Welcome Home - Micah Rivera

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Filipino Stores and Cuisine in the United States

September 2021

1 Filipino Stores and Cuisine in the United States



In 1883, José Rizal the future hero and martyr of the Philippine Revolution, was a homesick medical student abroad in Madrid. His longing for bagoong a paste of seafood salted and left to ferment until it exudes a fathomless funk, grew so great that his worried family in Manila dispatched a jar. But it broke on the ship, releasing its pungent scent and, reportedly, terrifying the passengers.

“The flavors of Filipino cooking, like Rizal’s broken jar of bagoong, still have the power to startle those unfamiliar with them.”

Today, bagoong and other Filipino foods are finally entering the American mainstream, more than a century after the United States Navy sailed into Manila Bay, sank the Spanish Armada and took control of the archipelago, a restive colony of around 7,100 islands and 180 languages. Americans of Filipino heritage now make up one in five of all Asian-Americans, second only to Chinese in number, and the largest percentage of immigrants serving in the United States military were born in the Philippines.

Other Asian cuisines have been part of the American landscape for decades. But only in recent years have Filipino dishes started gaining recognition outside immigrant communities, at restaurants like Maharlika in New York; Bad Saint in Washington, D.C.; and Lasa in Los Angeles. The flavors of Filipino cooking, like Rizal’s broken jar of bagoong still have the power to startle those unfamiliar with them. Although Filipino food draws on early encounters with Malay, Chinese and Arab traders as well as centuries of Spanish occupation,


its profile is distinct: salty and sour above all, with less of the mitigating sweetness and chile-stoked fire found in the cooking of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Bagoong — ranging from muddy brown to plumeria pink in color, commonly made of tiny krill, anchovies or bonnetmouths — brings to soups and stews a depth of flavor that evokes cheese interred in caves and aged steak, with an extra dimension of ocean floor.

It also may be eaten straight, daubed on rice or anointing slices of green mango. Along with its byproduct, patis (fish sauce), it’s an essential seasoning that claims a place on the table next to suka (vinegar) and banana ketchup (bananas cooked down in vinegar and tomato paste), as much a condiment as an ingredient.

As such, it’s part of what the Manila-born food historian Doreen Fernandez termed a “galaxy of flavor-adjusters” that define how Filipinos eat: seasonings added to dishes after they’re served, in trickles and pinches, according to each diner’s taste. A chef feeding Filipinos must sublimate ego and accept that no dish emerges from the kitchen fully finished. A meal is a joint effort between cooks and eaters.

If bagoong is the salt, suka is the sour lifeblood of the cuisine. Extracted from sugar cane or the sap from coconut trees or nipa palms, it was originally a necessary preservative in a warm climate.

How to take the bounty of fish from the surrounding seas and make it last? Cure it in suka and it becomes kinilaw an ancient recipe that may have been one of the earliest forms of ceviche. To this might be added the bite of ginger, the silkiness of coconut milk, or a sunny kiss of calamansi which has a sharper sting than lime.

For another staple, daing na bangus milkfish is relieved of its bones, splayed and soaked in vinegar overnight for tenderness, then crisped in a pan. You can eat the flesh with a spoon.

Lumpia cousins to Chinese spring rolls, are dunked in sawsawan (dipping sauce), which may be as straightforward as vinegar with a stutter of raw garlic. The rolls come fried to a crackle or “fresh,”

with uncooked, doughy skins that suggest crepes, and filled with anything from ground meat to hearts of palm to whole green finger chiles, a variation called, rightly, dynamite.

Vinegar is the undertow, too, in adobo perhaps the best known of Filipino dishes, whose ingredients and method predate its Spanish name. (“It’s really ours,” said Romy Dorotan, the chef of Purple Yam in Brooklyn.) At its base, adobo is a long braise of meat in vinegar and garlic, but other ingredients are up for debate: Some swear by soy sauce while others dismiss it as an import; some stir in achuete oil (made from annatto seeds), coconut milk, sugar or squid ink.

Of all Filipino dishes, adobo “has the most leeway for a cook’s imagination, hubris, art or bigoted sense of one’s own mother’s loveand-greatness,” the novelist Gina Apostol said. There are nearly as many manifestations of adobo as there are Filipinos.

