Natalia and I have been fortunate, since launching Filipino Kitchen in September 2014, to have enjoyed so many wonderful meals with amazing friends. 

We are so thankful for the relationships we have built with you, our readers! We are thankful for our new business partner, AC Boral; the many chefs and restaurateurs who have let us into their lives and their kitchens; and our new collaboration with Filipino American New York-based organization UniPro and pop-up cook and food blogger Paolo Espanola AKA Errant Diner called #FKEDUP :) of which, this is the first post!

What's #FKEDUP?

#FKEDUP is a collaboration of appreciators and makers of our fine Filipino cuisine, true kindred spirits who, together, create experiences that explore our favorite subject: Filipino Food. We're telling our own stories and the stories of the Filipino American experience. We met Paolo during Yana Gilbuena's SALO dinner in Chicago, and again during our epic road trip to New York City. Our conversations with Paolo about food told us he had a unique viewpoint on Filipino food, OFW food and home cooking. We met Noel Aglubat and Stephanie Chrispin of UniPro while they were briefly in Chicago, post-FACT conference (Filipino Americans Coming Together) at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana. Later, thanks to Google Hangout, we heard how Paolo was interested in getting people to fall in love with food again, and how UniPro was interested in how food can bring our Filipino American community together. A collaboration was born!

Stay tuned to this blog and our social media for more about the things our #FKEDUP collaboration has in store this year!


Back to the food!

Though all our meals of 2014 were amazing in their own right, a select few dishes stood above the rest. Whether the dishes were new-to-us Filipino dishes, interesting twists on familiar classics or the classics done masterfully, certain ones we replay in our memory with a genuine desire to experience those dishes again and rejoin with friends, new and old alike. 

Natalia and I are hungry for more of these top dishes of 2014 (HT Anthony Bourdain). What were your top Filipino dishes of last year?

Crab Fat Fried Rice by Sunda, Chicago 

Do we need to say more than CRAB FAT FRIED RICE?! (No!) At Chicago’s Sunda, Executive Chef Jess De Guzman’s brunch menu offers an ‘assemble yourself -silog’**... with the crab fat (or aligi in Tagalog) fried rice as an option to the standard and much-beloved sinangag, garlic fried rice. The aligi imbues the rice with a reddish-orange tinge and the sharp taste of the crab with its concentrated umami, even as the sweet, tender torn chunks of crab meat are nestled within. Sarahlynn and I had our first taste of this amazing dish during brunch at Sunda for Filipino-American History Month and since then we’ve been hooked! 

** Explainer! -Silog is the latter half of the portmanteau used to describe a Filipino breakfast combination dish. For example, tapsilog is tapa (thin-sliced, cured steak), sinangag (the garlic fried rice), itlog (eggs). Tapsilog = TAPa + SInanag + itLOG. Other -Silogs include longsilog (with longganisa, a sweet spicy sausage), bangsilog (with bangus or milkfish), spamsilog (yes, it's what you think it means!).

 

Grilled Eggplant Kulawo (burnt coconut cream) by Purple Yam, New York City

KULA-WHOA! According to Chef Romy Dorotan of Purple Yam, kulawo [burnt coconut cream], pronounced koo-lah-WUO, originates from San Pablo, Laguna. Said Natalia, “It is such a shame that my maternal side of my family is from Laguna, and I didn't even know about this! I was a picky eater.” Kulawo is not a well known Filipino dish, but we think it should be. Who says Filipino food is all about meat?! This tasty vegetarian dish will not leave carnivores wanting. The savory appetizer takes the smoky flavor of grilled talong (eggplant) and cuts it with the creaminess of the coconut. How to burn coconut cream? Take freshly grated coconut flesh and place the embers of burnt coconut husk directly on top. With a cheesecloth, squeeze the milk from the mixture. The burned coconut cream is served as a warm dressing to the grilled talong, thinly sliced ampalaya (bittermelon), cherry tomatoes and greens. Brilliant.

