by Paolo Espanola & Sarahlynn Pablo

In this two-part look back of the first #FKEDUP live collaboration in Boston this past February, Paolo Espanola and Sarahlynn Pablo reflect on the team’s brunch pop-up and participation in a regional conference for Asian-American college students.


It takes a certain kind of muted masochism to pull off a pop-up: embracing the uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and heightened stress that comes with these one-off engagements that lack the full commitment of owning your own space. In our case, masochism took the form of a crew that’s never met in person, a venue smack dab in the middle of Winterfellian Boston, and a cuisine that hasn’t quite broken into the local populace’s psyche quite yet. Now, I don’t want to make it sound like we were in the throes of despair as we peeled over 60 lobster tails during prep night... but we definitely preferred the raucous music playing on the kitchen speakers to what must have been bubbling anxiety underneath; courageous denial, so to speak.

The menu - a far cry from Filipino dishes of long ago - seemed more fitting for a sun-soaked Californian patio, not the gloomy slush that covered the streets: Longganisa Scotch Eggs? Chicken Inasal and Atsara na Mangga? No one asked whether the steady snowfall would mean we soft-boiled too many eggs. No one asked whether the unsuspecting populace would “accept” our version of Filipino food. And when a tita - the venerable judge of Filipino food - called and said she would rather eat in Chinatown where it’s cheaper since we weren’t offering some sort of “show” along with brunch service, we hardly had the time to panic.

And so we waited breathlessly during those first few hours; waiting for signs that they’ll like our food.  That’s the paradox of how we were cooking Filipino food: reckless abandon by a people so concerned about what “they” will think of our food. “Baka ‘di magustuhan ng mga Kano!” [“Maybe the Americans won’t like it!”] The feeling that perhaps our cuisine isn’t good enough... not refined enough... not pretty enough to warrant a proper brunch service; food that belongs in the dimly lit turo-turos and not the airy pub-cum-brunch hall we found ourselves in.


It comes with cooking in a transplanted kitchen: having to justify the “Filipino-ness” of our dishes. The Maja Blanca pancakes that we served - fluffy silver dollars topped with a coco-condensada syrup, corn kernels, and berries - were a far cry from the original pudding that utilized latik (burned coconut cream), agar, and was served sans maiz.  The “Lobsilog,” a sexified sous vide lobster tail served with pickled strawberries, was only similar in construct - rice, egg, protein - to its kin, the Long-, Tap-, and Toc-ilogs (Sausage, Cured Beef, and Bacon respectively) of the Motherland. And seeing as those dishes were Spanish (and most probably, Arabic) in origin, were we cooking Filipino enough?

Even our crew, a mishmash of Filipino-Americans and neophytes - some of who’ve never even had Filipino food before - could hardly recite the Panatang Makabayan. Instead of Parokya ni Edgar and intense discussions of whose regional adobo was better, dancehall pumped through the speakers as a fellow cook tasted homemade Longganisa for the first time. And yet our menu had the requisite Filipino sun ray logo, the ever-present calamansi cocktail, the overt jeepney graphic. Could we get any more Filipino? And yet... was it really Filipino enough?

Weeks prior, as the culinary minds put forth the beginnings of the menu, it was evident that our offerings skewed gastropub-Soul rather than kalinderya. My own contribution, “The OFW,” was a Filipino twist on the British (née Indian) Kedgeree: a melange of mushrooms on aromatic rice and a plumcot chutney; hardly recognizable as a -silog in itself.  But just like its namesake, the transplanted Filipino toiling away in foreign lands, isn’t “Filipino food” a cuisine that defies easy definition? One that makes its home in the deserts of Saudi Arabia just as well as the beaches of the West Coast? With all this talk of Filipino Food: what it is, who gets to make it, what it should taste like... perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong question. Better yet, perhaps there was no question to begin with.  Perhaps we cook not to draw boundaries but instead to shout and be heard.

