Filipino food culture embraces comfort and communal eating: Think big bowls of rice, homemade sausages, warming adobo sauce and bone broths with freshly made noodles. With ingredients and techniques adopted from India, China, the United States and Spain, it’s a global cuisine now igniting a frenzy across the continent.
Bad Saint, a funky restaurant in Washington, recently became the first Filipino spot on Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurants list. Long-time casual haunts are getting new customers while trendier, more contemporary restaurants have been opening in major Canadian cities over the last two years. With Filipinos accounting for just over 1 per cent of Canada’s population, we’re well poised to keep up.
Our most central city, Winnipeg, has the highest percentage of Filipino residents in the country, almost 7 per cent of the city’s population. One of the cuisine’s most energetic advocates is Winnipeg resident Allan Pineda, who works by day as a medical supply room aide, then trades in his scrubs for an apron to host a series of popular pop-up dinners in existing restaurants under the name Baon Manila Nights, each time featuring a different chef.
“We started out of necessity, because many people had not tasted or even knew of Filipino food and yet almost every other Asian cuisine [seemed commonplace],” explains Pineda, a proud Filipino-Canadian, when asked why he launched his pop-up dinner concept in 2015. “It gave me an outlet to express my food, style and creativity to people and at the same time gives them a glimpse of the many things [Filipino cuisine] has to offer.” He’s since collaborated on dinners in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto, as well as at the Savor Filipino festival in Oakland, Calif., which is the largest celebration of the cuisine in North America.
His next pop-up is on Dec.11 at the Winnipeg institution Stella’s. Here are five new-ish Filipino restaurants across the country where you can taste the breadth and depth of the cuisine.
After several seasons running the popular food truck, Pimp My Rice, Roddy Seradilla recently found the perfect brick-and-mortar space to showcase his cultural cuisine. The lively restaurant focuses on shared plates, including adobo-glazed chicken wings, spring rolls stuffed with spiced minced pork and brimming bowls of rice with fried eggs and longanisa, the Filipino sausage equivalent to chorizo.
Must-try dish: Lumpia Shanghai (Filipino-style spring rolls)
637 Corydon Ave., 204-615-7423, bisita.ca
Montreal’s premier Filipino eatery opened two years ago in the Griffintown neighbourhood. Owned by local DJ/brother duo Jojo and Toddy Flores, the bright dining destination has blue and orange chairs and decal-spattered tabletops that invoke a busy market. Opt for plates of sweetly slow-cooked adobo pork, or pancit noodles stir-fried with shrimp and vegetables. Make sure to use lots of the famous “all-purpose sauce” – a sweet-and-sour condiment made with brown sugar and vinegar that sits on every table. As the name implies, it’s an ideal addition to most things.
Must-try dish: Kamayan-style dinner (communal dishes are served on top of banana leaves for diners to eat with their hands)
1964 Notre-Dame St. W., 514-944-8636
Lamesa Filipino Kitchen, Toronto
The country’s most acclaimed restaurant of its genre, Lamesa is also a Canadian trailblazer, aiming to make classic Filipino dishes appealing to non-Filipino fine diners. It’s open for lunch and dinner, plus weekend brunch: there’s adobo chicken with a fried egg, rice and a pineapple mimosa for weekend brunch; corned beef lumpia with banana ketchup over the lunch hour and ube leche flan with calamansi gel to finish. The crown jewel is the chef’s tasting menu, which offers a multitude of creations that stretch the limits of the cuisine’s humble roots.
Must-try dish: Cauliflower Ginataan (grilled cauliflower stems, creamy coconut cauliflower purée and pickled florets)
669 Queen St. W., 647-346-2377, lamesafilipinokitchen.com
Oohmami Pares House and Noodle Bar, Calgary
With its fairly unassuming location in a little strip mall many blocks west of the trendy stretch of 17th Avenue, Oohmami is like a diamond in the food-scene rough. The thoughtfully designed room has a warmly lit open kitchen serving up satiating dishes like limo cola chicken wings. The namesake noodle soup is made with a rich pork broth, chicken, roast pork and asado sauce: a mix of brown sugar, soy and five spice sauce that adds serious depth. The hip-hop soundtrack makes it a fun place for a date.
Must-try dish: Pancit Oohmami (pork broth with freshly made wheat noodles, poached chicken, roast pork shoulder and a soft-boiled egg)
2711 17 Ave. SW., 587-352-0057, oohmami.ca
Platito Filipino Soul Food, Toronto
It doesn’t matter if you arrive with one friend or four, chef Karlo Cunanan’s shared plate approach ensures a spectrum of ingredients and flavours. The Lechon Kawali – fried pork belly with pickled papaya – is a lovely example of how Filipino cuisine balances salty, rich and tangy flavours. Kare-kare, braised beef in a robust peanut sauce, is a comfort on a snowy night in Toronto. Ooou-bae cheesecake makes one of the culture’s most popular ingredients, purple yam, into something mouthwateringly memorable.
Must-try dish: Chicken and Ube Waffles
35 Baldwin St., 647-347-0135, platitotoronto.com