"Have you eaten?" Without fail, this is the first thing out of my Lola's mouth whenever I arrive to her house. This is also the only question she will ask you for the next 15 minutes until she sees you physically eating something or in my Lola's particular case I feign interest in get her to show me an article from her latest Catholic Digest.
Bottom line - Filipinos LOVE to feed you. Because of this, I think it's safe to say Filipinos LOVE to eat. I'm Filipino, therefore I LOVE to eat. Work with me here guys, I didn't get an A in symbolic logic for nothing...
Enter: Barrio Fiesta. At the behest of a fellow kababayan, we decided to organize a group outing to this fine family dining establishment in Eagle Rock, CA. And family dining it is because when you walk in, you definitely feel more like you're in a family friend's dining room, rather than a restaurant. Let's just call it colorful.
I usually describe Philippine Cuisine to those who have asked as "a lot of meat and sauce," which is fairly accurate. It's also almost always guaranteed indigestion, which means it's delicious.
We started with the lightest thing on the menu: San Mig Light, brewed in Manila. Totally decent light beer, goes well with cutting down on some of the heavier flavors. Also aids in the indigestion. Sweet.
Ahhh, lumpia, aka Filipino egg roll. Possibly the most well known flipino food stuff there is, and for good reason. It's da bomb. These were thumb-sized nuggets of ground pork, carrots and onion, fried to a deep golden brown. They were served with a typical Asian sweet and sour sauce, but everyone has their own version of dipping sauce. I could have demolished this entire plate in about five minutes, but I was feeling generous. I'm definitely that one person at the family functions who eats the majority of the lumpia. No shame in my game.
Garlic fried rice was a must and quite possibly the predominate factor in my belches in the following hours.
We ordered the Bistek Tagalog. I'm really not sure of the literal translation of this name. What I do know is that Tagalog is the main dialect of the Philippines and I imagine that "bistek" is what "beefsteak" sounds like in a Filipino accent. I'll have to check with my Lola on this one. I only had a bite of this as I was saving myself for the onslaught of the rest of the meal, but it was flavorful. It's a really simple recipe and consists of sirloin marinated in garlic, black pepper, soy sauce, and calamansi (southeast asian lime).
Also a must was the chicken adobo, which is another popular Filipino dish. The "adobo" refers to the style of cooking which is essentially a meat stewed in vinegar, rather then the red adobo sauce you might associate with Latin American dishes. Like many adobos I've had, the meat was fall off the bone tender and you get a really nice tangy flavor from the vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and bay leaf.
Who likes peanut butter and oxtail stew? Meeeeee! And is that a vegetable you spy down there? Why yes, yes it is. There's not a whole lot of vegetables that appear in filipino cooking, but kare-kare is a rich and delicious stew made with eggplant, bok choy, string beans, peanut butter, toasted rice and oxtail. Did I mention it was rich?
Kare-kare is typically eaten with bagoong (the blob of deep purple below) which is a fermented shrimp paste and quite possibly accounts for your sodium intake for two weeks. Not for the faint of heart.
And now for the pièce de résistance: the crispy pata. Yes, please! The day leading up to this outing, all I could think of was crispy pata and Barrio Fiesta delivered. Oh my gee. For those who don't know about this dish, it's a poached, then deep fried whole hind leg of a pig, knuckles and all. Fatty: check. Pork that's melt-in-your-mouth good with crispy skin to go along with it: double check.
Here's a pic of the plate of food before I went to town. Note that I handled that goodness with the typical filipino style fork and spoon action. A totally effective way of transporting meat and sauce into your mouth.
Barrio Fiesta hit the spot this night and if you're ever in the neighborhood and craving Filipino food, definitely give it a try.
Because I absolutely adore her, I'll leave you with one of my favorite things my Lola has ever said, that I think helps to sum up the Filipino food culture. She was once coercing a vegetarian friend of mine to eat some meat-laden dishes, to which he replied, "No, thank you. I don't eat meat." To which she replied, "You can eat this one, it has pork."
Oh, snap Lola!
*Chiara lives in LA with her cat Pinky, who does tricks for food. Similarly, Chiara will also do tricks for food and thinks about eating a lot.