But is adobo the dish that speaks most directly to the Filipino soul? Ms. Fernandez argued otherwise, in favor of sinigang a soup she described as “the dish most representative of Filipino taste,” in part because it’s adaptable “to all classes and budgets.” Recipes differ, but the goal is the same: a sourness so profound that the first sip should make you shudder.

“Sinigang is what my mother would make for me when was sick,” said Alexandra Cuerdo, the director of the documentary “Ulam: Main Dish”, about the rise of Filipino food in America, which is set to premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival next month.

The souring agent in sinigang changes by the map: It might be tamarind, guava, alibangbang leaves, kamias (the fruit of the sorrel tree), batuan (kin to mangosteen) or unripe pineapple — whatever is on hand in the region. Place matters to Filipinos, who often have tangled roots as a result of internal migration and speak multiple languages.

At Lasa, the chef Chad Valencia uses rhubarb for sinigang when it’s in season. “Our region is Los Angeles,”he said.

Still, no one dish can sum up the Filipino palate. “A feast of different flavors is optimal,” said Nicole Ponseca who runs Maharlika and Jeepney in New York. “Sauces meld, complement, make whole.”

To balance the sourness of adobo and sinigang she suggests kare-kare, a nutty-sweet stew of oxtail, bok choy, string beans and eggplant, traditionally simmered with ground peanuts and achuete oil; peanut butter, a modern substitute, lends voluptuousness.

The history of kare-kare is often traced to a 20-month interregnum in the 18th century when the British wrested Manila from the Spanish. Indian cooks attending the Royal Navy brought the name and notion of curry to the islands, and had to make do with local spices.

Kare-kare sinigang and adobo are likely to appear on most Filipino menus in the United States, from turo-turo (pointpoint) steam-table joints to sophisticated restaurants. So, too, is dinuguan, a pork-blood stew that can pose a challenge even for Filipinos.

“When I was growing up, dinuguan was a kind of culinary boogeyman, a dish that adults would tell gory stories about to scare children,” said Genevieve Villamora, one of the owners of Bad Saint.

The opaque stew, classically loaded with offal, is often passed off by Filipino immigrant parents as “chocolate meat” to their suspicious children. King Phojanakong, the chef of Kuma Inn in New York, remembers wondering, “Why was it so dark?”

But the mineral-rich blood is what gives the stew its ballast and faintly metallic hint of a licked knife. It must be cooked carefully so that the blood doesn’t congeal; done right, it turns to velvet. At Bad Saint, dinuguan has become one of the best-selling dishes, without the veil of euphemism.


Also known as bitter gourd and bitter squash, this fruit looks a bit like a lumpy cucumber. Once sliced open and cored (imagine if the inside of a cucumber was a bell pepper—bitter melon has a very similar texture), most often you’ll see it prepared simply with scrambled eggs.


While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these are some key ingredients in Filipino cuisine. Stock your pantry with these staples so you can make delicious Filipino dishes whenever the craving strikes.

Traditionally, many dishes are created with rice and cider vinegars to add the tartness Filipino food is known for, but sugarcane, palm, and coconut vinegars are also used often. The great thing about vinegar is each comes with a unique flavor profile making it a key place in a recipe to add your own spin.

Just as not all hot sauces are created equal, not all fish sauces are either. Vietnamese and Thai fish sauce have a different flavor profile and generally are a little more balanced thanks to added sugar. True Filipino patis can be pretty in-your-face when it comes to saltiness.

This fermented fish paste is an essential for the Filipino chef. It can be made with a variety of small fish, though shrimp is common and lends a signature pink hue to the condiment. Even seasoned chefs

have a hard time describing the flavor, but think along the lines of the funk of kimchi and an intense shrimp flavor (both guaranteed to get your nose working). It’s often served with kare kare (peanut stew with braised oxtail) or as a snack with green mango slices.


This Filipino lime is a cross between a kumquat and a Key lime. This small citrusy fruit is very aromatic and adds quite a bit of (surprise!) acidity to any dish. It brightens up everything from drinks to pan fried noodles and fish.

A word to the wise: A little bit goes a long way. So unless you’re ready for the bitterness, consider pre-prepping the fruit by letting the slices rest in sugar or salt water and squeezing out the excess juice before cooking.


The Filipinos love garlic and it is featured prominently in dishes ranging from basic adobo to sisig (sizzling pork) and pancit (fried noodles). Keep a bunch of fresh cloves on hand.

