Filipino Food Week is Back, June 6-12

by Edwin Quinabo

The late food connoisseur, American chef and TV travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain called the Filipino lechon as “the best pig ever” – which is a high compliment considering how many countries consider the slow roasted suckling pig as their national dish like Spain, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Another American chef and TV food expert Andrew Zimmerman made a bold prediction just a few years back, saying Filipino food will be “the next big thing.”

And it’s not just the food creating a buzz. An article in Highbrow Magazine called “Filipino Chefs Are the Rising Stars of the Culinary World.”  In 2019 alone, four Filipino American chefs were in the running for James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant and Chef Awards (the highest recognition in the food industry): Margarita Manzke, Sheldon Simeon (Hawaii chef), Nicole Ponseca, and the winner of the prestigious award that year, Tom Cunanan.

Globally, there are other renowned Filipino chefs: Tatiana and Katia Levha of Paris France, Alvin Cailan of Los Angeles and New York City, and Cristeta Comerford of Washington, DC, former Executive Chef of the White House under George W. Bush’s administration.

In the Philippines, hovering near or atop many who’s who list of top chefs is celebrity chef JP Anglo, owner and head chef of the famous Sarsa restaurant. “Our cooking philosophy, or cooking culture, is that we always push Filipino food, but at the same time remembering we don’t lose the very essence of it,” said Anglo. “If you want to innovate, it still has to taste Filipino.”

What is the essence-taste of Filipino food? Over five generations Filipino food has evolved from a blend of Spanish, Chinese, American and the native Malay flavors.

Filipino food critic, scholar and cultural historian Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez, explains Filipino food, more than anything, has been all about “indigenization,” meaning foreign elements have been introduced to the Philippines, but local tastes, using local ingredients have created new dishes. And in time, these new dishes have become entrenched and became “native [Filipino] cuisine.” “The origins are practically forgotten,” said Gamboa-Fernandez.

Filipino Food Week (FFW)
Back from a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Filipino Food Week (FFW) is back for a second run. This time from June 6-12, 2021. Participating Hawaii restaurants – from Hawaii Regional, Asian fusion, American, local-style to ethnic Filipino – will be serving up at least one Filipino-inspired dish, ranging from classic authentic to chef-stylized modern creations.  Top Filipino and non-Filipino Hawaii chefs will have liberal flexibility because of the unique global blend that characterizes Filipino food.

Gamboa-Fernandez comments on authenticity versus intuition specific to Filipino food: “to speak about ‘authenticity’ in the context of Filipino food is to forget how the cuisine is essentially and inherently a joyful mix of influences from all around the world, now made more evident by the many ways our chefs have fun blending what they know taste good and what they feel eaters will appreciate. The test is ‘intuition,’ not authenticity.”World-renowned chef Roy Yamaguchi is back for this year’s FFW. He will be offering Surf & Turf and other Filipino-inspired specials at several of his restaurants. Yamaguchi, the James Beard “Best Pacific Northwest Chef” Awardee in 1993, has been an inspiration to many Filipino chefs.

It’s encore time also for one of Hawaii’s top Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs Chai Chaowasaree who will feature a complete dinner with Filipino flair: appetizer, entrée main course, dessert.

A Maui favorite, Tante’s Island Cuisine in Kahului is celebrating FFW again. Tante Urban, owner, said he is participating in FFW because he wants to promote and uplift Filipino cuisine in Hawaii and to be part of this movement.

“Filipino cuisine plays a big part in the creation of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine which has been the dominant culinary style in Hawaii. Filipino cuisine has fallen behind among other ethnic group’s food. 

“It is our responsibility as Filipinos in the Food Service industry, the media, business people and all influential Filipinos in the community to promote, uplift and enhance our Filipino cuisine culture,” said Urban, whose restaurant that started in 1996 has Filipino and local menu items.