 

Grilled Eggplant Kulawo (burnt coconut cream)

Maja Blanca (corn & coconut pudding) Pancakes by so good and delicious's Rice and Shine

Chef AC Boral’s amazing reinterpretation of a Pampangan holiday dessert is a creamy, sweet, coconutty corn kernel syrup on a stack of warm, fluffy pancakes, with a perfect counterpoint of blueberries. Trust me, we wanted to lick the pot clean after Chef AC gave us a sample. Chef AC’s traveling Filipino brunch takes American brunch classics and puts a special Pinoy twist.

 

Smoked Bangus by Milkfish, New Orleans

When in Rome… or New Orleans, in this case. When a chef/owner stakes her name on a single ingredient or a dish, that is what you have to get. In some restaurants, it’s a bit of a gimmick to get customers to order the house special, which is sometimes overpriced and not that special. Not in this case. You will order the eponymous bangus [milkfish] from Chef Cristina Quackenbush’s restaurant in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood, and you will love it. A whole bangus is smoked to a pearlescent gold. The firm, tender meat [hardly} is so well-flavored, it’s transcendent. Add some drops of the thai chili vinegar sawsawan (dipping sauce), to level everything up. You will eat the skin, too. Nothing was left for the cats (as my late father used to joke) except the fins, a little pile of the bangus’ fine, long bones, and the skull. Take the streetcar from the French Quarter to Milkfish. You will thank me.

Sinigang by Milkfish, New Orleans

Rich and layered like the way of a great jambalaya built on a dark roux and great andouille. Soured so good, it hurts so sweetly. These are the words that come to mind when I think of Chef Quackenbush’s pork rib sinigang at her New Orleans restaurant, Milkfish. Heavy on the tamarind, the dark broth packs a punch to your pucker. Quackenbush’s childhood at the apron strings of her mother on her grandmother’s Indiana farm, where she learned how to grow and raise product and livestock and the practical, frugal ways of agriculturalists. No waste of the scraps from the butcher's table or the vegetable cutting board. In they go, into the stock. 

Sinigang by Purple Yam, New York City

There is nothing more comforting than a bowl of sinigang (lobster, leeks, gourd, lemon, tomato, guava) with steaming jasmine rice on a cold day/night. Purple Yam's sinigang is clean, sour, fresh and educational. At least for me, as all the sinigang I have ever known is out of a packet, while this was made with fresh ingredients to develop the sour taste instead of relying on freeze dried seasonings. This delicate balance of flavors was very refreshing and comforting.

Adobo Bao by Kuma Inn, New York City 

To anyone who needs an introduction to Filipino cuisine, you will always -- and I mean ALWAYS -- be served adobo, usually a chicken or pork adobo, to be your first ever Filipino dish. Kuma Inn's adobo bao is just a party in your mouth with some tender shredded pork adobo nuzzled in between a steamed rice bun and topped with shredded pickled carrots. Just writing this makes me want to have some. Thanks, Chef King!

Tapa Nori Taco from Purple Yam, Brooklyn

As I type this, I am salivating for one! -- Tender garlicky beef tapa, with heritage rice from the Cordilleras mountains in the northern Philippines, pomelo, orange, persimmons and spring greens on top encased with crispy fried nori, seaweed instead of tortilla. This is a taco that I can definitely eat a lot and all the time.

Bibingka from Chef Chrissy Camba of Maddy's Dumpling House 

Nothing spells Christmas more in the Philippines than bibingka (a type of rice cake made of rice flour, and coconut milk). The only reason I love going to church during the yuletide season is I look forward to eating after it. During Chef Chrissy Camba's pop-up dinner last December 15, 2014 we were served some bibingka, leche flan and her lola's (grandmother) fruit salad for dessert and I wanted more...a lot more of it!

Longganisa Scotch Eggs from SGDfood's Rice and Shine

If Voltes V were actually Voltes II and instead of an evil fighting robot collective it were a breakfast food collective, that would be longganisa scotch eggs. (You 70s and 80s Pinoy dub anime peeps feel me.) Chef AC Boral of so good and delicious and Filipino Kitchen (ahem!) is the auteur of this slightly sweet & spiced pork sausage encasing a soft boiled egg, panko-breaded and deep fried.

