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Posts from the ‘Filipino’ Category

Shovel Time: Tito Rad’s

threeshovelMuch like the real world, the food world can be a confusing place. A quick skim through Twitter (well, my Twitter feed) will often mention the same subject framed multiple ways, interpreting ingredients or dishes as a new trend or old hat depending on the source. And this really only stands out to me when the disparity involves a pet interest of mine, like, say, Filipino food (I’ve always been a champion of this chronic underdog cuisine and swore it was going to blow up in NYC around 2012 when Maharlika, Talde, and Pig & Khao were fresh on the scene) which intersects with my blue/purple food mania, and then I get antsy. 

titoradsIn the same few weeks, I attended a Queens Dinner Club event at Tito Rad’s (awesome name and logo) where ube ice cream seemed like a novelty for people who love trying new food enough to come from all parts of NYC and beyond to Sunnyside  on a weeknight and Mic, one of countless millennial-focused sites that seems no different from any other site, posted an article titled LOL “Everything you need to know about ube — the purple yam that’s more than a hipster trend.” (In the past few months, other headlines, blessedly hipster-free, read like: “What You Need to Know About Ube, the Filipino Ingredient Invading the Dessert World,” “Is Ube Filipino America’s Breakout Food?” “Why ube is our new yam.” )

So, is the Filipino purple yam hot shit Instagram-bait or an exotic tuber that you’ve never heard of?

Tell me it doesn’t matter. It’s ok. I was going to “Barely Blog” this but now I’ve gone on too long to lump Tito Rad’s in with anyone else.

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Eaten, Barely Blogged: Pizza, Pizza, Sushi, Himalayan and Not

pizzeria sirenetta arugula & prosciutto pizza

Pizzeria Sirenetta This is type of place–pizzas, pastas, snacks, all under $20–just taken for granted in so many neighborhoods. (A little less so in this more-desolate-than-you’d-think pocket of the Upper West Side.) I mean, it’s kind of boring. Also, I would kill for one. There just isn’t anywhere to get skinny linguine creamy with meyer lemon-spiked ricotta and sprinkled with micro-croutons or what I’ve decided is my favorite pizza, the perfect bitter/rich/salty combo of arugula and prosciutto. Instead of the little chocolate pudding freebie offered at the end of the other Mermaid restaurant meals, you will receive a tiny panna cotta with a droplet of balsamic vinegar.

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threeshovelMy illogical bias against Italian food (Italian-American to be more precise) has a counterpoint, and that’s Filipino food. Yes, I have a fetish for the poor culinary underdog. I never thought I’d live to see upscale dinaguan, and yet it was happening right in front of me–in Texas, no less.

qui dinuguan

Said pork blood stew, hadn’t lost its deep brown sheen in translation (there’s a reason why trickster adults tell kids dinaguan is chocolate). Yet despite the rich funk, the dish of sauced pork cubes, gnocchi and black trumpet mushrooms wasn’t heavy in the least. Some of this had to do with the small plates being small.

This might not be a selling point for most–especially if you’re a local and not a gluttonous queso-swilling, barbecue-snarfing monster of a tourist–but the portions were perfect after a day of cramming in more meals than ration would dictate.

qui madai

Keeping with the light theme, I tried two raw fish preparations, one more successful than the other. I’ll admit I was drawn to the madai (sea bream) mostly because it featured chapulines, but the fish coupled with daikon was so mild that the legless grasshoppers and hojiblanca olive oil added very little. The rolls tasted as white as they looked.

qui kinilaw

The take on kinilaw with amberjack and a hit of spice, was equally pristine yet had more presence.

qui rabbit

Rabbit was the most New American or maybe I’m reacting to the soft-yolked egg. That’s mizuna, not kale, though, with a carrot sauce and bottarga created from uni. Apparently, Qui has also used uni bottarga along with a corn nut dust on corn on the cob, which sounds awesome. I didn’t really notice it in this dish, though.

qui cheddar cheese ice cream

I don’t want halo-halo unless it contains something ube-flavored and Grimace purple, so it had to be the cheddar cheese ice cream sandwich, which may or may not be a nod to Texas’ cheese dip bounty  (cheddar ice cream, common in the Philippines, is called queso/quezo). The aged cheese was tempered by the addition of goat’s milk cajeta and peanut praline, ending the meal on the same surprising and delicate note that emerged as Qui’s modus operandi.