Originally Tante’s Island Cuisine served strictly Filipino dishes. After a while and with his extensive background in cooking other styles of food besides Filipino, Urban expanded his menu to add local dishes alongside popular Filipino food.

Urban graduated from Hawaii Community College’s culinary school and worked at various hotels in Kona, Honolulu and the US Mainland, climbing his way to the top as executive chef.

For his FFW dish, he said, “it is a take-off from one of the most popular foods in Hawaii which is Loco Moco. We incorporated local and Filipino flavors using siling labuyo to bring about the true Pinoy flavor.”

While it is Dickey’s Barbecue Pit’s first time to participate in FFW, his FFW menu items are already stirring interest. Barbecue meats, especially pork belly, are popular street vendor and restaurant favorites in the Philippines.

Danny Mabalot Jr., owner of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, said “My items for FFW will be smoked low and slow in our in house smoker. Normally for barbecue, Filipinos use direct heat on a grill. Ours is indirect heat,”On FFW, “Monday we will have BBQ stick. Wednesday is smoked Filipino flavored wings. Friday is Adobo Pork Belly,” said Mabalot Jr., who brought over Dickey’s, the famous Texas style smoked BBQ franchise, to Hawaii. He recently has been doing Cebu style lechon as a side business.

Mary Lou Martin, Ewa, said, “I’m most curious about Dickey’s offering for FFW. I grew up eating pork belly BBQ, Filipino-style with vinegar, crushed garlic and pepper dipping sauce. It was always something my dad used to include whenever we’d have BBQs. Of course, the traditional Filipino style is light flame to meat, open air (without covering) cooking. I think the smoker-style might have a unique taste. I want to try this.”

Like Urban, as a Filipino, Mabalot Jr. says ethnic pride besides it being good-for-business as a reason for joining in FFW. “I am participating in FFW because I am proud of my Filipino heritage. I love Filipino cuisine. I grew up eating it on a regular basis.”

Also a first time FFW participant is MW Restaurant, a Pacific Rim restaurant, that has just reopened in a new location in Velocity on Kapiolani Blvd.

Asked why MW Restaurant is taking up FFW 2021, chef-owner Wade Ueoka said, “Hawaii Regional Cuisine is inspired by all the ethnic groups that make up our community.  In many ways sharing food from everyone’s ethnic background brings us all together.”

On Filipino cuisine, he says, “I love the utilization of some of the unique ingredients such as wing beans, long beans, mungo beans, and calamansi that make its flavors unique.”

Origin of FFW and Promoting Filipino Cuisine
Filipino Food Week is the project of the Cultural and Economic Section of the Philippine Consulate General. Vice Consul Andrea Caymo, one of the organizers of FFW, said it is an adaptation of Filipino Restaurant Week (FRW) that started in New York in 2015, organized by the Philippine Consulate General in New York.

“Unlike the version in New York, the Food Week in Hawaii aims to engage both Filipino and non-Filipino restaurants in showcasing Philippine cuisine. By tapping mostly mainstream restaurants, FFW aims to reach a more diverse audience and introduce the cuisine to them.

“As the official representative of the Philippine government in Hawaii, it is the mandate of the Consulate to promote Filipino culture and cuisine. By organizing Filipino Food Week, it is able to help showcase the rich culinary diversity of the Philippines, and at the same time, promote ingredients and products made from the country,” said Caymo.

In commemoration of the 75th year of the establishment of the bilateral relations between the Philippines and the United States, this year’s Filipino Food Week shall focus on the ways Filipino cuisine has enriched Hawaii’s culinary landscape. Restaurants across the State will be offering special Filipino dishes that combine both Filipino and Hawaiian influences.