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2 Welcome Home 3 Filipino Stores and Cuisine in the United States
12, 2018
Photo by Jonathan Valencia A table of chicken inasal (roast chicken) Photo by Dana Litovsky Photo by Dana Litovsky Photo from Pepper Daing na bangus with suka Kare-kare A jar of bagoong

If cooking is a vehicle for memory, for many Filipinos the dishes of their heritage are inseparable from days of celebration. “Food marks the occasion,” said Angela Dimayuga, who grew up in the Bay Area and was most recently the chef of Mission Chinese Food in New York. It’s considered particularly lucky to eat pancit (noodles) on birthdays, their uncut strands promising long life. The name of the noodles is derived from a Hokkien phrase for “fast food.” Like their Chinese antecedents, they come in different shapes and textures: miki (made with egg), bihon (rice), sotanghon (mung bean) and canton (wheat). Recipes might include sluices of soy sauce and calamansi and toppings of shrimp heads, quail eggs, shucked oysters or chicharron.

For the highest occasion — like Ms. Dimayuga’s grandmother’s 99th birthday last year — there can be only one centerpiece: lechon, whole roasted pig, its shining, lacquer-thin skin primed to shatter.

“It’s trendy here to go head to tail, but there it’s just a way of life,”

Mr. Phojanakong said. After a party, the lechon is broken down: “You use the head for sisig” — a sizzle of jowl and ears — “trotters for adobo make dinuguan with blood and innards and turn leftovers into paksiw,” a vinegary stew contoured with a pâté-like liver spread.

The backdrop to these dishes is always rice. Its earthy scent is the constant when you walk into a Filipino home, almost a ripening in the air. To Ms. Fernandez, rice was “the shaper of other foods,” its soothing blandness allowing other dishes to be stronger in contrast.

Glutinous rice is used, too, for kakanin, a genre of snacks that includes puto, little steamed cakes of ground rice and coconut milk, often accompanying dinuguan suman, logs of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves; and thick, gilded rounds of bibingka perfumed with coconut and somehow fluffy andchewy at once.

Wheat, which came to the Philippines with the Spanish, also has its place in daily life. At any time of day, pan de sal, a simple bread roll, is nourishment. Isa Fabro a pastry chef in Los Angeles, slakes hers in butter suffused with ube halaya (a jam of purple yam) and latik, a coconut-milk concentrate close in spirit to dulce de leche. Some popular desserts that have European origins are now thought of as wholly Filipino: wobbly leche flan, custard under a gooey drape of caramel; Sans Rival, a dacquoise-like palimpsest of cashews, meringue and buttercream, which the chef Nora Daza served in the 1970s at her Paris restaurant Aux Iles Philippines to the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Simone de Beauvoir; and mango royale, a crema de fruta turned icebox cake, with layers of cream and mangos teetering on overripe.

Beyond these greatest hits are regional specialties, which Mr. Dorotan, a native of Bicol in southeastern Luzon, wishes would get more attention. At Purple Yam, he makes laing, taro leaves simmered in coconut milk (the trademark of Bicolano cooking) until lush.

But which regional specialties does he want to see more of? He laughed. There are so many islands.

“Even do not know,” he said.

Shopping List continued


Food needs salt, and soy sauce is one place to get it. But if you’re looking for something especially traditional, turn to patis.


A dish and cooking process native to the Philippines, adobo refers to the method of marinating meat, seafood, or vegetables (pretty much anything!) in a combination of soy sauce and vinegar. This marinade also includes other herbs and flavorings like garlic, bay leaves, and whole peppercorns.

varied depending on the type of vinegar used. In the Philippines, coconut vinegar, rice vinegar, or cane vinegar are the most common.

Most basic adobo recipes are seasoned only with garlic, bay leaf, and black pepper (the peppercorns can be left whole or crushed for a more vibrant flavor), but additional seasonings may include ginger, onions, or other vegetables.

And it is not just the brine that can vary—all different kinds of meat can be part of an adobe.

Fresh ginger adds zest and spice to many of the sour dishes of the Philippines. Having a root handy is always important.

Squash Tops and Leafy Greens

From stews to soups (especially the sour seafood soup sinigang) to noodles and adobo, dark leafy greens are an important component of many Filipino recipes. Squash tops and leaves might not be the most readily available stateside, but dinosaur kale, collard greens, and spinach are great stand-ins.