Qui * 1600 E. Sixth St., Austin, TX

Sa Aming Nayon

Now Jeepney. At least it's still Filipino, right? Gastropub or not. I walked past the opening last night and was tempted to pop in. (10/12/12)

Curiously, Sa Aming Nayon appeared in that patch of First Avenue near 14th Street that periodically sprouts and snuffs out Filipino restaurants back in June. Yet their name has been popping up in the past week in food media. Well, just Time Out New York and Tasting Table. Why now?

Who cares, all you need to know is that if you have even the vaguest interest in Filipino food—and you should—this home-style restaurant is worth a visit. Then again, I’m a big booster of Filipino cuisine. It’s an unknown compared to more popular Thai or Vietnamese, and those who encounter the style, reliant on vinegar and other bitter flavors, often write off the entire country’s repertoire. Some think it’s too funky; others find it boiled and bland.

Sa aming nayon lechon kawali

While lamb and goat battle for it meat recognition, pork is still the favorite protein of discerning gluttons everywhere. And no one does pork like a Pinoy. It’s a great introduction. The next best thing to experiencing the bounty of the whole beast, a.k.a. lechon, is sampling the fatty parts encased in crackly skin. This typically means crispy pata, a deep-fried ham hock or lechon kawali, pork belly given the same burnished-in-oil treatment.

Chicharrón is often eaten as is, but lechon kawali needs its sauce. I panicked for a second when it didn’t show up. “The sauce is coming,” I was promised before I could say a thing. Then I could hear the woman who appeared to be an owner yelling into the kitchen for “the sauce.” What if they were out of sauce? I’ve heard of women carrying Tabasco or ranch dressing in their purses. I wonder what they would’ve thought if I pulled a bottle of Mama Sita’s out of my bag.

I have no idea how you would come up with the idea of combining liver, sugar, vinegar and bread crumbs (thrifty, sure) to make a dip for fried pork, but the thick, sweet and savory result that’s more sludgy than saucy, transforms the meaty chunks into something even better. It’s instant umami.

Sa aming nayon pinakbet

Pinakbet combines a slew of vegetables like squash, tomatoes, bitter melon, eggplant and green beans with more pork to create a vegetable stew. Read more about this dish on the new Real Cheap Eats NYC (not so much because I’m plug-crazy but because I don’t want to repeat myself).

Sa aming nayon adobo

Classic soy-and-vinegar braised adobo is an obvious choice (they were out of sisig, which is what I really wanted) but I like that they served a version with both pork and chicken. The meat becomes so stained from the soy that you can barely tell which meat you’re getting until you take a bite. Adobo roulette.

I’d like to go back for the halo-halo. Icy Asian desserts, like snow cones covered in gelatinous goo, often seem odd out of context, but this heat wave is tailor made for tropical sweets, purple yam jam, pandan jelly and all.

Sa Aming Nayon * 201 First Ave., New York, NY


Taken separately, rice, eggs and cured meats aren’t particularly Filipino, but put them together and you have a classic Pinoy breakfast. Daly City’s Tselogs, specializes in just that: breakfast trios served all day long and till 3am on weekends.

Tselogs counter

Earth-toned with faux bricks and well, bric-a-brac like old books and metal vessels on wall-mounted shelves, the restaurant feels like a friend’s house (if you grew up in the ‘70s) mixed with a dash of pizza parlor. 

Ordering is simple; pick your meat from the list of ten dishes with mashed-up names. For instance, tapsilog is tapa (soft beef jerky) + sinagag (fried rice) + itlog (egg). Cornbisilog? Corned beef. You can probably guess what spamsilog contains.

Tselogs tocilog

I wanted tocilog for the sweet, fatty cured pork, glazed red. Interspersed with bites of chewy garlicky rice and a runny yolk, this was breakfast perfection. I like Sriricha with mine, though vinegar might be more traditional.

