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Taste The Details: Why Is Filipino-American Food Overlooked?

Chicken adobo. Lumpia. Leche Flan. These are all traditional Filipino dishes that are getting remixed through the lens of Filipino -merican chefs. And though it’s drawing skepticism from Filipinos themselves, while still having to prove itself to the mainstream, Filipino-American cuisine is poised to overcome such obstacles.

Growing up, busting out my lunch of kare-kare with a dash of bagoong didn’t exactly draw kids closer to me, eager to trade up with one of their Lunchables creations. Which is fair, not many really find ox-tail in a peanut stew with a dash of fish paste to be appetizing. But these days, folks have more adventurous palates and are being exposed to Filipino food that has a touch of “growing up in America” generously added to it.

In this latest episode of Taste the Details, walk with me as I explore the friction between traditional and modern Filipino cuisine. This new generation of Filipino-American chefs are cooking up their interpretations of the traditional Filipino food they grew up eating — and pissing off our lolas in the process.

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‘Ulam: Main Dish’ Is the First Filipino Food Documentary To Be Distributed Worldwide

ULAM: Main Dish – Official Trailer #2 (HD) from Alexandra Cuerdo on Vimeo.

It’s pretty safe to say that over the past couple of years, Filipino cuisine and culture have continued to sizzle slowly into the hearts of America’s dinner table.  Highlighting this cultural shift is Ulam: Main Dish, a documentary that shows the true “underdog of Asian cuisines’” rise to center stage — and is the first Filipino food documentary to be distributed worldwide through Hulu

Aside from the love that late greats Jonathan Gold and Anthony Bourdain have heralded in regards to Filipino food, the rest of the world was slow to take notice. Regardless, its voice grew louder, its proponents adjusted to the contemporary dining climate, and its ascent rose high enough to the point that it could no longer be denied.  

Ulam: Main Dish is a documentary by filmmaker Alexandra Cuerdo staging how the cuisine moved beyond being known for lumpia and ube to become a phenomenon, all through the efforts of a handful of celebrated Filipino-American chefs and restaurateurs like Alvin Cailan (Eggslut, The Usual), Chase & Chad Valencia (LASA), Johneric & Christina Concordia (The Park’s Finest), and Nicole Ponseca (Maharlika, Jeepney) to name a few.

The film is a compelling confrontation of the issues that come inherent with representing an authentic Filipino culture and cuisine within an American community — but ultimately, is a celebration of the representation and validation that the Filipino people and advocates of the cuisine have longed for. 

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The Must-Try Dishes To Dive Into When Sampling Filipino Food

filipino food. simon majumdar. saute magazine. san diego.Source: Saute Magazine

Have an unquenchable craving for a traditional kamayan-style meal? Take a trip south to San Diego.

It’s one of the questions I am asked most often in interviews: Which of the nearly 80 countries I have visited is my favorite? With one or two exceptions (which I shall sensibly keep to myself), every country I have been to has its own charms. That said, there are some places that have left an indelible mark on my traveler’s spirit, and to which I either long to return or indeed have done so on more than one occasion. 

Top of that list: the 7,000-plus islands that make up the archipelago of the Philippines. I may be biased—I am, after all, married to a Filipino-American, and as a result, I have become part of an extended family that has shown me extraordinary hospitality over the last eight or so years. However, long before my wedding day, when I like to joke I became part Filipino by marriage, I had already visited the Philippines and fallen in love with its culture, the warmth of its people and, inevitably, with its food. Even without the prompting of my new family, I would still be a lively ambassador for all matters Pinoy. I have made discovering more about its culture and glorious, but underrated, cuisine one of my key goals. 

Even if I don’t get to visit as often as I would like, the significant Filipino-American communities that exist within the United States allow me to regularly immerse myself in the culture and satisfy my cravings for delicious Filipino food without having to endure the 15-hour flight from LAX to Manila. The United States is home to nearly 3.5 million people of Filipino ancestry. And, while there are communities in every state, by far the greatest concentration appears in California, with the biggest density in the southern part of the state. So whenever I develop a deep food craving that only lechon kawali (boiled then deep fried pork belly) can satisfy, it is easy enough to hop in a car and drive to a neighborhood dotted with Filipino restaurants. I would normally do this in my home city of Los Angeles, but a recent visit to San Diego gave me an opportunity to see what was on offer in an area where Filipinos are by far the largest group of Asian-Americans. Many are descendants of those who found their way to this part of the country through the military, particularly the United States Navy. 

