A huge highlight of my trip to NYC last June, and probably of my 2013 travel adventures, was visiting two restaurants specializing in Filipino food in the East Village: Jeepney, and its sister establishment, Maharlika.
If you’ve read my About page, then you know I’m a second-generation Filipino-Canadian. For the last 2-3 years, I’ve been exploring pretty intensely what that means. I’ve been lucky to visit the Philippines three times in the last four years, and have poked around about my family tree, visited for the first time the area where my dad grew up, experienced island, rural and and urban settings, and went on this paradigm-shifting tour that was part performance art, part history lesson in Manila.
So when Jeepney and Maharlika were recommended to us, I felt a duty to go check it out and support. But what I thought would be a simple excursion for a traditional Filipino meal of rice and meat, ended up being an exploration of contemporary Filipino design, culture and identity in NYC that still resonates today.
At Jeepney we stopped by for the purple Filipino national dessert, halo-halo (check out my recipe for mini halo-halos here here). Jeepeny takes the best elements of North American gastropub, and reintrepts it through the lens of a young, in-the-know, Filipino adult.
Rather than your traditional Irish or English pub or even Williamsburg bar, this was a different kind of colorful and cozy gathering space. Bar snacks here are pork rinds not peanuts. And fish and chips isn’t the specialty here, it’s pancit (Filipino noodles). Candles aren’t in mason jars but in dollar-store glass vials with Jesus and Mary on the front. And the images covering the walls aren’t black and white photos of boats or men in suits – it’s a mural of the first Filipino lady to appear in Playboy.
I had a field day snapping photos of the different fonts on the storefront and in the store.
As an Anthony Bourdain fan, I loved how they invited him to take another crack at visiting the Philippines (totally agree that episode was a snooze).
Maharlika was like a grown up, classy version of Jeepney, and where we had dinner on another night. We had appetizers like Spam fries and dishes like fried Filipino chicken with ube waffles while 90′s R&B classics like Toni Braxton and Next played in the background. A capiz shell light hung from the ceiling (which I’ve been wanting to get for our apartment for a while now). Instead of a huge wooden fork and spoon hanging on the wall (as found in many Filipino homes), there was a silver pair. The servers all wore shirts proudly stating “My Best Friend is Filipino” in stenciled letters.
The whole experience of hanging out at these two spaces, founded by young Filipino entrepreneurs, made me super proud . While Filipinos make up a large part of the American and Canadian population, Filipino cuisine hasn’t really been sought out compared to other Asian cuisines like Chinese, Japanese, Thai or even Malaysian. It kind of makes sense that this generation of younger Filipinos are starting to bring attention to the cuisine, where you get to taste both the food but also a piece of Filipino culture and identity. As of last week, apparently halo-halo is the “it” dessert in NYC and a few months again it was named as possibly the next “it” cuisine.
It’s kind of funny that instead of “how are you”, Filipinos use the phrase “come eat now” to greet people. Find me in the kitchen next trying to cook up some classic Filipino dishes. Experimenting with old and new techniques and ingredients. And inviting some friends over to share.