For Filipinos who now live outside the Philippines, the desire to eat Filipino food becomes greater. These are the Filipinos who are the most nostalgic for the foods of home. However, wherever they are they have new foods to savor and new ingredients to experiment with and to add to their Philippine repertoire. It will be exciting to see how adobo, sinigang, and kinilaw can be transformed in the United States, where all types of cuisines are flourishing and new fusions of ideas are happening every day.
Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan
Memories of Philippine Kitchens
Filipino food is honest food. The type of food that you that no matter how good nor bad, it has a way of transporting you back to the islands where these dishes were conceptualized. Growing up, I have known Filipino food as one-pot meals that my mother would throw together and serve to the family with the common accompaniments; the freshly cooked jasmine rice, the small bowl of chopped tomatoes mixed with salted duck eggs and patis (fish sauce), a tiny dish that reeks of the bagoong (shrimp paste), and of course the weapons of choice, our fork and spoon. This was the norm for us every single day as far back as I could remember. Filipino food is something that will always be very dear to me, but when I think about it, it is food that I haven’t really put a lot of thought or time into getting to know. With huge bold flavors of sweet, sour, and saltiness, it has taken some time for myself to see how this cuisine is a whole lot more complex than it is ‘simple’.
It wasn’t until I had the opportunity presented to me from fellow chef, Irbille Donia, to take part of a Filipino Pop-Up Dinner that he was organizing under his catering company, Irbille Edibles. His goal for these Filipino Pop-Up dinners is to introduce our community to Filipino Cuisine in a new perspective that people might not be use too. He wanted show how Filipino food could be brought to a new level with the use of new and traditional techniques with the beautiful local produce we get here in the North West. I was pretty skeptical at first solely for two reasons. One, I wasn’t sold yet to the concept of Pop-Up restaurants. And Two, I am a terrible Filipino and haven’t really cooked any Filipino food in my life! (I know, embarrassing!) Regardless, this was a great opportunity to learn something new about something I’ve always believed I knew so much about and also take part of something that hasn’t been seen yet, that being fine dining Filipino food.
It’s been 7 months since we’ve started doing these Filipino Pop-Ups and I have got to see the progression of our team and more importantly, our food. With each Pop-Up, we have learned more and more about Filipino food, especially what Filipino cuisine really is. Filipino cuisine is a melting pot of many cultures that have forever influenced the Philippines through trade and conquests. Primary influences being China, Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Working at The Harvest Vine, which is a traditional Spanish restaurant, I have learned that it is important to know about the history of a cuisine to really understand the food. And with working at the Vine, I have found the many ways that the Spanish had influenced Filipino cuisine through the techniques we use (i.e. escabeche) and also through the products they’ve brought us (i.e. Pork, chorizo, ham, saffron, etc.).
With this kind of knowledge, it opened up a huge amount of ways to reinterpret traditional dishes into a new, yet familiar, kind of way. What we try to do is break down each dish into a way we can reconstruct it using the same elements, yet make sure that the dish is still a good representation of the dish. This is biggest learning curve that we at Irbille Edibles have seen. Filipinos are some of the most critical people about ‘their’ food. To put it in the nicest way possible, we are the reason it is so difficult for Filipino restaurants to survive in such a demanding market. I feel that Filipinos need to be a little bit more open minded with the way they see not just Filipino food, but food in general. Just because their mother or grandmother might make the best Adobo or Sinigang around doesn’t mean that you should shun everybody else’s interpretation of these foods. As is mentioned in the quote above by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, it is an exciting thing for Filipino food that we are open to new ingredients and techniques to really see how our dishes can evolve. Also, I would like to add that it is OKAY to splurge and indulge sometime. We are known to be penny pinchers, but its ok to break the bank every once in a while. Enjoy what you have worked so hard for and spend some money on not just great food, but also a great experience.
But luckily, we’ve had some of the greatest support for what we are doing at Irbille Edibles. Not just from the Filipino community, but also from the whole ‘foodie’ community here in Seattle. We feel that we are taking Filipino Cuisine into the right direction. We have shown that Filipino food could be elevated into something greater than it already is and still keep true to the tastes. It’s amazing how much Filipino food has progressed within the last couple years. Andrew Zimmern has even declared it to be the “next big thing” in food. There are also a large amount of food trucks popping up around america serving Filipino food on wheels. And also pleanty of restaurants opening its doors and doing the same thing we are doing at Irbille Edibles. Check out La Mesa and Kanto in Toronto, and Maharlika in New York.
In the end, all I know is that I am proud of what I am. I find it amazing that through my love of food, I was able to gain so much about what being Filipino is really about. I am a Filipino-American and am so grateful for what America and especially the Philippines has to offer. There was so much I have learned within the past 7 months and can only look forward to what the future has to hold for myself, Irbille Edibles and of course, Filipino Food.
Photos of the many inspired dishes at Irbille Edibles: