From Dishwasher to Master Dish Innovator (An Interview with Timpla’s Co-Chef)

It’s an American Dream in the making. Or shall we say a Filipino- American Dream. Paolo Dungca, one of the founders and chefs of Timpla, a supper club in Washington DC, isn’t ashamed of his humble food beginnings.

Chef Paolo Dungca

Born in San Fernando, Pampanga and raised in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Paolo followed his mother and brother to the land of opportunity when he was thirteen. The United States has become his home since.

Paolo’s first job in the food industry was a dishwasher in a restaurant in Disneyland. Working there cemented his passion and aspirations to rise in the kitchen’s hierarchy. From the lowest rung of the ladder, Paolo toiled his way up. A few years later he was working elbow- to-elbow with distinguished chefs, such as Chef Kevin Meehan in Los Angeles, , Chef Jeffrey Buben in Washington, DC  and Chef Cathal Armstrong in Alexandria.

Together with his three teammates, Paolo utilizes his finely honed skills into creating masterful dishes for Timpla, a Filipino word for a blend or a mix. Just as their name suggests, their food is neither Filipino nor American, but a blend of their cultural identities – Filipino-American.


Timpla Team ( JR, Kristina, Katrina,  and Paolo)

 MFB: What was it like for you, of Filipino heritage, to move to the US?

PD: It was tough assimilating to a new country as a teenager because of the language barrier and cultural differences, but luckily we moved to Los Angeles, CA where there were many Filipinos. It felt like home. However, many Filipinos in LA couldn’t speak Tagalog, so interestingly the language barrier was just as apparent with Fil-Ams as it was with Americans.

In terms of food, I never really experienced a shift. When I moved to America I was old enough to understand the difference between Filipino and American cuisines. Furthermore, there are numerous Filipino joints in Los Angeles so I never really felt deprived: Jollibee was 10 minutes away from my house, Goldilocks was nearby, Gerry’s Grill, Seafood City, Chow King, etc. I always had Filipino food around me, unlike my Timpla teammates JR, Katrina, and Kristina, who growing up, had to travel 4-5 hours to the closest Jollibee.

MFB: How did you get started in food? What prompted you and your team to set-up Timpla?

PD: My first restaurant job was washing dishes at Golden Vine Winery (GVW) in Disneyland.


Golden Vine Winery in Disneyland

While working, I saw my friends in the kitchen cooking with pressed white coats and face glimmering from the grill fires. I wanted to be like them. So when a position opened up in the kitchen, I applied for it and became a line cook. That’s when I fell in love with cooking. I loved the adrenaline, the rush, the push, the intensity of the kitchen, and the true value of teamwork. I loved the process of creating something from start to finish, the reward of creating something delicious and seeing the satisfaction from guests. I worked at GVW for 3 years and worked my way from line cook to lead line. I enjoyed the ambience at GVW but wanted to expand my knowledge of culinary arts and learn about different cuisines and techniques.

After leaving GVW, I met Chef Kevin Meehan of Kali Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA.


Paolo (left) with Chef Kevin Meehan (right)

At the time, he was doing supper clubs and that was when I learned the ins and outs of running a supper club. He served contemporary California cuisine using local ingredients and modern techniques. It was under his mentorship that I realized that I wanted to imitate his style, but with Filipino cuisine.

In 2014, I moved to the east coast and worked at Vidalia in Washington, DC, where I was exposed to the fine dining scene in DC.


Vidalia: (Photo credit: Eater Washington DC)


Paolo with Chef Jeffrey BubenChef Paolo (right) with Chef Jeffrey Buben (left), owner & chef of Vidalia

While working at Vidalia, I was offered a sous chef position at an upcoming Filipino restaurant, Bad Saint. I helped open Bad Saint working alongside Chef Tom Cunanan, where I learned how to push the boundaries of Filipino cuisine. He taught me the importance of researching different regions in the Philippines and going in-depth to unearth the stories behind the dishes.


Bad Saint- Filipino Restaurant in DC


Paolo (left) with Chef Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint (right)

I am currently a sous chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. Working under acclaimed Chef Cathal Armstrong has taught me the importance of using quality products to create the best food, as well as the grit and discipline needed to become a great restaurant.


Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo Credit: Restaurant Eve

Coincidentally, Chef Cathal is opening a Filipino, Thai and Korean Restaurant all under one roof in D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront in fall 2017.  The upcoming Asian restaurant will be named after the Filipino word for left, Kaliwa.