Tselogs longsilog

Longsilog with links of longganisa.

Tselogs chicken sisig

Their signature is the sisigsilog, but we just got an a la carte order on the side. I’ve never had chicken sisig, as the ears-and-snouts style is more common in NYC. I feared it would be boring in comparison, but what it lacked in gooey cartilage-y bits, it made up for in caramelized char.

Tselogs buko pie

I got a slice of buko pie to go. It fortified me on the not-that-long drive to Santa Cruz. 

My familiarity with the Bay Area is next to nil, but it seems like the East Bay is more like a Brooklyn (ha, “the Brooklyn of…” problem) and Daly City and the southern outskirts are the Queens, uncool with better food—assuming Burmese tea leaf salad or even puff pasty-topped balut is your idea of better than freshly plucked chervil and purslane. I would absolutely live in Daly City if I ever settled into that part of the country (I actually think I have a cousin and aunt who live there but it would be weird to look them up since I haven’t seen them in 30 years). One, because I’m fixated on the suburbs, and this barely qualifies—only seven miles and four stops on the BART to the Mission District?—and two, I love the rows of colorful boxy houses, so incongruously tropical in the chill and the fog.

Tselogs * 6055 Mission St., Daly City, CA


“We should go to Ihawan” is a phrase so rarely spoken in my household that I must take advantage when I hear it. Easter has become the one time of year when James seems to embrace his sliver of Filipino heritage and Catholic upbringing. Ham? Who needs it. Lechon is porky perfection.

Ihawan lechon

Lechon, this is it, the ultimate fatty slices of striated pork capped by shell of skin so crackly that it can withstand a night in the refrigerator and microwaving. The tangy, sour dipping sauce is brilliant, even more so when you discover that it’s make from liver and breadcrumbs. Filipino food is ingenious like that.

Ihawan calimansi juiceIhawan also excels at sweet, charred barbecued meat. Normally, I’m eh on grilled chicken but there is nothing dry or bland about their version. It doesn’t even rely on crispy skin, poultry’s easy way out. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo because this dish never arrived until we asked what had happened when ready to pay the bill. Apparently, someone called in an order for 100 and ours got lost in the shuffle. Customer service isn’t exactly Ihawan’s strength. No one will check on you after your food has been brought and you might get bossed for no apparent reason into ordering something like the calamansi juice when you asked for the buko (coconut juice). I just go with it. We got our chicken to go, the only casualty was the shredded papaya raisin relish that didn’t make it from table to bag.

Meat is Ihawan’s strength. I actually prefer Engeline’s for other dishes like pinakbet, one less-than-healthy way to get vegetables into your meal. Ihawan adds the bagoong into the mix while Engeline’s serves the salty shrimp paste on the side. I happen to like all fermented shrimp condiments, including this funky maroon one. Beware if you don’t.

Ihawan pinakbet

Pinaket is a mix of vegetables, here cubes of starchy squash, beans, both long and green, eggplant and bitter gourd mixed with shrimp and chunks of pink roast pork. Filipino cuisine really plays up the bitter and sour, not my natural go to flavor profile.  I hate the phrase acquired taste, but bitter gourd takes some intellectualizing for me.

In high school my best friend was Filipina and I’d get myself invited to as many family parties as possible to gorge on fun food like pancit and lumpia. I rarely experienced workhorse meals, nor did my teenage friend. Her parents would cook their own dinner for themselves. Once her mother offered me some of what they were eating. Lema defended, “Krista doesn’t want to eat that.” But I did, I’ll try anything. All I recall was a thick, deep brown stew sitting on the stovetop, fishy with eggplants and a dirty earwax flavor that I now know is bitter gourd. I wasn’t crazy about it but kept mum since it seemed like I was being let in on something.

Ihawan sisig

Sisig. Here the pig’s ears and liver are minced fine almost like ground beef, mixed with chopped onions like you’d find on a White Castle slider, and served on a sizzling platter (I slightly prefer Engeline’s version with chunkier meat and a freshly cracked egg that diners mix in). Just a little spicy and sour, the chewy, sticky cartilaginous bits with a caramelized bottom have become an unlikely favorite. Traditionally, you might find brains, cheeks and everything from a pig’s head used. I have never encountered this, though.

