Filipino food's bold flavors grow in popularity

The Fresno BeeJune 23, 2014 

Foods with names like lechon, pancit and adobo may be unfamiliar to the average person, but if food critics are right, these traditional Filipino dishes may be the next big thing in the food world.

Interest in Filipino cuisine has been growing over the years and two of its biggest champions are well-known food critics, Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern.

Both have sung the praises of Filipino food, including a sour and spicy dish of boiled, broiled and grilled pork pieces called sizzling sisig that Bourdain once described as a "divine mosaic of pig parts."

Fans of Filipino food say they like the mixture of Asian and Spanish influences. The dishes are extremely flavorful and hearty. It is sort of like comfort food with an Asian twist.

Generally speaking, Filipino food has a salty, garlic and vinegar-tasting flavor profile. The dishes are not overly spicy, although some dishes made with the labuyo chili pepper can be fiery hot.

Fortunately for Fresno, the city is home to several Filipino restaurants, including Jowli's Filipino Cuisine at Cedar and Herndon avenues, Angry Asian at First and Nees avenues, and Waa's Kitchen at Shields and Maroa. Also, next door to Waa's is the Fil-Am Oriental Market that stocks many Filipino stables like fish sauce and frozen milk fish.

Rudy Rigon, owner of the market, said Filipino food has many distinct qualities and flavors but some of the more common dishes are:

Pancit: Noodles that often are combined with vegetables or meat.

Adobo: A pork or chicken dish that is stewed in vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, peppercorns and bay leaves.

Lechon: A whole roasted pig.

Lumpia: A spring roll that can be filled with vegetable or meat ingredients.

There is even a dish called menudo that is made of diced pork and potatoes, carrots, green bell peppers, soy sauce, vinegar and tomato sauce.

"When you eat Filipino food, you discover layers of different flavors," Rigon says. "But cooking Filipino food is not always easy. It can be a process."

At Jowli's, co-owner Lilian Delmando, said that while a majority — 80% — of her customers are Filipino, she has seen an increase in non-Filipinos since the restaurant opened two years ago.

"More people are slowly finding out about Filipino food," Delmando says. "They are realizing it is so much different from anything they have had before."

Jowli's has dozens of items on its menu with some of the more popular dishes being the pancit, lumpia, adobo, and crispy pata — a pork delicacy that requires, boiling, baking and deep frying pig hocks into crispy and moist chunks of pork.

The adobo can be made with either chicken or pork and is cooked in an aromatic sauce of vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, black pepper and bay leaf. The result is a tender meat with an appetizing smell.

Also popular at Jowli's are the breakfast dishes, which include tocino and longanisa. Tocino is a sweeter, juicier and thicker version of bacon, and longanisa is mild-tasting and slightly sweet sausage.

For the truly adventurous eaters, you can try one of the many specialty dishes like dinuguan, a pork stew simmered in dark gravy of beef blood, garlic, vinegar and vinegar.

Jowli's also recently opened a bakery where you can buy one of their many sweet treats including the colorful spongy cakes made from rice flour, cassava cake, made from the cassava root, and mango cake, a light and airy dessert.

Efren Evangelista, owner of the Angry Asian (formerly the Manila Grill), said among his restaurant's specialties are the lechon (a whole roasted pig), crispy pata and goat caldereta, stewed goat meat with tomato sauce.

"We marinate the goat meat and stew it two to three hours until the meat gets very tender," Evangelista says. "It is very filling and very delicious."

Evangelista is also proud of his whole pigs, which are roasted for at least four hours.

"When it is done, you get a nice, crispy skin that people love," Evangelista says. "The skin is always the first to go because it has so much flavor."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service