Paolo with Chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve

At Timpla, I implement the things I’ve learned from my experiences. My co-chef JR Rena and I tap our memories of Filipino dishes growing up and use our restaurant experiences to push the cuisine further. The story of how Timpla came about is a long one. You can read about it in our blog:

Timpla-Kinilaw na TalabaTimpla’s Kinilaw na Talaba (Oyster)

MFB: Please define your concept for Timpla. How is it different from other Filipino-themed supper clubs?

Timpla-KareKareChef Paolo’s version of Kare-Kare: Braised Oxtail, Charred Eggplant, Baby Bokchoy,Wild Mushrooms, Shrimp Paste Gel, Peanut Veloute

PD: Timpla’s supper club consists of a 5-course menu displaying Filipino dishes with modern culinary techniques and seasonal inspirations. As Filipino-Americans, we cannot distinguish ourselves as either Filipino or American, but as combinations of both cultures. When constructing our dishes, we take inspiration from our blended cultural upbringing, empowering us to push past the traditional and into the innovative. Our cuisine tells the complex, yet immensely gratifying story of finding your place in a melting pot culture. You can read more about the details here:


Timpla’s Crab Sinigang (Photo credit: @masterpupeteer)

MFB: Which Filipino dishes are the favorites/ bestsellers among your guests? What are the comments? 

PD: We don’t have a bestseller because the menu changes every supper club based on the seasons and what’s available at the farmers’ markets. One of the best comments we received is our “boldness” in not serving rice with our dishes. When we first started Timpla, one of our priorities was to eliminate rice because we believe Filipino dishes can stand on their own. We have achieved that, but with some push-back from more traditional guests who feel like their meals aren’t complete without rice.


Timpla’s Adobong Pugita (Photo Credit: Costa Photography)

MFB: What is your guest/target market profile?

PD:We get an interesting mix of attendees at our supper club: half are usually Fil-Ams who grew up eating traditional Filipino cuisine and are curious to try our modern interpretation; the other half are people who have never or seldom experienced Filipino food and are drawn to a supper club serving a cuisine they don’t know much about. We create an intimate setting of 10 guests per dinner and it’s been great hearing Filipino guests share with the non-Filipino guests their experiences with the dishes and their opinions on our interpretation.

Timpla Supper Club



Timpla’s Ginataang Soft Shell Crab

MFBHas Filipino food crossed over in DC? Why or why not?

It’s slowly becoming more exposed. Restaurants,such as Bad Saint, Purple Patch, and Restaurant Eve are showcasing flavors from the Philippines in different ways and educating diners on what Filipino cuisine is. They each have their own interpretation and present the food in their own way, but at the end of the day we’re all working towards bringing Filipino cuisine to the mainstream.

MFB: What is the general perception on Philippine cuisine in DC?

People just aren’t aware of it. Non-Filipinos haven’t had much of it with the exception of a Filipino neighbor’s party, or a Filipino friend bringing lumpia to a potluck. For Filipinos who grew up here, they expect traditional cuisine and are more critical of restaurants that make the food more upscale.


Timpla’s Sinigang: snapper, radish, tamarind dashi poured table side

MFB: What do you consider as your greatest challenges and accomplishments?

The greatest challenge would be pushing boundaries and presenting traditional dishes in a modern way, while still preserving authenticity. How do we make Filipino food elegant enough for non-Filipinos to enjoy, but at the same time retain the comfort and heart that reminds you of home? Additionally, we challenge ourselves to use seasonal high-quality ingredients at every supper club, which forces us to consistently change the menu. These challenges become our accomplishments when executed correctly and the guests go home with a new appreciation for Filipino cuisine.


Timpla’s Cassava Cake

MFB: What are your goals in the next few years?

PD:We want to continue with Timpla and expose people to the wonders of our cuisine. We want to keep researching in depth the different layers of our culture and hopefully travel to the homeland to experience the food ourselves and learn from the locals.

MFB: If someone asks you for advice about opening a Filipino-inspired restaurant in DC, what would you say?

PD: Just do it! Good luck!


