to bring joy to its customers both loyal and new.

Bestsellers include crab fried rice made with real crab meat (almost all ingredients are market fresh), chicken or shrimp Pad Thai, satay skewers, and mango sticky rice but really, it’s a small menu and everything is good. Customers can request their level of spiciness as well. The restaurant might be discontinuing its Friday Special, but customers can follow them on social media to see when a weekly special will pop up.

The journey hasn’t been easy, but it certainly has been fulfilling. “I’m really after [being able] to share the beauty of [the] flavors that I experienced in Thailand,” Coleco says. “I also wanted to share the story behind these dishes because that’s part of the culture.”

Follow Same Same on Facebook (@SameSamePh) and Instagram (@samesameph) and find them on pickup.ph.

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