Nosh Box: The Rodney Dangerfield of Asian Food
Filipino cuisine combines sweet, sour, and salty flavors, using vinegar and fish sauce as common ingredients.
October presents an ideal time to focus attention on an Asian cuisine that really doesn’t get the respect it deserves. With 1.5 million Filipino-Americans throughout California, the East Bay is well populated, driving the increasing popularity of this cuisine.
More than 7,000 miles away from Oakland, in the western Pacific Ocean, the Philippines form an archipelago. That’s a sesquipedalian term for a group of islands, like the Farallons, the Hawaiian Islands, the Channel Islands, or the state of Alaska.
But there are more than 7,600 unique isles in the Philippine group. That number means a massive spread—and more than 100 ethnic-linguistics groups. The results translate to a very diverse cuisine that’s much more than the familiar lumpias, pancit, and adobo.
Filipino cuisine combines sweet, sour, and salty flavors, using vinegar and fish sauce as common ingredients. Like in most Asian countries, rice is an essential Filipino food. It’s most often steamed, then paired with fish, meat, vegetables, or fruit—like coconuts, plantains, and mangoes. Leftovers often are fried. But instead of chopsticks, Western cutlery dominates: usually a fork and spoon.
If unfamiliar with Filipino cuisine, now is an ideal time to get acquainted —and here are some local eateries to make the introduction pleasurable.
FOB Kitchen – 5179 Telegraph Ave., (510) 817-4169. Open kitchen, food and drink for families. Brunch and dinner, with a full bar.
Lucky Three Seven – 2868 Fruitvale Ave, (510) 789-6343. Serving large portions of freshly sourced, traditional street food.
Flip n Soul – 2101 14th Ave., (510) 500-7586. Authentic island soul food, including shrimp and fried chicken. Credit cards, but no alcohol.
7TH West – 1255 7th Street, (415) 290-6501. West Oakland’s answer to Filipino classics, with a broad selection of craft brews and cider on tap.
Cabalen Sweet & Savory – 3331 International Blvd., (510) 200-2951. Pancit, adobo, lumpia, they’re all here. Kid-friendly, and it takes credit cards.
The Lumpia Company – 372 24th St., (415) 758-0644. Try the Bacon cheeseburger lumpia for a tasty, handcrafted, deep-fried, fusion treat.
Cabalen Sweet & Savory, 3331 International Blvd., (510) 200-2951. A Fruitvale favorite, serving middle-eastern foods as well.
Café Gabriela – 988 Broadway, (510) 763-2233. Sandwiches are the standout at this downtown spot serving the Chinatown and Old Oakland districts.
Likha – 4000 Adeline St., Emeryville, (510) 250-9311. Pop-up restaurant in the Hometown Heroes sports bar produces incredible food.
Sampaguita Fil-Am Cuisine 1216 Lincoln Ave., Alameda, (510) 865-2931. Authentic island food in a brick-and-mortar eatery.
Parekoy Lutong Pinoy – 14807 E 14th St., San Leandro, (510) 614-8112. Breakfast, lunch and dinner in an upscale interior. Pinoy food, made with love.
Toto’s Grill – 21933 Foothill Blvd., Hayward, (510) 674-9338. Lunch and dinner, near downtown, on Hwy. 238. Credit cards, but no alcohol.
DIY Hack – There’s no need to dine out to taste Filipino treats. Try this simple but authentic clam recipe that uses water instead of wine, but packs a ton of flavor from bold aromatics, like fresh ginger and garlic, boosted by oyster sauce. It all comes together in one pot. And it’s table-ready from start to finish in less than 20 minutes.
In a large pot with a lid, heat 2 tbsp. EVOO over medium heat. Add 1 medium diced onion and 2 cloves minced garlic. Then cook about 4 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp oyster sauce, along with a 2-inch finger of grated fresh ginger. Cook covered another 2 minutes. Pour in ½ cup water, cover, and cook 2 additional minutes. Finally add 2-1/4 pounds Manila clams in the shell, scrubbed. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook about 5 minutes, until the clams have opened. Discard any that do not. Serve with steamed rice or stir-fried pancit noodles.
While the capital city is Manila, despite their name, Manila clams aren’t from the Philippines. They’re an invasive species from Japan that now populate our West Coast, from Canada to Northern California. But they’re very tasty, and so far no one complains too loudly.
Other October Odds and Ends
Pumpkin Spice: Manufacturers and fast-food outlets cash in on this seasonal phenomenon that’s approaching a year-round fad. Look for Starbucks, Penzeys Spice, Auntie Anne, Captain Morgan’s, and the local bakery to hawk seasonal products featuring a blend of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, mace, and cloves.
Halloween BOLF: According to an EATER newsletter, “Skittles has launched its signature spooky candy of the year: … ‘rotten zombie’ flavor, described by the brand as ‘utterly disgusting.’ Imagine eating rotten cabbage.” The zombie confections are co-mingled within packs of other traditional flavors, making them both trick-or-treat and caveat emptor.
Farm to Table: Checking local produce at peak availability, three popular cruciferous vegetables known for their contributions to good health are available all month: Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, and cabbages. So here’s to healthy October eating—offsetting that Halloween candy!