Generational Recipes Nourish and Strengthen Filipino Families and Communities

Chefs Motley Adovas and Danielle Soriano serve Filipino and Asian-fusion cuisine at their food truck, Merienda Maui.

by Jasmine Sadang

Like important pieces of family heirlooms such as jewelry, antique furniture and homes, family recipes are invaluable treasures passed down from generation to generation.

All families have bonded from the common activity of cooking; and sharing menus with others is always a treat.

Filipino families are no exception, and both parents and children recall how the tradition of passing down family recipes from generation to generation not only provides nourishment for the body but also strengthens their relationships.

Ilocano Regional Cuisine
Renzelle J. Ponce, 20, a Hawaii Pacific University student from Ewa, is familiar with many of her family’s recipes that her parents and family usually cook every night or on special occasions.

Renzelle Ponce often cooks her family’s Ilocano dish, lakdek.

“Actually, [we] have a lot of generational foods in our family. There’s this one food [that’s] really rare because I’ve never met another Filipino who knows or ate it. It’s pronounced like ‘lak-dek’,” Ponce said.

It’s a dish that Ponce’s mom classifies as the Ilocano version of sisig. She said, “You mince the pig ear, snout and other parts of the pig Then you want to boil them with a lot of garlic, pepper and bay leaf. It’s just like adobo where you stew it and get the fat to come out naturally.”

Though Ponce faced obstacles with her parents because of cultural and language differences, cooking and family traditions kept their sense of togetherness and her own sense of culture.

“Since it’s such a region-specific food and my grandpa cooked it, it really helps keep the Ilocano culture alive and the remembrance of my grandpa. All of my family eats together when it’s done,” she said. “We [usually] make a lot in one day and we just freezer batch it to eat for future food or add to pinakbet or any type of sinigang as a filler for meat.”

Bonding Over Bibingka
Another family has a recipe cooking up its own generational tradition. Christina Jayne Bayani, 18, a University of Hawaii-Manoa college student from Waipahu, has a baking recipe that she shares with her mother, Angelyn.

Angelyn Bayani and her daughter Christina Jayne bond through cooking.

“My mom and I bond over a recipe for bibingka. It was a recipe that I watched my mom write in her recipe book, and then baked,” said Bayani. “I remember helping her with mixing and not too sure how old I was, but it was before I was 10 years old.”

Bayani’s school and work schedule make it difficult for them to bond, but cooking is still their go-to leisurely activity.

“I enjoy cooking with my daughter, but sometimes she gives me more work than help,” Bayani’s mother said. “However, it gives us time to bond since she’s not home as much anymore.”

Since bibingka is a recipe that her mom grew up making, the younger Bayani plans to pass down the recipe to her future children.

“It’s already written down in my mom’s recipe book, so it’s something for the next generations to enjoy as well,” she said.

Filipino Cuisine For Communities
Oftentimes, generational recipes are passed down to those who want to share their passion for cooking with everyone in their communities. Elena’s Restaurant, known for its tagline “Home of Finest Filipino Foods,” is a staple in the Waipahu community that dates back to 1974.

Siblings Richard Butayan and Melissa Cedillo continue their parents’ business by running Elena’s Restaurant and food trucks.

“During this time, history was also being made in a small kitchen with a counter and six stools in the Nabarette Café in Waipahu where Elena and Theo Butayan founded Elena’s Restaurant,” owner Melissa Cedillo said.

“The Butayan family immigrated from Dagupan City, Pangasinan, Philippines, in 1969 to the island of Oahu. The sugar plantation town of Waipahu, Hawaii, is where Elena’s Restaurant opened its doors for business. Elena and Theo expanded Elena’s Restaurant to two lunch trucks, where it received additional accolades at food truck rallies and many local events.”The Filipino dishes served at Elena’s Restaurant are dishes that their family grew up loving together.

“All the dishes at Elena’s are my mom and dad’s recipes,” Cedillo said. “My parents [have] retired since 2004. [Now] me, my brother and my husband are the owners, with 20 employees. The restaurant is an integral part of our lives. We live and breathe Elena’s,” she said.

Passion For Pinoy Food
Filipino food truck chefs and owners Motley Adovas and Danielle Soriano of Merienda Maui have a mission to carry out during their service to their community.

“Filipino tradition plays into my passion for cooking by retaining my cultural identity. People from different cultural backgrounds eat different foods, and I believe that’s the beauty of our heritage as well. The areas in which our family lived and where our ancestors originated influenced the passion Chef Danielle and I have for our cuisine,” Adovas said.

The two chefs had very different introductions to cooking and different paths to finding their passion. Chef Danielle Soriano grew up in a family that loved to eat and cook.

“When I was young, I remember a dish that we love to eat and cook as a family, and that is kare-kare. It is a thick savory peanut-based stew. I learned how to make it from scratch through my grandmother. This dish isn’t on our menu. But from time to time, we feature this dish in our specials, but with our own interpretation to it,” Soriano said.

“Her grandparents were mainly the reasons why she was exposed to the kitchen and grew her love for food and cooking. Now that she’s in the culinary field, she wants to pay homage to her grandparents and introduce the food that was shared on the same table with them and recreate them for people [who] aren’t too familiar with Filipino cuisine yet,” Adovas explained.

“On the other hand, I began when I was a mentor by a chef from Seattle while I was doing my senior project from high school. Chef Rod introduced me to garde-manger who deals with cold food in a culinary term.”

Although Adovas grew up with his family and eating foods that they cooked for the comfort of their family, his inspiration to become a chef himself comes mainly from the art of cooking that was demonstrated by other talented chefs around him.

“Often times when you come across chefs and you ask them the same question, they would automatically tell you a whole story about their grandmother or mother. My mother was the head cook at our home, but mainly because of comfort. The food that she creates gives us comfort, but the art of cooking was adapted by the chefs that mentored me as well as the people that I’ve worked with for the past six years in the industry. I went to this field mainly to help people by providing soulful food,” he said.

Adovas said his passion for cooking began when he was an apprentice for a local chef in Maui.

“A specific dish that I remember that began my passion for cooking is one that Chef Jojo [Vasquez] cooked for me when I was his apprentice back at the Plantation House restaurant in Kapalua,” Adovas shared.

“It was Kauai prawn a la plancha with corn risotto and tomato salad. It was a simple dish, but it hit the soul. It’s the process and finished product that I enjoy most when in the kitchen. The orchestrated environment and seeing people happy when they eat the food that I cook for them.”

This brings them here today with their popular food truck, Merienda Maui, where together they are sharing the joy and love for cooking and Filipino cuisine that they grew to love.

“The creation of Merienda is always rooted down to the food that Chef Danielle and I grew up eating. Just like Hawaii, it has its own similarity to the Philippines. It’s also a melting pot for diversified cultures and is heavily influenced by traditions. You have the pre-Spanish era and the southeast Asian cultures,” he said.

“We want Merienda to be known and be the outlet here on Maui that showcases Filipino cuisine. Merienda and its philosophy through food is a glue for togetherness regardless of lifestyle differences. As for Chef Danielle and me, what we have in common is our lineage and we will continue to recreate and elevate dishes that we’ve experienced growing up.”

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