I have tons of Filipino friends, but for some reason I don’t know much about their food. I guess it’s because Filipino restaurants haven’t caught on like Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese. Recently I resolved that this was unacceptable, that I had to get closer to Filipino cuisine.
At Mel’s Fast Food and Catering II—catchy name, huh?—you’ll find lots of options for trying Filipino cuisine, with several different sizes of containers to fill, ranging from $2.50 to $10. They will cater your parties, too, so big orders don’t scare them.
They have a help-yourself hot food bar, and that’s where I got started. As I filled my containers I asked lots of questions, since I didn’t know the names of the dishes or the ingredients within them. But each time I left Mel’s with my lunch purchases I learned a bit more. Filipino cuisine is quite distinct and sophisticated, with Spanish, Chinese and American influences in their dishes.
One of the more famous is chicken or pork adobo, which is a mainstay in the Filipino diet. The meat is marinated and stewed in a vinegar and soy sauce gravy, then served tender, the meat practically falling from the bone. Pork and peas is another stew dish that’s very popular and hearty. They always seem to have a dish that incorporates a seasonal squash with meat in a tasty gravy.
Lately they’ve featured pumpkin, in tender succulent pieces along with black beans and pork. It was tangy and delicious. I also tried the pumpkin with prawns, which is served in a sophisticated sauce. It was fancy but still just $2.50.
One morning I was in a starchy mood, so I opted for fried doughnuts, called cascaron. They’re made from rice flour and were rich and sweet with just a hint of coconut. I also picked up some pancit, the main starch noodle dish in Filipino cooking. I like that Mel’s mixed up their pancit: it can be made with thin small egg noodles, thicker spaghetti-size egg noodles or rice noodles.
Mel’s uses a medium egg noodle, and stir-fries it with lots of veggies, like cabbage and carrots. You’ll also find some seasoned chicken or pork in there. The pancit has a lot of flavor without being overwhelming, and it reflects the varied spices and ingredients inherent in Filipino cooking.
Look around enough and you’ll spot some more exotic items like okra, bittermelon, eggplant as well as tripe and pig’s foot.
Start with the pig’s foot stew. A light brothy dish surrounds the meaty foot with chunks of potato, cabbage and carrot thrown in. It’s a very soothing dish that could probably make a cold go away. I also enjoyed the mung bean and bittermelon leaf soup, which is a salty and filling hot dish that goes well with a side of steamed rice. MTW