Ihawan font One thing Ihawan has that Engeline’s doesn’t is the Burnstown Dam font on their specials menu. I used it for my old personal journal, spied it on a restaurant in Oaxaca in November and just last month on a bar in Bangkok. I love you, goofy plywood font.

Too full for any halo halo, I was determined to track down a slice of ube cake for later. I love fake greens and purples and Easter is the one time a year when lavender food is fitting. Newish Red Ribbon Bakery near Sripraphai primarily sells whole cakes with only three variations available by the slice per day. The pale green pandan did catch my attention but I really wanted ube, only available by whole cake or jelly roll. I couldn’t justify buying a family-sized dessert, it’s too counterproductive to have around the house and I’m not one of those office ladies who brings treats to work to share.

Krystal's ube roll

The Fil-Am Mart across the street from Ihawan had all sorts of tempting goodies like puto, steamed muffin-y rice cakes, flan and saipan sapin a gelatinous dessert of colorful strata, royal purple on top. But no ube cake. Krystal’s (I noticed Friday night that their East Village location has moved to Seventh St. and had a Lent menu on the blackboard out front) on the next block, had what I was looking for—finally—ube jelly roll filled with sweet ube halaya, the whole log frosted in more violet goodness.

Previously on Ihawan.

Ihawan 40-06 70th St., Woodside, NY


Philippines Asks Fast Food Chains to Cut Rice Servings
Clearly, I have starch on the brain because when I saw that headline I immediately thought, yeah, because they eat shitloads of rice and it’s totally unhealthy. But no, the article isn’t about Filipinos’ ravenous appetites for rice, it’s all about rising food costs (which I still can’t muster interest in—I’ll get back to you when I’m subsisting on tap water and shriveled potatoes).
My teenage-era best friend, who was yes, Filipino, would complain that rice servings were never large enough. She’d frequently order seconds. I witnessed this exact thing at Ihawan on Easter Sunday.
The place was packed and we did a good deal of waiting before eventually getting shuttled into this weirdo back room with a threesome and a big party (that brought their own plastic jugs of Ocean Spray cranberry juice, which seemed like a strange thing to byob). Everyone gets a big generous blob of rice, at least one cup’s worth, but the threesome asked for refills before meal’s end. I conscientiously nibbled at a third of my scoop and survived just fine.

Twelve lumpias sounds like a lot, but they’re tiny things fried and filled with ground pork. The orange sauce is sweet and a little too gloppy but that’s the way it is. Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a spring roll even if you know it will be merely adequate. I’ve always been partial to cha gio, but you can’t get pork cracklings at Vietnamese restaurants so there’s a trade off.
Ihawan is meaty---their slogan is “the best bbq in town”--so I knew better than to delve into any of the soupier classics like chicken adobo or even touch the pancit. Plus, you can find those practically anywhere in a two-block radius.
I don’t think you need me to tell you that this isn’t ribs and brisket barbecue. No mop sauces and spice rubs. It’s grilled meat, in this instance pork and chicken, that’s spent time soaking in sweet and garlicky liquid. The rice-crazed friend’s family used Dr. Pepper in their marinade. The end result is sticky, sugary, a little salty, and completely amazing with charred edges caramelized just so. It really kind of is made for rice.
You need the vinegary, pickled green papaya condiment, achara, to take the sweet edge off. But there are other things floating around in the little dish, too. I’ve always found the addition of raisins in Filipino food to be a fun Spanish appropriation that you just don’t see in the rest of Southeast Asia. The plumped dried grapes mix with shredded carrot and lots of minced garlic.
Lechon is a must always. I tend to order mine kawali, chopped up with good portions of meat, fat and crispy skin in each chunk. I’ve noticed on the blogs you see more pata, the whole foot, which is practically German and also a huge treat. Maybe I’m just dainty. Either way, it will slowly kill you.
The pork also calls for its own condiment, the simply named lechon sauce, which is savory, slightly tart and completely impossible to discern the individual ingredients from. I’m still surprised that the flavor comes from liver, vinegar and breadcrumbs. That’s ingenious.
Ok, at least one vegetable was in order. No one said it had to be a healthy vegetable. This is laing, which is akin to creamed spinach but uses taro leaves and coconut milk instead. A couple head-on shrimp get tossed in for good measure.
I’d read and saw ads for a new Ihawan branch in Long Island City that will serve sushi. This is bizarre, for one, because I don’t think of the slowly gentrifying barely-a-neighborhood demanding Filipino food (I honestly don’t think the average citizen has much knowledge about Pinoy cuisine, period) and two, sushi? But heck, if Lucky Mojo, also new in LIC, can serve Cajun, Tex-Mex, bbq and raw fish, why not Ihawan? Barbecue and sushi will be huge by mid-2008, or at least in a tiny sliver of western Queens. (3/23/08)
Read my much more concise review at