Oahu Restaurants

  1. Cafe Julia at YWCA
    Osso Bucco Kare Kare $18.00

    Butter Mochi (bibinka) Ala Mode $8.00
    Halo Halo $8.00
  2. Chef Chai
    Complete Family Style Dinner (minimum 2 person) $50 per person
    Pork Dumplings with Roasted Bell Pepper Guisantes Sauce Crispy Green Peas and Garbanzo Beans
    Sisig Chicken Wraps with Fresh Pineapple Mango Salsa – Filipino Style Chicken Lettuce Wraps
    Black Tiger Prawns with Calamansi Sinigang Broth With Daikon, Mixed Cherry Tomatoes and Baby Bok Choy
    Pork Belly Lechon Roulade with Mung Bean Risotto and Lechon Sauce
    Deep-fried Crispy Golden Tilapia with Spicy Garlic Patis Lime Dipping Sauce
    Steamed Rice
    Halo-Halo, all natural, sugar free dessert
    Fried Caramelized Banana Lumpia, A la mode
  3. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
    Smoked BBQ Stick (available Monday)
    Smoked Wings (Adobo or Street-Style BBQ (available Wednesday)
    Adobo Pork Belly Burnt Ends (available Friday)
  4. Eating House 1849 by Roy Yamaguchi
    Adobo Glazed Short Rib & Pork Belly – Kabocha Puree, Luau Sauce $35
  5. Elena’s Home of Finest Filipino Food
    Lechon Special
    , Pork Adobo Fried Omelette, Sari Sari, Pansit, Shrimp Sarciado,
    Squid Guisado – $65
  6. GOEN Dining + Bar
    Adobo Glazed Short Rib & Pork Belly – Kabocha Puree, Luau Sauce $35
  7. MW Restaurant
    J Ludovico Farms Adobo Chicken with OK Farm Egg for $15
  8. Pai Honolulu
    Kare-Kare Beef Stew with peanuts, bok choy, and fermented shrimp / $46
  9. Roy’s Hawaii Kai
    Karekare Surf & Turf – Tender Beef Short Rib, Butter Shrimp,
    Arroz Caldo Risotto $38
  10. Roy’s Koolina
    Karekare Surf & Turf – Tender Beef Short Rib, Butter Shrimp,
    Arroz Caldo Risotto $38
  11. Roy’s Waikiki
    Karekare Surf & Turf – Tender Beef Short Rib, Butter Shrimp,
    Arroz Caldo Risotto $38
  12. Skull & Crown
    Tropical Filipino/Hawaiian tiki-style cocktails featuring Tanduay Rum Trading Co
  13. Stage Restaurant
    Filipino Food Week Special Menu (TBA)
  14. Tiano’s Restaurants
    “SU TU KIL = Sugba, Tula, Kilaw = Bbq/Flame-broiled, Soup or Poke-style”
    Diners can choose style of cooking (Sugba, Tula, Kilaw) and their Fish items: Ahi Tuna $24,
    Akule $24 or Opelo $24; or Meat items: Pork $24 or beef $26
  15. Tiki’s Grill & Bar
    Lechon Kawali, adobo braised and crisped pork belly, garlic rice, calamansi island tomatoes & island grown long beans. $28

Maui Restaurants

  1. Humble Market Kitchen
    Ora King Salmon Belly Sisig – Calamansi Hawaiian Chili Water Ponzu, Smoked
    Ikura, Crispy Garlic $25
  2.  Joey’s Kitchen
    Caramelized Scallops, Maui Cattle Co. Oxtail Kare Kare Risotto rice, Fried Okra,
    Bagoong chili oil & Chopped Peanuts $36
  3. Roy’s Kaanapali
    Karekare Surf & Turf – Tender Beef Short Rib, Butter Shrimp, Arroz Caldo Risotto $38
  4. Tante’s Island Cuisine
    Lechon Kawali Garlic Fried Rice Loco Moco with Mushrooms &
    Mama Sita’s Siling Labuyo $14.50

Hawaii Restaurant
Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill
Karekare Surf & Turf – Tender Beef Short Rib, Butter Shrimp, Arroz Caldo Risotto $38

Eating House
Adobo Glazed Short Rib & Pork Belly – Kabocha Puree, Luau Sauce $35

Sponsors of the Event
FFW is presented by the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu in partnership with East West Marketing Inc., GK SKAGGS, Jun’s Awesome Sauce, Kasama Rum, Marigold Corporation (Mama Sita’s), Oishi, Philippine FoodTrade Co., and Tanduay USA.