Critics, ourselves included, will pontificate on what constitutes a proper Filipino Sinigang, yet won’t dare question the European “Spanish-ness” of Paella despite the dish’s strong Moorish influences. Therein lies the problem: sometimes the person who’s critiquing our own food and journey the most isn’t the overly skeptical tita who wants to see a group of girls in tutus performing some Mariah Carey song while she chows on her idea of a Pinoy brunch… it’s us. When the person in the mirror is the one asking: “Are you enough?”, it gets tough; masochism born out of centuries of being told we’re only allowed certain paths in life, not others. Perhaps, like ourselves, Filipino food “just is.” One of my restaurateur idols went as far as to defiantly state: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the mainstream wants to call it, I’m cooking it and calling it what I want to.”



Towards the end of the service, one of the line cooks turned dishwasher stepped out to take a smoke break.  In the space of five minutes, the pile of dishes in the back bred and multiplied and when he returned, he stared up at the unsightly stack of fat-drenched plates and sticky syrup. He swore loudly, threw his hands, and complained loudly to no one in particular. And then a curious thing happened. A smile crept over his face as Rupee’s “Tempted to Touch” began playing, he glanced over in my direction, shrugged and said, “Guess it’s gotta be done!” Masochism? Perhaps not. Perhaps like him, we too should accept our obligation -- not with this knot of constant fear...of relentless whisperings of inadequacy -- but with cheerful resignation. That at the end of the day, there is no such thing as getting Filipino Food “right”... it’s just gotta be done.


It takes a certain kind of courage to teach. Those of us who have had the privilege of learning from a great teacher know it’s a noble profession because teaching shares ways to higher knowledge. Teaching is tough. Teachers are expected to do their homework before everyone else and master the subject. Teaching involves a good deal of public speaking and engaging with your audience. A great teacher can motivate students to explore material they have no particular interest in.

There we were: Harvard University at the East Coast Asian American Students Union (ECAASU) annual conference, facilitating a workshop with the #FKEDUP crew and old friends, Brandon Glova AKA DJ Bonics and his sister, photographer Judy Glova. Ok, so we weren't exactly teaching, but approximating it for an hour. By sharing something of our personal journeys, we wanted to give back to the young people we saw so much of ourselves in, just fifteen years ago. Filipino Kitchen is proud to be Filipino American and Asian American, and spaces like ECAASU helped this pride take root.

Our workshop tackled identity. Not exactly light stuff. Though the conference maintains a safe space to express opinion among Asian-American peers -- it’s hard to bare your twenty-year old soul to a room full of strangers. Kinda like group therapy, honestly. And I mean that fondly, and with a degree of sentimentality. ECAASU is fertile environment for young Asian Americans can think about and give names to our experiences ourselves.


Our young people spoke up and told us how they were experiencing the 'not enough' phenomenon themselves. College was a new proving ground, where for some, unlike diverse spaces of childhood, their identities were challenged and provoked from the outside. Multiracial Asian Americans shared pains that ran deep. Feeling ‘not enough’ was the status quo. They felt tired of justifying self, explaining self, and more so, angry at that imposed responsibility.

Before the conference we asked our friends on social media to share the 'not Asian enough' moments they had:

“Oh, you don’t speak Tagalog? You’re not reeeeeally Filipino.”

“Yes, my family would go to debuts and pageants and spectacles like that, which made me wonder where I belonged, do I fit in, what criteria do I need to hit some sort of Filipino-legitimacy threshold.”

“I guess the Filipinos thought adapting to the American lifestyle caused me to lose my Filipino self.”

“My cousins used to tell me, ‘you couldn’t understand, you’re just half-Filipino.’”

In the workshop, we questioned the questions of being "Asian enough." We wanted to expose that there was no test for being Filipino or Chinese or Taiwanese or Laotian or Indian or Korean or any of the heritage origins with which we Asian Americans identify. There was no "Asian enough" test at all.



None of the students spoke of overt racism or prejudice (or wanted to volunteer that information), though we acknowledged them as part of our reality. Instead we spoke of the subtleties of ‘othering.’

