The Curve is a column dedicated to exploring and feeling out the corners of complex, multi-dimensional, often hierarchical and always completely random subjects. The aim is to inform readers – in progressive, graduating fashion – on everything from gin and poems to cheeseburgers and trees.
For this edition of The Curve, bestselling cookbook author, writer, and Filipino food-lover, Joie Alvaro Kent, takes us on a fast and furious day of eating around town, with the aim of familiarizing us with Vancouver’s Filipino cuisine situation – from beginner through to extra credit:
“The deep-seated love of food is indelibly etched in every Filipino’s DNA. Eating up to seven or eight meals and meryenda snacks each day is a cultural point of form, and it’s no stretch to say that we as a people think about food morning, noon, and night. To sum up Filipino food over the span of just a few dishes is a heroic task. After all, the Philippines spans an estimated 7,641 islands and more than 150 spoken languages, not to mention the myriad influences that colonialism and trade have had on our cuisine. From snacks and sweets to heavy-hitting proteins and tasty treats in-between, follow along on this whistle-stop tour introducing you to the dishes of my homeland…“
Chicken Inasal with Java Rice & Buko Pandan from PinPin
Chicken and rice — what’s not to like? Pinpin’s riffs on this classic universal pairing include chicken inasal, a dish that originated in the city of Bacolod; its name is the Ilonggo word meaning “chargrilled meat”. Chicken thighs are marinated overnight in a mixture of coconut vinegar, lemongrass, ginger, and calamansi. Inasal’s signature orange colour comes from atsuete (annatto seed) oil, also included in the marinade and brushed on the chicken while grilling.
When it comes to Filipino desserts, buko pandan is one of my favourites. Served cold in a tall parfait glass like its better-known cousin halo halo, it’s a delightfully refreshing mixture of shredded young coconut (buko), cubes of pandan-flavoured jelly (gulaman), and sugar-palm tree fruit (kaong) with crushed ice, sweetened condensed milk, and cream. Mix thoroughly with your long-handled spoon before swan diving in.
Tocilog & Laing from Pampanga’s
Turo means “to point” in Tagalog, and turo-turo restaurants are casual cafeteria-style spots that are common both here and in the Philippines. They feature a steam-table assortment of food from which you point out your choices — easy stops for quick meals or takeout food to be eaten at home. Pampanga’s on Fraser is no exception.
In the Tagalog language, silog is a portmanteau that combines pieces of the words for garlic rice (sinangag) and egg (itlog). Add a protein to that and you get mashups that include tapsilog with cured beef tapa, spamsilog with the Philippines’ beloved luncheon meat, and tocilog with sweet cured pork.
Order some laing (pronounced “lah-ing”) to round out your meal with veggies. I always laugh when it comes to Filipino vegetable dishes because so many of them include meat. Originating in the Bicol region, laing is taro leaves slowly simmered in coconut milk to give them velvety body. Chunks of pork and sliced chili round out the ingredients list, along with a bit of shrimp paste to give it a touch of funky depth.
Crispy Pata & Sisig from Hapag Ihaw Ihaw
The efficiency of nose-to-tail eating is a cornerstone of Filipino cuisine. Dishes such as sisig (chopped pork cheeks, snouts, ears, and jowls served sizzling on a cast-iron platter) and kare kare (oxtail and tripe stew in a thick peanut sauce) are longstanding staples in the Filipino culinary canon.
I was a ridiculously picky eater as a kid and, admittedly, was a late adopter of crispy pata. But my first visit back to the Philippines when I was a teenager made me a convert of this porcine delight that’ll tip your cholesterol count off the charts.
Crispy pata is made from pork leg, usually from the hock to the trotter. Fattier cuts are preferred, since those make better crackling. The bone-in pork leg is salt cured in the fridge overnight (some recipes call for a marinade that includes soy and vinegar), then boiled with aromatics including garlic, bay leaf and red onions, to soften the meat. Once thoroughly cooled and dried, the pork is deep-fried to a crackling crunch, and segmented into chunks for ease of eating before serving on the bone. It’s invariably served with a mountain of rice and sawsawan or dipping sauce – in this case, dark cane vinegar and soy sauce with minced red onion and chili. Eat with your hands. Take no prisoners.
Smoked Longganisa & Mango Royale Cake from Basta Barbecue
Culinary hardliners will argue that authenticity reigns supreme, but I’m all for creative interpretations of traditional food using modern techniques, provided that these explorations remain true to the ethos and intention of the original dish. Chef Alden Ong (Farmer’s Apprentice) draws on his Chinese-Filipino heritage when conceptualizing dishes for Basta Barbecue. Available for lunch from Farmer’s Apprentice Fridays and Saturdays, his concise menu fuses Filipino-inflected dishes with southern barbecue techniques.
Longganisa is a type of Filipino sausage with numerous regional variants across the Philippine archipelago. Most traditional varieties aren’t smoked, but Chef Ong approaches his version with the sensibility of Texas BBQ sausage making, based on Czech and Polish sausage styles. Its flavour profile is informed by the Lucban and Pampanga longganisa he ate growing up in Metro Manila, incorporating soy, brown sugar, black peppercorns, and tons of garlic, along with smoked paprika and atsuete as a bass note. Chef Ong glazes his with bagoong caramel — a sweet accent with a touch of savoury funk from shrimp paste — and serves it hotdog style in fluffy milk bread. Calamansi mustard and atchara both offer tart counterpoints, the latter being a traditional pickled condiment made with grated green papaya and carrot.
Whatever you do, don’t sleep on Chef Ong’s mango royale cake. Simple and unassuming, it’s a dessert-lover’s dream. His recipe plays with a version of the classic Filipino mango float icebox cake that he fell in love with at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Boracay. Instead of a graham-cracker crust, Chef Ong uses brown butter to bind crushed Biscoff cookies and pinipig, young glutinous rice that’s pounded flat and toasted. Mascarpone is added to the whipped-cream filling for a hint of tanginess, and the Philippine mango strips are accented with Don Papa rum and lime juice.