The United States is home to nearly 3.5 million people of Filipino ancestry.

While interest in Filipino history has ebbed and flowed over the decades, there seems to be a resurgence. Young people of Filipino ancestry are rediscovering the history of their culture, and chefs are bringing the cuisine to the attention of food critics. The community, in general, is beginning to thrive under the banner of being Filipino-American.

So we pointed our car toward National City, a community in the larger San Diego metropolitan area where nearly a fifth of the population is of Filipino ancestry. It was a great place to start our eating adventures. But, before we headed to our first restaurant of choice, we parked our car and took the opportunity to walk around the parade of Filipino food shops to whet our appetites.

For any food-obsessed person, Filipino supermarkets are a wonder to behold: shelves lined with pickles, fish sauces, shrimp paste, palm vinegars and banana ketchup; counters filled deep with ice and fresh fish on display (as well as one reserved just for fish heads); meat counters with neatly arranged cuts of chicken- and pork-related products ready for classic dishes such as adoboand crispy pata; rows of longganisa, a spicy sausage that is a culinary remnant of Spanish colonization and one of my all-time favorite versions of encased meats. 

If supermarkets are good, then Filipino bakeries are truly a thing of beauty. The smell of pan de sal, a slightly sweet fluffy bread roll, being pulled from the oven fills the air. Display cases are stocked with ensaymada, another sweet bread, this time topped with grated cheese. Kept warm in a glass case is siopao, the Filipino take on Chinese cha siu bao, and hopia, pastries filled with beans. Lovingly wrapped in cellophane are my favorite of all: ube loaf, a soft cake-like bread that is filled with a swirl of purple yam. It’s delicious on its own—and even better when used as the base for French toast.

I could have quite easily satisfied my Filipino food urge snacking in the bakery, but we had come to this part of National City for a reason, and that was to try one of the most traditional styles of Filipino dining—turo turo, which means “point point” in Tagalog. While I have never quite wrapped my head around the Filipino inclination to naming everything twice, I do particularly like this style of dining, as it allows you to sample more than one dish at a time, choosing from a selection held in trays on a steam table.

Tita’s Kitchenette (2720 E. Plaza Blvd., National City, 619.472.5801) was already filling up when we joined the line. My wife explained the items on offer as we waited our turn to point out our selection of dishes to the friendly servers behind the counter. There were whole bangus, or milk fish, flattened and fried until crunchy; caldereta, a rich and tangy Filipino beef (or goat) stew; trays of lumpia spring rolls; dinuguan, a stew of pork meat cooked in its own blood; and Pancit Malabon, named after the city from which it was invented—it’s a dish of thick chewy noodles filled with seafood.

I wanted to order it all, but my wife was more sensible and reminded me that we had two other restaurants to visit. Deciding to limit ourselves to a shared combo plate of two dishes, our eyes were drawn toward the sight of sinigang soup being ladled into a Styrofoam container, and our noses were drawn to the sizzle of chicken skewers from a grill. We added a large scoop of rice to our selection and made our way to a spare table, and made sure to grab a bottle of chili vinegar. Steaming rice with a splash of vinegar is one of the irrefutable proofs that the world is a good place to be. The same, too, with sinigang, a soup of braised beef that is laced with enough tamarind to bring a sour taste that is, for the record, the perfect hangover cure. Finally, there were the chicken skewers. Chunky pieces of chicken thigh marinated in soy sauce and banana ketchup before being grilled to give them juicy tenderness. It had a deep and rich umami hit as we bit the meat from their wooden skewers.

A short drive away, we found ourselves at stop No. 2—Lisa’s Filipino Cuisine, another turo turorestaurant. A similar selection to Tita’s was on offer, but this time we noticed two things on the steam table that made our ordering easy. The first was a large platter of crispy dilis—tiny dried anchovies that had been dipped in a light batter and then deep-fried. The second was a tray of stubby longganisa that had been coated in a sticky, glistening red sauce. With the prerequisite large scoop of rice, both of these dishes reminded me of why I love this cuisine so much. The dilishad the crunch and saltiness that all Filipinos seem to crave, while the sausages dripped a sweet garlicky sauce down our chins as we bit into them.

That would have been as good a way to end the dining trip as any. However, my wife reminded me that we had one more Filipino meal to experience. Kamayan, which means “with hands” in Tagalog, refers to a traditional way of eating—food is laid out on top of banana leaves and then eaten by hand. Villa Manila in National City has been offering this style of dining by special request for some time. We had pre-ordered our meal, and when we arrived, we found that our table was already prepared with a layer of fresh banana leaves. It didn’t take long for our food to arrive, and I was glad my wife had been so insistent that we take it easy at our previous stops.

An enormous mound of rice was placed on top of the banana leaves, followed by layers of enough food to feed four people, including grilled shrimp, Filipino fried chicken, grilled pork, roasted eggplant, a salad of tomatoes and mustard leaves, salted eggs and a whole grilled milk fish. At first glance, I was convinced that we would be leaving with a sizeable doggy bag. However, once we began to scoop rice with our hands and top it with fish, meat or seafood, the pile began to reduce at a rate that belied the fact we had been stuffed when we arrived. Within 20 minutes, there was nothing left on the banana leaves except a few stray grains of rice, remnants of shrimp shells, chicken bones and fish skin. 

That, to me, is the true joy of Filipino cuisine. However full you may think you are, there is always one more delicious dish to persuade you that you can eat just one bite more. 

It was a fantastic way to end our road trip, and it definitely satisfied my urge for Filipino food, for the time being, at least. I won’t lie to you. I let my wife drive all the way back to Los Angeles as I slept off my indulgences in the passenger seat. I may well have dreamed of lechon.

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Article by Meghan Malloy for Sauté Magazine. Read the original article here.

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A NYC Filipino Taqueria Is Serving Up Their Take On A Sinigang Cup Noodles

A New York City Filipino favorite just joined Nissin Cup Noodles and tangy sinigang together in a mouthwatering combination.

The Sinigang Cup Noodles was created by Jordan Andino of Flip Sigi, a “Filipino Taqueria” that serves up classic eats from the Philippines in sandwich, taco, and burrito form. For Andino, this item is the fusion of his love for Nissin Cup Noodles growing up and one of his favorite traditional dishes.

For those who’ve never tried, sinigang is a tamarind-based soup that provides a bright, acidic punch of flavor. Andino’s spin involves braising beef short ribs in the broth for three and a half hours to perfectly contrast the richness of the meat.

He then combines that with Nissin Cup Noodles, tomatoes, scallions and carrots before garnishing the bowl with fries dusted in tamarind powder. The crispy spuds add a crunch that brings out the lusciousness of the noodles and beef, making for a full-on flavor and texture experience.

Andino’s dish bridges together traditional Filipino food and Nissin Cup Noodles in a standout explosion of taste that you have to try for yourself. It’ll be available at Flip Sigi as a special item for the entirety of November, while supplies last.

Photos by Marc Kharrat

Created in partnership with Nissin Cup Noodles

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Utensils Not Necessary For This Massive Filipino ‘Kamayan’ Feast

A kamayan style dinner in Filipino cuisine is one where utensils are not used and an extraordinary amount of food is eaten with one’s hands only. The impressive spread is served on top of banana leaves and can feature a decadent list of Filipino dishes that range from crispy fried pork belly (lechon kawali) to sweet cured sausages (longanisa) to a whole fried tilapia. Such tasty items rest atop a mountain of rice and make for a true eye-gasm on its incredible presentation alone.

Though this setup sounds like something out of your deepest cravings and wildest food fantasies, such a lavish feast can be found at MFK By Aysee in Anaheim, California. The modern Filipino restaurant serves up kamayan feasts on the regular, accommodating large parties to fulfill their insatiable appetites.

Served up by Chef Henry Pineda, the kamayan feast at MFK By Aysee is the perfect meal for your whole crew. Squad goals are easily met with one giant kamayan spread. Just imagine gathering up a proper band of hungry foodies, all with the singular objective to go HAM on the festive gala of gluttony laid before you.

Yeah, I know, I’m drooling, too.