The Salo Series hosted by my girl Yana Gilbuena, a Feastly Chef, brought Filipino cuisine to 50 states in 50 weeks. This self-proclaimed nomad travels the world putting on her pop ups and collaborating with other chefs she meets along the way. She picks up local help wherever she goes only arriving in each city with a vision. Yana credits her success to social media and says her followers contact her in advance volunteering to help out the next time her pop up lands in their city.
On the night I went to her pop up in San Francisco she was partnering with the owners of The Sarap Shop food truck. The pop up for the evening was called NOLI: Pag-ibig. This traditional kamayan dinner had untraditional twists like silverware and fancy plate presentations.
Yana met the Sarap shop guys at a Filipino food festival called Savor Oakland last year. Together they served seven courses spread out before us on a bed of banana leaves. Yana bringing the flavors of Visayas and Sarap shop countering each course with their vegan comfort food version. Both Yana and the Sarap shop duo delivered creative riffs on classics showcasing bright, sweet and sour flavors and varied textures.
My favorite dish of Yana’s is a spin on poke. Diced salmon marinated in the flavors of Singang ,which included tamarind, soy sauce, fish sauce and thai chilies for heat. She adds a crunchy element to the dish by sprinkling chopped cornicks on top, a Filipino version of corn nuts. Sarap shop made a lovely vegan version of this with fresh diced tomato, watermelon and cucumber.
The next course was Binakol na pugo. Yana served crispy quail over an aromatic sweet and sour broth made of coconut water, coconut meat, ginger, lemongrass and moringa leaf – a medicinal plant grown in tropical climates used in Indian, Thai and Filipino cuisine. Sarap shop created what they called a “Chinese goose” – shiitake and oyster mushrooms enveloped in a bean curd wrapper floating in the same delicious broth.
For dessert Yana brewed up a hot chocolate she called Tsokolate-ey made with Thai chilies, coconut cream, semisweet chocolate, pure cacao and pinipig – pounded young rice, which was sprinkled on top for texture. While Sarap shop threw down 3 innovative takes on classic Filipino desserts – Deep fried suman – a glutinous steamed rice cake, spicy flan and a raspberry cornmeal cake topped with crumbled vegan bacon and diced mango.
All dishes were elegantly plated and accompanied by live Filipino music which consisted of a woman on acoustic guitar and a man on the ukulele. Their beautiful voices and brought the food, music and rum cocktails into perfect harmony. If you closed your eyes you could almost hear the ocean.
Since I consider Yana an authority on Filipino cusine in America I asked for her opinion on this surge of Filipino cuisine in the bay area. She said, “Filipino cuisine is a lot like our culture, a beautiful mutt. We had so many strains of cultures come and contribute to our existing one right now from Malay, to India, to Saudi Arabia to Chinese, to Japanese, to Spanish and American. Our islands are as different and diverse, as are the people who inhabit it. That is our strength and it should be celebrated. We are highly adaptable wherever we are. Our cusine is still hard to define, especially in the American standpoint because a lot of people are alreay creating mutations and adaptations of it before it even has a chance to stand on its own. I think there should be a clear definition of Filipino food versus Filipino-American food versus Filipino-inspired. Since it’s a “young” emerging cuisine here in the U.S., it’s best to educate people first of what it is, versus trying so hard to “Americanize” or “Frenchify” it. We don’t need western cuisines to “elevate” ours or western culinary leaders to “approve” and say, “oh, it’s great” when they have never even had “real Filipino food”. I love that Filipino cuisine is spreading all over the nation, not just the bay area. I’m really big on history and why food was made the way it was and I would love to implore other Filipino/ Filipino-American food leaders to not only serve the food, but also educate people about it.”
When I asked her what Filipino cuisine specifically meant to her, she replied simply, “family”.
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.