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Filipino food is a tough sell in America, though there’s no good reason why. I have a disproportionate fondness for it, which is probably due to my exposure to it during my formative teen years and  natural underdoggy bent.  I was thrilled when Memories of Philippine Kitchens, a hefty, memoir-ish  cookbook came out late 2006. I read a bit every night before bed (yet I’m having trouble soldering through Secret Ingredients—I’m really trying to overcome my New Yorker aversion). Maybe this weekend I'll actually tackle a few recipes.

I think the cuisine lacks the immediate punchiness of Thai food or the perceived lightness of Vietnamese. It’s kind of a Chinese-Spanish-Malay mishmash that doesn’t taste exactly like any of those three. You could even count a Mexican influence (by way of Spain) when you consider Filipino versions of menudo, flan, empanadas and tamales. I don't know who turned them on to Edam cheese, however, but it's totally a Pinoy Christmas thing.

The hot and sweet flavors that I truly love aren’t so prominent. Filipino fare plays with the bitter, sour and salty ends of the spectrum and many dishes are stewed to mellowness. Yet, I still really enjoy the food, so much so that a classic problem arose. Our two top could not support everything we ordered and we ended up having to move to a more accommodating table. I should just warn waiters upon being seated that we order for four. Unlike most fussy New Yorkers I've encountered, I like leftovers so it’s almost always planned into the equation.


Only a hater could have a problem with lechon's crispy skin and chewy flesh. This is the perfect pork preparation. I swear I’m going to attempt it one of these days. I would kind of be an awesome Super Bowl snack. But what sets the meat apart is the dipping sauce. I realize that vinegar, breadcrumbs and liver sounds disgusting, and I had no idea until fairly recently that those were the backbone of lechon sauce because the condiment just tastes wonderfully savory with a touch of sweetness. There must be umami at play because I want to put it on everything.


I usually avoid chicken adobo because I’m afraid it’ll be boring. How exciting can soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and bay leaf be? Pretty good, it turns out. Maybe my one attempt was just uninspiring because I used boneless, skinless chunks instead of chicken parts. The magic is in the skin and bones, I think.


Pinakbet is essentially vegetables like green beans, pumpkin, okra and bitter melon boiled to softness, but the flavor is robust. I only ordered this out of vegetable duty but was kind of blown away by the non-blandness. Ok, it doesn’t hurt that nuggets of lechon are hiding out in nooks and crannies.


Kare kare can be overwhelming with its peanut buttery sauce; I only picked out a few bites of oxtail before falling victim to too much richness. It’s not a bad idea to add dabs of bagoong, fermented shrimp paste served alongside (I didn’t capture the condiment in any photos). Salty and pungent for sure, but the creamy dish can take the shock.


I’m a sucker for crazily hued chiffon cake. I think this ube had some help from artificial dye, but purple is pretty. I'll try anything unusually blue, purple or green. And after staring at the front bakery case throughout our lunch I had to take something to go. The insides were a little mangled, though.

I keep it to one tight paragraph for a review.