Adobo Ramen Burger by Lumpia Shack, New York City 

Here is another variation of adobo in form of a ramen burger. The ramen burger phenomenon started two summers ago in Smorgasburg by Keizo Shimamoto who also supplies Lumpia Shack's ramen buns! This tasty burger partnered with sinigang chips (made of kropek, shrimp cracker made out of pulverized shrimp and rice flour, and sinigang powder flavor dusted on the chips) is a craving that will never be sated until I go back to NYC.

adobo ramen burger lumpia shack

Bellychon by Chef Chrissy Camba of Maddy's Dumpling House, Chicago

If you can't have a full pig, well why not buy the best part and roast it just like how you would roast a whole one --- introducing Pork Bellychon! (belly + lechon = bellychon) This dish, which we enjoyed at Chef Camba's recent Filipino Pork Christmas dinner, doesn't take away any flavors of a traditional Filipino whole-pig lechon.

Sunda Sundae a.k.a. Halo-Halo from Sunda, Chicago

GAME-CHANGER! The Sunda sundae is the holy grail of Halo-Halo outside the Philippines. We have tasted our fair share of halo-halo and came to a conclusion that Sunda's version is just simply divine. Layers of calamansi granita, flan, red mung beans, nata de coco, jackfruit strips, condensed milk, 3 scoops of ice cream (avocado, ube, maiz con queso) ... I do not care if it is in the dead of winter, I want it.

Crispy Pata Fries by Lumpia Shack, New York City

My heart says ‘no,’ but my tummy says yes! The crispy pata** fries are a perfect beer-match on a hot summer day. It is decadent, crispy and succulent. Just make sure you follow the motto: "Sharing is caring"

 **Crispy Pata = Filipino dish consisting of deep fried pig trotters or knuckles

Uni Palabok by Maharlika, New York City

Pancit palabok, my favorite noodle dish, is staunchly, unabashedly fishy. Normally it’s a multi-layered dish, with head-on shrimp and tinapa or dried fish flakes, annato or poor man’s saffron, chicharron (fried pork skin) and some sliced hard boiled eggs for garnish.  But sometimes less is more. From the kitchen of owner Nicole Ponseca and Chef Miguel Trinidad at New York City’s Maharlika, palabok takes on the very sumptuous uni, the yellow-orange gonads or sex organs of a sea urchin. It’s briny fishyness combined with its peanut butter-like creaminess, as the palabok sauce that covers the round rice noodles, is something either you love or hate. The uni palabok is garnished with more luxurious whole uni and a dusting of tinapa and microgreens. For me, it's love.

Where to find the Hungry for More list

Chicago

Sunda, 10 W. Illinois, Chicago, IL 60654. (312) 644-0500

New York City and surrounds

Purple Yam, 1314 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn, NY 11226. (718) 940-8188

Maharlika, 111 First Avenue, New York City, NY 10003. (646) 392-7880 

Kuma Inn, 113 Ludlow Street, New York, NY 10002. (212) 353-8866

Lumpia Shack, 50 Greenwich Avenue, New York, NY 10014. (917) 475-1621    

New Orleans

Milkfish, 125 N. Carrollton Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70119. (504) 267-4199

so good & delicious RICE & SHINE (pop-up)

Check Chef AC Boral's Facebook page and our Filipino Kitchen Facebook page.

About our #FKEDUP collaborators!

With this collaboration Pilipino American Unity for Progress (UniPro) aims to push forward the Filipino Food Movement. Engaging Filipino Americans in not only dialogue, creation but also consumption of some of their favorite and least favorite dishes will explore where Filipino Cuisine stands and where Filipino Cuisine is heading.
Throughout Paolo Espanola's childhood years in Saudi Arabia, his teen years in a seminary in rural Wisconsin, his collegiate tribulations in Minnesota, and finally in the concrete jungle of New York, food has always been a large part of his life. Paolo has dabbled in blogging, catering, and throwing pop-up dinners as The Errant Diner.  Check out his blog for all things food, from philosophical rants, culinary techniques, event reviews, and the occasional recipe.