The young people said that some non-Asian Americans students didn't understand their need to create spaces for themselves on their college campuses, misinterpreting forming student groups like Filipino Students Associations as exclusionary tactics. A few spoke of the oft-muddled identities and nuances brought on by mixed nationalities and cultural birthrights.

Before the conference, our friends on social media shared their 'not American enough' moments, too:

“What country are you from?”

“Your English is amazing.”

“I remember going to school with a Tupperware of dinuguan and longanisa and the look on my teacher’s face when I asked her to heat it up for me. I wanted Lunchables!”

The conversation about defining American (as famously coined by undocumented Filipino American activist and Pulitzer prize winning journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas, and the 40 million immigrants in this country, lawmakers, pundits and the many others in the immigration debate) is hotly contested.


While that was plenty of ground to cover, we didn't get to touch on how divisive 'not enough' is. How the personal offenses and attacks keep us from building community and prevent us from questioning systems like imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy. Sixty minutes is not a lot of time to dive deep into the subject, and we considered it a success that many of the workshop participants stayed afterwards to talk with us.

We ended the workshop with a shout. Paolo asked if maybe it's just time we start being comfortable with the uncomfortable? Maybe there's identities we can try on, even if we're not "supposed" to? What's a Filipina "supposed to" be? What's an American "supposed to" be? What about someone who grew up in three distinct cultures? Where is home? Can we shout our names at the top of our lungs in a Harvard classroom? Maybe that's when our work really started.



Thank you to our friends at The Vault Restaurant in Boston -- Kate, Corey, Mallory, Liz, Val, Andrew and Vinny -- for a wonderful service together. Thank you to the patrons of the RICE & SHINE Boston brunch pop-up.

Thank you to the East Coast Asian American Students Union for inviting Filipino Kitchen and DJ Bonics to speak at this year’s conference. Thank you to the young people who attended our workshop, and the Filipino Kitchen Facebook community for sharing your 'not enough' moments.

And always, thank you to our entire #FKEDUP Boston crew for your hard work and incredible talents -- Noel Aglubat, AC Boral, Stephanie Chrispin, Brandon and Judy Glova (especially your dj'ing and photography, respectively), and Natalia Roxas.

Hoy Tabachoy! Healthier Pilipino Recipes


When I think of my favorite home cooked Pilipino dishes they all have two things in common. One, they make my mouth happy. Two, they are all some devilish combination of fatty, greasy, meaty, salty, or fried. Let’s face it, the very things that make most Pilipino food so deliciously decadent are also the things that are clogging up your arteries. The preference for a savory Pilipino palette has had a profound effect on the health of Pilipino Americans. According to the statistics presented by Dr. Charito Sico:

“1 in 4 Pilipino Americans have hypertension, 1 in 4 have high cholesterol,   and 1 out of 5 Asian Americans with diabetes are Pilipino American.”

Like most Fil-Ams, I believe that savoring an exquisite meal is a cherishable human experience that should be an unalienable right. Since food, quite literally, gives me a reason for a living, I like my meals to meet a certain par of deliciousness and often make unwise choices in which I follow my stomach instead of my heart.

Luckily, the American Heart Association and Kaiser Permanente collaborated to put together a healthy recipe booklet filled with dishes that keep the same Pilipino flavors we love but go easier on our bodies.

You can find a PDF of Mula Sa Puso: Heart Healthy Traditional Filipino Recipes for free online by clicking on the hyperlink. Below are a few examples from the booklet of Pilipino favorites that have been altered to keep your heart pumping strong.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 5.49.02 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 5.40.32 PM


Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 5.51.53 PM


Passing on Lolo and Lola's Filipino Food Recipes

When you’re yearning for that Filipino food fix, where do you go? The modern Pilipino fusion joint in the city? The nearest Jollibee for some sweet spaghetti and fried chicken? The turo-turo restaurant for some instant ulam (dishes)? The bakery selling pan de sal, fresh out of the oven? For the fortunate Pilipinos and Fil-Ams, our answer is: home. Nothing beats our favorite Pilipino dishes like the ones created and perfected by our family. Filipino-Foods

Recipes have been passed down for generations, thus becoming as much a part of holiday gatherings at the attendees at the table. For instance, some dishes that never fail to make it to our holiday and celebration spreads include my mom’s lumpia, my auntie’s fruit salad and my grandma’s (or lola's) cassava cake.