Engeline’s * 58-28 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, NY

Renee’s Kitchenette

I can't believe I forgot that Sripraphai is closed on Wednesdays. The last time Sripraphai was unexpectedly closed we ventured to Rice, further east on Roosevelt Ave., which made me sad because everyone wanted chopsticks, brown rice and fish sauce-less food. I wanted to pick up some mithai and those adorable Thai marzipan fruits for a party I was throwing and Wednesday night was really the only chance I thought I'd get (I was able to go back Friday, as it turned out).

Coming up with a plan B wasn't easy. Not in the mood for anything Hispanic or Indian, I was gung ho on either Malaysian or Filipino, two cuisines I can never get James to agree on (despite spending nearly two weeks on an eating journey in Malaysia this summer). Finally, he relented and said he could go for some grilled skewers from Ihawan.

Yay, victory. But then my thrill soon soured because I remembered that all those Filipino places close early. It was only a few minutes past 8pm, but yep, Ihawan was dark and shuttered. We only wanted food to go, so we were able squeak into Renee's before the 8:30pm closing (and I always thought Sripraphai was hardcore with their no orders after 9:30pm or whatever it is). Phew.

Grilled meats were a must for James. Lechon is an absolute for me. We ended up ordering a mixed grill, which came with beef skewers, pork belly, longaniza, and a chicken breast. All for $7. I like how the sweet smoky barbecued items are paired with a side of achara, pickled green papaya with raisins (I'm not sure how textbook this is, most recipes I've seen for the sour accompaniment don't use raisins. But I know Filipinos have a fondness for the dried grapes, probably a Spanish influence. My best friend growing up was from the Philippines and her mom would put raisins in the lumpia. Oh my god, I could eat a plate of toasty cylinders).

The crispy, fatty pork chunks came with a lechon sauce that was slightly different that what I've had before. It was darker, thinner and appeared to be speckled with caramelized onions. I love that stuff, and had no idea liver and breadcrumbs were main ingredients until maybe two years ago. I used to keep a bottle in the fridge, but never had any occasion to use it. Same with banana ketchup. I love that these condiments exist, though they don't necessarily fit into my daily routine.

James also ordered pork adobo just to keep up the porcine fest (I would've opted for chicken). Everything plus three boxes of rice (I swear, Filipinos are more rice crazy than other Asian cultures) totaled $18, which is amazing value if you consider that we had enough food for two meals. $4.50 a dinner is hard to beat.

Renee's Kitchenette * 6914 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, NY

Karihan ni Tata Bino

1/2 * Closed. I'm not sure when it changed hands but it's now Burmese Cafe (12/22/06)

It's rare that I get to indulge a Filipino food craving. James has issues with the cuisine, which I suppose stems from bad childhood memories. I have an aversion to Banquet frozen fried chicken and taco salad with Catalina dressing, so it happens.

The dining room is small, and on the Sunday afternoon we visited, full to the brim.  You almost feel like youre invading someones house, a friendly house, but still. The lack of anonymity doesnt bother me. Everyone was watching a horror movie in Tagalog on TV. Unfortunately, the screen was directly behind my head so I actually had to concentrate on my food. I did get the gist, via James, that the plot had something to do with curses stemming from being too lucky.

I'm crazy for lechon, and fried pork in general. Crispy pata seemed like an interesting variant. It's translated as pig knuckle, but I think there's some leg in there too, not just a foot. You cant be squeamish about fat and odd bits with Filipino cuisine (fats the least of it–ears, intestines, blood, its all to be eaten). With pata, you get a contrast of crunchy skin, gooey insides and porcine flesh. The vinegary dipping sauce is a tart foil for the grease. We also tried do order something vegetable heavy, minus coconut milk and/or fried preparation, and opted for  fresh lumpia, which is kind of like chop suey filled crepes drizzled with peanut sauce. To round things out, we also ordered two grilled pork skewers.

I was completely satisfied, but it might be a while before I return. If only because that part of Queens contains such concentration of food goodness that it seems a shame to not experiment a little.

Karihan ni Tata Bino * 71-34 Roosevelt Ave., JacksonHeights, NY