Impressions of Filipino Food
Vice Consul Andrea Caymo believes Filipino food in Hawaii is in an exciting phase as more chefs, restaurants and food establishments are creating Filipino-inspired dishes, desserts and drinks. “Filipino Food, in particular, is something that other people from other cultures can relate to. We share the same ingredients and cooking methods with many countries in Asia, Spain, and Latin America. We hope that through food, we would be able to encourage others to learn more about the Philippines, our history, and people.”

Martin says the popularity of Filipino food started way back with restaurants like Elena’s, Joni’s Jesse’s and others. “It then started to take off in Filipino neighborhoods like Waipahu and Kalihi. The mainstream appeal came when a few Filipino restaurants opened up at malls. At first, some of them at Food Courts were not as popular. Some closed. Others now have very long lines to make an order. Then we saw non-Filipino restaurants introducing special Filipino items from halo halo to lumpia and pork guisantes, including grocery stores with hot, prepared meals like.

“But I would say for long-time local residents, Filipinos and non-Filipinos, even before Filipino food started to be introduced at restaurants, most of us already were familiar with Filipino dishes because of our potluck culture here on the islands,” said Martin. “It can only grow from here. We see Filipino trucks now. But our community should support these food establishments.”Mark Perez, 52, Kapolei, has lived in Colorado and Los Angeles.

“I’m not Filipino, but Mexican-American. Some Filipino meat dishes stewed for a long time remind me of Mexican-Latin food. I’m talking about traditional Mexican food, not the fast-food type. There are differences in ingredients like we add chili peppers. Filipinos will add vinegar. We wrap our meats in tortillas. Filipinos put stewed meat on rice. I definitely appreciate the flavors of Filipino food.”

Perez is married to a Filipina. “Then there are some dishes that are completely different from anything Latin like the soup-based ones, like Sinigang (Filipino sour soup cooked with tamarind).”

Some popular Filipino dishes and their origins of influence
Spanish colonizers from the 16th through 19th centuries have had a heavy influence in Filipino cuisine from Adobo (pork or chicken stewed with soy sauce, garlic, bay leaf, and peppercorns and vinegar) to lechon.

Chinese settlers also heavily influenced Filipino cuisine. Pansit (the many variations: bihon, sotanghon, canton, miki) and lumpia (gulay, Shanghai, summer and spring rolls) are the most obvious dishes.

Kare-Kare (oxtail stew simmered slowly with peanut butter), Sisig (pig parts sauteed with garlic, onion, green chilies, and vinegar and is served on a sizzling plate), and Sinigang are three very popular dishes in the Philippines. Some food experts say they have more local, Malay origins.

Bourdain, who made several trips documenting Filipino food and the Philippines, said “There are restaurants now [in the US] that are serving either classic Filipino food or influenced by Filipino food… and it’s getting a lot of traction, a lot of appeal, and that’s great.”Bourdain believed that restaurants and chefs play a critical role in the popularization of ethnic food, “create something good, serve it long enough and people will find it. People would build their own conceptions and misconceptions about what an entire nation’s cuisine is based on their exposure to it.”

FFW is all about enjoying high quality Filipino food and popularizing Filipino cuisine. Celebrate FFW, head to your favorite participating restaurant, ask for a table for two “Mesa po para sa dalawa” and let’s eat “Kain na.”

Tiano’s Restaurant Lechon de Cebu
Elena’s Lechon Kawali Special
Chef Chai’s Deep Fried Golden Tilapia
Tante’s Lechon Kawali Loco Moco
Cafe Julia’s Butter Mochi Bibingka Ala Mode
MW Restaurant’s Adobo Chicken

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