When I was in high school, my mom told me to call my grandma to ask her for her cassava cake recipe. She had made it many times before when she lived with us, but I was too busy with my childhood duties – such as rollerblading, concocting potions with berries and leaves, and making mud traps for the mountain cats that prowled around the backyard at night – to appreciate it.  So, I called up my grandma, who had moved back out to California for work, and asked her to divulge her recipe secrets to me. This proved to be a success, as I’m now responsible for making it during holidays, parties, and whenever someone is craving it. Cassava cake is easily my family’s favorite dessert. I have learned to bake two batches, or risk being scolded by everyone (including my younger siblings) for not making enough. When I was in the Philippines last year, I had the chance to make it from scratch; there’s no kitchen workout like grating cassava!

Classic cassava cake, made of grated cassava, coconut, condensed milk, and other dangerously delicious ingredients. I contemplated revealing my grandma’s cassava cake recipe to you all, but that would contradict the purpose of this piece; you should all go out and seek recipes from your family and loved ones!

Unfortunately, my personal Pilipino recipe book remains quite bare. When I’m home, I tend to spend most of my time in the kitchen. It is in this most sacred room of my home that I learned my parents' Adobo and Sinigang recipes. But this isn’t enough. When I am finally stateside again, I will resume my place as sous (and sometimes head) chef in the kitchen, picking up more Pilipino dish and dessert recipes. As a young Pilipina, it is my responsibility to preserve the cuisine that helps define our palette and lifestyle. There are so many dishes I have no idea how to make, and it’d be a shame if they were lost. I hope to build up my recipe repertoire; not just with Pilipino dishes, but with all the tricks of the cooking trade that my family continues to employ in the kitchen and during backyard BBQ cookouts.

Next on my list: Pinakbet.

Photo credits: All I Wanna Do is Bake and Ang Sarap

Spoons, Forks and the Cultures that Use Them

When I was 18, I worked at the Times Square Swatch megastore as a cashier. I was the only Filipino and only Asian there, and once in a while, I would come in with some baon from home for lunch. One night, I had some sort of fish and rice deal courtesy of my mom, which I eagerly dug into—with my spoon and fork. One of my co-workers looked at me with the most puzzled look, as if I was eating duck fetus or something (what was this, Sunday?).

"What?" I said.

"Why in the world are you eating with a fork and a spoon? And where's the chopsticks?" she asked.

This was the single most ridiculous question I'd ever heard, and not because of the (totally forgivable, honestly) cultural misconception about Pinoys and chopsticks. I replied with what I thought was an equally ridiculous question: "You never seen anyone eat with a fork and a spoon? Hahaha."

Hahaha indeed—but the joke was on me. This was my first foray into the world of having to explain eating habits that I assumed were universal. The fork's the broom! The spoon's the dustpan! But as my co-worker started calling the attention of other employees to look at me eating with both basic utensils simultaneously, I began to realize how alien and unique the Pilipino eating style is to the mainstream.

And, as we know, it doesn't just stop with the shovel-spoon. There's kamayan, the hand-eating technique employed by most of the developing world, but which has such a codified set of steps in the Pilipino culture that it might as well be considered an art form. But perhaps more defining is our lack of chopsticks.

