Home is Where the Lechon Is

– By A.

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Kalabasa, a mixed vegetable dish, and sinigang, a sour soup, served at Mang Dedoy.

When you think Japanese, you think sushi and ramen. When you think Vietnamese, you think Phở. Italian, spaghetti. Mexican, tacos. Generalizations aside, many cultures have plenty of staple foods in the American mainstream consciousness, instantly recognizable and appreciated by many.

What about Filipino food?

There might be a long pause in trying to come up with something. Which is a bit of a shame. The Filipino American community makes up the second largest Asian American demographic in the United States, coming up at 3.4 million people as of the 2010 Census. Second only to Chinese Americans, 19.7 percent of the Asian American population in the country… and yet people can find a Thai restaurant more easily than a Filipino restaurant. Once again, a shame, that Filipino cuisine is so underrated to the American mainstream consciousness.

The Philippines as a country is a hodgepodge of cultures, from Native cultures, to Chinese and Spanish cultures as well. For example, the word ‘Filipino’ is derived from the Spanish name for The Philippines, ‘Las Islas Filipinas.’

And this mixture of culture and heritage has made its way to the food as a spice.

Filipino foods usually emphasize three specific flavors. Namely, sweet, sour, and salty. And through combining these flavors, that’s where the uniqueness of Filipino cuisine comes from. Sinigang, a sour soup, champorado, a sweet cocoa rice dish, are but a few examples of the types of dishes the Philippines offer.

Of course, you can’t neglect to mention lechon. Lechon is a fully roasted pig, but it is also a symbol of Filipino culture and cuisine, and a delicacy.

Filipino food may be harder to come across in America, but it isn’t impossible. And within Austin, there are a few places worth checking out. Like Little Mama’s, or Gammad Oriental Store and restaurant, and Mang Dedoy is another good example. A Filipino restaurant on Anderson Mill Road, it’s as easy to miss as it is for it to leave an impact on you, especially for newcomers to Filipino cuisine.

It’s an unassuming place. The first thing you see are shelves full of Filipino goods and snacks. Filipino movies too if you wanted to see what the overseas film scene is like. As for the restaurant proper, it’s a bit farther back. At Mang Dedoy, you can pick and choose from a menu of staples within the Filipino cuisine.

Mary Morgan, the owner of the restaurant, explained what differentiates Filipino food from food of other cultures.

“It’s labor intensive,” she said, “And there’s a lot of love in that. The time to cook it is not that long, but it requires fresh ingredients. Also, it’s unique because there is a lot of history in every entrée. For example, the adobo.”

Adobo is a dish that involves marinating a meat in a sauce of vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, and it is characterized by its brown color. Chicken is the most popular meat to use in adobo.

“For generations and generations, those recipes were passed down,” Morgan said.
“And there are about 7,100 islands in the Philippines, and that’s how many types of variations adobo has. It varies every region.”

For those who are unfamiliar with Filipino food in general, Morgan recommended six dishes to start off with. Pork sinigang, chicken adobo, beef steak, which is thinly cut beef cooked in gravy and sweet onion, lechon kawali, deep fried pork belly, and pancit bihon, very thin fried rice noodles. All come served with white rice, of course.

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Putting sinigang on rice is a popular way of eating the dish.

“Those are the must-haves if you have a Filipino restaurant,” Morgan said, “People that go to your store, your restaurant, those are the things they will be looking for.”

Another reason why Filipino food is so special is the emphasis on family. Many of the dishes were designed with large family gatherings in mind. If the food isn’t good, as Morgan explained, people won’t stick around.

“My personal favorite foods are the ones I can relate going back home. The taste of home in the Philippines. Adobo, and pork sinigang, those are my favorites. Those are the ones my mom would serve.”

Mang Dedoy has in business for 10 years, and is still trying to bring the Filipino culture to more people. In December 2016, Mang Dedoy will debut a buffet, with all of the classics and staples, in order to promote the Filipino culture in Austin. Because, while it may not be as well known, Filipino food is worth bring to America’s table.

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