Meet the Daly City culinary couple behind Ox & Tiger.

Ox & Tiger’s miki malabed, an egg noodle soup in a clear but rich pork broth. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

Ox & Tiger’s miki malabed is the kind of soup you turn to when you’re sick, hungover, bone tired or … deep in the throes of an unrelenting global pandemic.

The noodle soup is named after miki, or egg noodles, and Malabed, a female chef in the Philippines whose restaurant is famed for its fried pork dishes but also a rich broth made from the meat scraps. It’s topped with greens, annatto chili oil, half a jammy soft-boiled egg and crispy annatto chili Panko bread crumbs (Ox & Tiger’s substitute for the typical chicharron topping).

Partners EJ Macayan, right, and Hitomi Wada started Ox & Tiger together in 2018. (Photo via Ox & Tiger Instagram)

Partners EJ Macayan and Hitomi Wada, who live in Daly City, are behind Ox & Tiger, which they started in 2018 as a pop-up and during the pandemic shutdown have morphed into a takeout operation. The food marries their backgrounds: Macayan is Filipino and Wada is Japanese. They named the pop-upafter their respective zodiac animals (Macayan is the ox and Wada, the tiger).

Wada was raised in Japan and learned how to cook from her mother and grandparents, who ran a restaurant there. Both Wada and Macayan grew up with backyard gardens and a love for fresh produce, a connection they nurture today through weekly trips to local farmers markets to pick up vegetables and fruits for both Ox & Tiger and their home kitchen.

After graduating from the Culinary Arts Management program at City College of San Francisco, Macayan cut his teeth at the Michelin-starred Rich Table in San Francisco. When Wada went to graduate school in Chicago, he followed and continued working in restaurants there, including the acclaimed Fat Rice. When they returned to the Bay Area, he worked at The Sarap Shop, a Filipino-American food truck in San Francisco. (The owners are close friends and encouraged Macayan and Wada to pursue their own pop-up.)

Clockwise from top left: Bicol express (a Filipino stew) with fish sauce brined tonkatsu, market veg and chili ginataang; fish cheeks in sinigang broth with vegetables; ube panna cotta; and Wagyu ribeye bistek (steak) with onions. (Images via Ox & Tiger’s Instagram)

They had just been gaining momentum on Ox & Tiger, Macayan said, when the coronavirus hit. They quickly shifted to serving to-go pre-fixe meals (their version of teishoku, a Japanese meal set) and have continued to evolve their offerings to stay afloat, including bottling homemade sauces and Macayan doubling as their own delivery person. They also recently teamed up with Vineyard Gate in Millbrae to use the natural wine shop as a pickup location for to-go orders.

“Things are always changing,” Macayan said. “We have to keep up with the change.”

Their most recent creation is a menu of several dishes that customers can choose from to create their own shokuji, which Macayan said means “meal” in Japanese. The dishes require some easy cooking and assembly at home, laid out step by step in printed instructions included with your order.

Ox & Tiger’s tsukune don, pre- and post- home assembly. (Photos by Elena Kadvany)

The miki malabed was a home run. While you boil some water to cook the toothsome, handmade egg noodles, warm up the broth, which Macayan makes in a nod to adobo soup from pork, mushrooms, kombu, soy sauce and apple cider vinegar. (“I like a lot of acidic, tart flavors. That reminds me a lot of Filipino cuisine,” he said.) Pour the broth over the noodles and top with the accompanying tea egg, bok choy (from Moua Farm, run by Laotian farmer in Sacramento County), the Panko crumbs and another hit of acid from a chili-strewn lemon wedge.

The menu changes weekly, but other dishes that meld Japanese and Filipino flavors have included tsukune don, a juicy chicken patty over rice with broccolini, atchara cauliflower and a shiso green goddess sauce; frozen gyoza stuffed with Japanese hambagu; and handmade pancit noodles with miso-braised beef.

Grab a bottle of natty wine and pick up Ox & Tiger’s food at Vineyard Gate. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

Alex Bernardo, owner of Vineyard Gate and a native of the Philippines, said he was drawn to Ox & Tiger’s ingredient-driven cooking. To him, their fusing of Filipino and Japanese food feels original, not “gimmicky.”

Collaborating with Ox & Tiger is part of his own pandemic survival approach.

“If we’re to remain competitive and adapt to the new realities, we have to try to continue attracting customers,” Bernardo said. “Adding takeout food in the shop is probably going to be helpful in selling our wines. At the same time, there are these pop-ups that can’t do their usual pop-ups anymore so our shop can provide an outlet for their food takeout.”

Starting in August, Macayan and Wada plan to host a Filipino-Japanese sandwich pop-up at Vineyard Gate during the city’s Saturday farmers market. Social media teasers suggest there will be tonkatsu sandwiches on their own shokupan, or Japanese milk bread, which became a household food after World War II, “made to counter the food scarcity and make use of wheat and powdered milk the U.S. provided during that time,” the owners wrote on Instagram.

Ox & Tiger’s tonkatsu sandwich on their own shokupan, Japanese milk bread; the partners themselves … with a canine friend. (Images via Ox & Tiger Instagram and Facebook)

The U.S. occupation of both the Philippines and Japan “gave birth to a boom of sandwiches being eaten because of the popularity amongst U.S. soldiers,” they wrote. “It became more popular and started to be used for school lunches and cafes around the country.”

This week, the pair launched their take on a conbini, the Japanese convenience store, selling frozen tsukune lumpia, bottled drinks and pantry goods like their rayu, a chili oil made from charred garlic chives with sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin and annatto seeds. (The conbini is preorders only; go to oxandtiger-conbini.square.site for more.)

Peninsula residents can pick up Ox & Tiger orders at Vineyard Gate on Thursdays. Ox & Tiger also offers delivery to Daly City and South San Francisco on Thursdays with a minimum order of $30.

Orders must be placed by Monday at 8 p.m. For more information, go to oxandtiger.co/.

Follow Ox & Tiger on Instagram and Facebook.

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Elena Kadvany

A writer with a passion for investigative reporting, telling untold stories and public-service journalism, I have built my career covering education and restaurants in the Bay Area. My blog and biweekly newsletter, Peninsula Foodist, is the go-to source for restaurant news in Silicon Valley. My work has been published in The Guardian, Eater, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, SF Weekly and The Six Fifty.

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