With all those acidic and sour sauces, there needs to be a bit of starch to balance the dish. Jasmine rice, simply steamed, is the foundation (or accompanying side) to many important meals, as are simple potatoes.


The striking purple yam that’s made its way into the Trader Joe’s freezer case is a common ingredient in Filipino desserts, frequently cooked into a jam called halaya.

Cooking food in vinegar is no foreign concept to us Filipinos. In pre-colonial times, our ancestors used to cook seafood in vinegar in order to preserve their freshness. Many regard adobo as a spin on kinilaw which is another traditional cooking method. Kinilaw refers mainly to cooking raw seafood in vinegar and spices. Another similar process is paksiw which utilizes meat broth in vinegar and spices.

What really sets adobo apart is the presence of soy sauce in its marinade. While vinegar has a pungent aroma and a very distinctly sour taste, soy sauce is on both the sweeter and saltier side. A staple in any Asian household, soy sauce (or toyo) definitely helps in bringing out chicken adobo’s savory taste.

Adobo also contains dry bay leaves in its recipe. Although you aren’t to eat them whole, bay leaves lend their subtle, deep flavors to this umami dish. It may not be the star of the show, but your chicken adobo wouldn’t be complete without it. However, you can choose to substitute this herb with basil if you can’t find it at stores.


Like many cultures based in warm climates, Filipino natives developed various methods of preserving food. Adobo utilizes the acid in the vinegar and the high salt content of soy sauce to produce an undesirable environment for bacteria. Its delicious flavor and preserving qualities served to increase adobo’s popularity. The adobo was traditionally cooked in clay pots but today is made in more common metal pots or woks.

When the Spanish invaded and settled in the Philippines during the 16th century, they witnessed this traditional Filipino cooking method and called it adobo, which is the Spanish word for marinade.


Although there are basic adobo ingredients, you may find other ingredients that have been included. Vinegar and soy sauce are the heart of adobo, but over the centuries, other liquids have occasionally been added to the brine. Some varieties include coconut milk, which mellows the strong flavors of the vinegar and soy sauce. Others include sugar or honey to add a touch of sweetness and an almost teriyaki-like characteristic. The flavor of adobo can also be

Although chicken adobo is the most well known, adobo can be made with pork, beef, fish, or other types of meat. Although not required, the meat is often fried after stewing to give it a crispy exterior. There are as many varieties of adobo as there are cooks in the Philippines. Although the country is small, the popularity and reach of adobo have spread throughout the world.

Even though the adobo marinade can vary from region to region—and cook to cook—some adobo dishes are made more often than others, like chicken, pork, and beef. When chicken is the meat of choice, it is called adobong manok, and the dish adobong baboy includes pork. Adobong baka is beef adobo.


• 2 lbs chicken

• 3 pieces dried bay leaves

• 8 tablespoons soy sauce

• 4 tablespoons white vinegar

• 5 cloves garlic crushed

• 1 1/2 cups water

• 3 tablespoons cooking oil

• 1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt optional

• 1 teaspoon whole peppercorn


1. Combine chicken, soy sauce, and garlic in a large bowl. Mix well. Marinate the chicken for at least 1 hour. Note: the longer the time, the better

2. Heat a cooking pot. Pour cooking oil.

3. When the oil is hot enough, pan-fry the marinated chicken for 2 minutes per side.

4. Pour-in the remaining marinade, including garlic. Add water. Bring to a boil

5. Add dried bay leaves and whole peppercorn. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken gets tender

6. Add vinegar. Stir and cook for 10 minutes.

7. Put-in the sugar, and salt. Stir and turn the heat off.

8. Serve hot. Share and Enjoy!

4 Welcome Home 5 Filipino Stores and Cuisine in the United States
Photo by Dana Litovsky Photo by Pille R. Priske Photo by Dana Litovsky Photo by JJ Goode
“If cooking is a vehicle for memory, for many Filipinos the dishes of their heritage are inseparable from days of celebration.”
A table of Filipino dishes A bowl of rice Chicken adobo Chicken adobo



The way to a person’s heart is indeed through their stomach, and Filipinos would be the one of the first people to agree. Food plays a huge part in Filipino culture. Any kind of gathering has to have the favorite dishes, so it isn’t farfetched to say that food brings Filipinos together. However, most Filipino cuisine contains ingredients that are hard or even impossible to obtain outside of the Philippines. There are local ingredients or products that might need to be imported. Fortunately, there are numerous Filipino stores throughout the U.S so cooking your lola’s recipe isn’t such an impossible task anymore. More importantly, these spaces recreate the experience from home, where Filipinos socialize and gossip with each other in sari-sari stores. Rather than the products, it is the experience that makes these stores.