Since the Detroit murder of Chinese-American man Vincent Chin in 1982 for being mistaken as Japanese, the countless Asian immigrant communities in America have undergone a reactive transformation, a social merger that has proved less polarizing and, quite frankly, beautiful. The decades since have seen the emergence of the term "Pan-Asianism": No longer are we simply Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, etc. in the eyes of mainstream America. We can collectively call ourselves Asian-American, and very proudly. It's something that could only have happened in the environment that the United States creates for immigrant groups. Despite differences between countries that are sometime stark and prejudice-inducing back in the Far Eastern mother continent, the world's largest and most diverse demographic has found a united identity in this term.

For better and for worse. Pan-Asianism has introduced a subconscious sharing of relatively small details with origins in individual cultures. Boba, originating in Taiwan, has become an Asian drink. Lucy Liu, Harry Shum Jr and Andrew Yeun aren't just Chinese and Korean actors, they're Asian. It's become vogue (and then not vogue, and then vogue again) to have Asian Fusion food—an amalgamation of the best things about all these culture's taste buds.

And while much can be said about the Filipino's rising image in this as well as mainstream entertainment's milieu—as dope as it is—it's important to remember and appreciate the little things about Pilipino culture that set us apart. The double utensils, the hands, and the chopsticks.

Well, the lack thereof.

Photo credit: Live in the Philippines

Sinigang for the Soul

Tonight, I find myself in northwest Thailand, in the remote and mountainous province of Mae Hong Son. I’ve been here for six months, as I’m completing a teaching fellowship for Global Playground. I teach English at a middle and high school, which serves 1,200 students from this district and nearby villages. As a proud Pilipina, I am faced with a predicament. The closest Pilipino restaurant is in Chiang Mai (about six hours away from my village), and it is only open for part of the year. Last July, Tita Ann (the owner) and I, shared a brief conversation over the phone, as I was trying to satiate my Pilipino food cravings. Her Chiang Mai restaurant was closed, and she had relocated to Bangkok to run her other restaurant. Naturally, this would happen to a young lady deprived of all Pilipino dishes and dessert. During times like these (hunger, severe stress, intense homesickness and the like), I find myself craving "Sinigang sa sampalok." This delicious and savory soup, flavored by tamarind, onion and kamatis (tomato), is my personal comfort food. Unfortunately, Thai cuisine is known for its chili peppers, sugar, palm sugar, peanuts and fish sauce. Here in the village, my meals consist of noodles, rice, eggs, vegetables, tofu, chicken and pork. Not much variety, since I cannot tolerate spicy dishes.

It was about a month after I had moved to the village that homesickness began to take its toll. I missed my family; before my fellowship, I never went more than two months without seeing them. One day, another teacher at my school flat-out asked me.

“Are you homesick?”, she said bluntly.

“Yes,” I replied without hesitation.

“I’m going to Mae Sariang this weekend to visit my daughter. Do you want to come?” she asked.

I kindly accepted, and that weekend, we drove to her mother-in-law’s home to visit her one-year-old daughter. We went around the neighborhood (i.e. homes scattered among the rice fields), lounged to the sound of the rainfall (it was rainy season at the time), and ate northern Thai food. It is said that northern Thai food is not as spicy as the dishes found throughout the rest of Thailand, though I have to disagree on that. Everything is too spicy for this foreigner.

Located front and center, "Pha kha jaaw" is the Thai equivalent to Sinigang sa sampalok.

After one of my naps on the padded mat set up by the TV, I stumbled over to the table. The family had prepared a variety of dishes, and I spotted one that seemed almost too familiar. It was a soup with supple chunks of pork, leafy greens and onions. I doubted it for a mere second, before taking a spoonful and slowly tasting it. It had a sour tinge to it, and in an instant, I smiled. It tasted just like sinigang. I learned that it was called "Pha kaa jaaw," a dish from Chinese influence, also made with tamarind. Now, I can order the dish at restaurants; the cook here at the school also prepares it every now and then, after she learned it was my favorite.

I accepted the teacher’s invitation, and every invitation to join other teachers and staff after that. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was, “Always accept an offer.” I’d like to add that you should, at the minimum, consider every offer before you decline it. It may lead you to the "sinigang" you're craving.