San Francisco is home to an affluence of thriving culinary cultures. It seems most streets are dotted with exotic eateries boasting flavors from Mexico to Burma, and some neighborhoods are even designated as ethnic meccas like the Tenderloin’s Little Saigon and Lower Pac Heights’ Japantown, which are crammed with authentic restaurants. Regardless of this immense variety, San Francisco seems to be lacking the presence of Philippine cuisine.
An informal poll of our staff revealed that no local Filipino restaurant could be quickly called to mind. A Google search suggested that San Francisco’s most popular Filipino food is mobile — sneaking around the city in food trucks like Hapa SF and Adobo Hobo. This meager representation is most likely related to the fact that Pacific Islanders make up about 0.4 per cent of the city’s population. But for a cuisine with such vibrant flavors and deep roots in the home kitchen, it seems unusual that there is no magnetic hub of Filipino food in San Francisco.
Filipino cuisine is known for its bold, pungent taste, characterized by a calculated barrage of sweet, savory and salty flavors. It found its own booming voice amid a flood of influences ranging from Malaysia, India, Western Europe, and the Middle East. “Although quite different from, say, Thai food, there is a similar flavor dynamic going on,” says production chef Leigh. In Filipino adobo, which is affectionately referred to as the national dish of the Philippines, the balance is achieved by braising the protein — in this case, pork — in a marinade of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and bay leaf. When reduced, the liquid transforms into a sticky, flavorful sauce.
Though this is a traditional way to make adobo, chef Leigh says preparations can vary. “Every cook has her own special or regional way to make the dish — some versions even contain 7-Up or Sprite.” Our adobo recipe follows the Visayan style of using dried oregano and fermented black bean paste. “It adds a funky, salty element to the dish, but will balance the sweetness of the pork,” says Leigh of the traditional Chinese paste. Creating an intricately-layered union from these intense culinary stimuli is an art, and it is the signature of Philippine cuisine. The possibility of a Little Manila has us licking our lips in excited anticipation.
Where are your favorite local Filipino eateries? Let us know in the comments.