Being away from home yet tasting home is only possible with the numerous Filipino stores started by Filipinos themselves. To get a closer look as to why Filipinos start these stores in the first place and just get to know the people behind such an important establishment, I’ve interviewed Noe Tabares. He and his wife, Minerva Tabares, both own Tabares Philippine Market in Universal City Texas.

The first Tabares Philippine Market was established on February 19, 1999 in Wichita Kansas. There were no Filipino stores or selections then. The Filipino stores that were there didn’t last very long. They decided then to start this family-owned Filipino store.

At the start, they advertised the stores to their friends, so there were a lot of people on opening day. Noe Tabares mentioned that there was a big Filipino community in their surrounding area in Wichita and that majority worked in hospitals, like nurses and doctors. They moved to Texas after Noe Tabares retired

from the Air Force in 2001, but they opened Tabares Philippine Market in Universal City in 2008.

Tabares Philippine Market’s products are 95% Filipino products and 5% are Korean or Chinese. For the dishes that they sell, it’s all Filipino food as well. Their bakery sells pastries like siopao, pandesal, and ensaymada. Before they started, they researched online where to source their ingredients and products which is why they never really had problems with it. Noe Tabares emphasized that the most important part for him in managing the store was making sure the products they sell are those that are high quality but also those that Filipinos are known to love and seek.

So far, Tabares Philippine Store hasn’t encountered any issues due to being a store targeting Filipinos specifically. He did mention that sometimes fellow Filipinos would complain that the prices are too high. He added, “Kung saan kayo makakamura, e ‘di doon kayo.” (Go where the prices are more affordable to you.)

Noe Tabares mentioned that the region where he came from has a lot of different tastes when it comes to food, but if there was a dish that would be the staple Filipino food, it would be lumpia. There are a lot of other Filipino foods like adobo and pancit, of course. But lumpia was the dish that he thinks Filipinos successfully introduced to Americans. Other dishes like dinuguan and papaitan, which are very much loved by Filipinos, haven’t really been introduced. Noe Tabares then said that slowly, and surely, other countries will eventually learn to love the rest of Filipino cuisine.


912 Pat Booker Rd. Universal City, Texas 78148

(210) 214 6330 nomichris@aol.com


Mishan, L. (2018). Filipino Food Finds a Place in the American Mainstream.

Merano, V. (n.d.) Filipino Chicken Adobo Recipe Panlasang Pinoy. https:// panlasangpinoy.com/filipino-chicken-adobo-recipe/

Sutherilin M. (2020) How To Stock A Filipino Pantry, from Bagoong to Ube Chowhound. https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/189903/ filipino-food-ingredients-how-to-stock-a-pinoy-pantry/

Goode, J. Filipino Chicken Adobo [Photograph]. Eating Well. https://www. eatingwell.com/recipe/a262791/filipino-chicken-adobo/

Bottled Bagoong [Photograph]. Pepper. https://pepper.ph/barrio-fiestamothers-best-lorins-and-more-our-bottled-bagoong-battle/ bottledbagoong_ci5/

Priske, P. A Bowl of rice [Photograph.] Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/xmuIgjuQG0M

Fluch, K. Sari Sari [Photograph]. Behance. https://www.behance.net/gallery/23887865/Sari-Sari

6 Welcome Home 7 Filipino Stores and Cuisine in the United States
“Slowly, and surely, other countries will eventually learn to love the rest of Filipino cuisine.”
Photo by Micah Rivera Photo by Micah Rivera Photo by Karl Fluch Photo by Karl Fluch Shelf filled with Filipino products Signages by the register about the store’s other services A sari–sari (many–many) store in the Philippines A sari–sari (many–many) store in the Philippines


Welcome Home was designed in Alice J Lee’s Fall 2021 Typography III course in the BFA Communication Design program at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

Cover + interior design by Micah Rivera

Edited by Alice J Lee

© 2021 by BFA Communication Design Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Typefaces used were BBT Martires designed by John Misael Villanueva in 2019, and Myriad Pro designed by Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly in 1992.

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