Connect with Timpla:







by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

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From Dishwasher to Master Dish Innovator (An Interview with Timpla’s Co-Chef)

Top 4 Things Tourists Like Most about the Philippines ( An Interview with PH Tourism Attache for Northern and Southern Europe)

Why is Filipino food unknown in Norway? In June, we asked the couple behind Oslo’s first Filipino restaurant this question. Their reply had something to do with tourism or the lack of tourism initiatives to promote the Philippines as a holiday destination to Norwegians.  To test their theory, I consulted, the go-to website in Norway for people in search of everything but (or maybe including) the kitchen sink. I hit “pakkereiser” or holiday packages:  400 results for Thailand, zero for the Philippines. Contrary to Filipino food, Thai food is popular in Norway. Coincidence or proof?


To shed more light on the link between tourism and cuisine and Philippine tourism in general, let’s ask Tourism Attaché and Director for Northern and Southern Europe Department of Tourism, Gerard Panga. Gerard , has been with the Department of Tourism (DOT) for twenty-two years, with previous assignments in Taiwan and China. He took over the London Office in Feb. 2016 with jurisdiction over UK & Ireland, the Nordic Countries, Spain and Italy.  Gerard has been very kind to immediately accept my invite for a Q &A.

Gerard Panga
Mr. Gerard Panga – Tourism Attache and Director for Northen and Southern Department of Tourism

MFB: Please tell us about the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign.

 GP: The “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” (IMFITP) campaign was launched in January 2012. The slogan was created to rebrand the Philippines anchored on:

  • the strength and character of the Filipinos as very hospitable and fun-loving people
  • the beauty of our destinations and exciting activities which guarantee “more fun” experiences for the visitors.


The campaign started with a catchy slogan and meme, promoted online showing why it’s more fun in the Philippines. The campaign also challenged netizens to create their own memes based on creativity and wit. This became viral, generating thousands of entries, and creating wide scale awareness on the country’s campaign and tagline across all key source markets around the world.

Through the years, DOT intensified its branding campaign and tactical cooperation with the travel trade and media. Along the way, the IMFITP campaign was also cited as one of the best marketing campaigns undertaken by a National Tourist Office.


“…have you eaten?”

MFB: How is the Philippines promoted as a travel destination in Norway?

GP:  We tapped a marketing representative to help us promote the Philippines in the Nordic countries. This office knows well the local travel trade and media networks, and the marketing dynamics to maximize our presence in the market, despite the limited resources. Norway is part of DOT’s opportunity markets.

UK remains the most important and top source market for the Philippines in Europe. This is where most of our marketing resources are allocated.


For Norway and the rest of the Nordic countries, we work closely with big agents and partner airlines on joint marketing to promote the Philippine programs covering soft adventure, leisure, beach holiday, city break, cultural immersion and water sports. All these anchored mainly on our unique selling points – distinct and colorful culture, value-for-money destination, more fun experience and very friendly and peace-loving Filipino people.


MFB: What is the main driver of tourists to the Philippines?

GP: It would be our islands, beaches and related activities, which include water sports, diving, island hopping, beach parties, local cuisine and so on.


Here’s what the department’s visitor profile report tells us:

Top 4 Things Tourists Like Most About the Philippines

  1. People ( warmth and kindness)

  2. Sceneries

  3. Beaches

  4. Food/Beverage


MFB:  Please tell us about Kulinarya Food Trips/Tour Packages. How strong is the push to promote the Philippines as a culinary destination in Northern & Southern Europe



GP: Kulinarya tours bring tourists to destinations such as Manila’s downtown, Pampanga, Cavite, Quezon and Bicol, to name a few. These tours showcase the specialities of the region, province, town and even family recipes. They feature unique food preparation techniques, history and traditions.

For Northern and Southern Europe, the packages being promoted would still tend to highlight sun and beach, diving and adventure. But recently, with the aim of putting our Philippine culinary heritage on international centre stage, we participated in Spain’s most recognized culinary event – Madrid Fusion 2015 and 2016 editions. We had three of our best chefs invited as presenters in the show with two of them featured in special dinners in the most popular restaurants in Madrid. And for the first time in the history of Madrid Fusion, the Philippines was the first Asian country to be given the honor to host Madrid Fusion outside Spain. Dubbed as Madrid Fusion Manila, the event has brought to the country some of the best and most recognized Michelin chefs as speakers, as well as international media.

 Apart from the formal culinary setting and gourmet experience, Manila was also recognized as one of Asia’s Top 10 street food cities by CNN.

 MFB: In our interview feature with Oslo’s Bread N Butter owners, Reverdy and Abelene Pineda, This is Why Filipino Food is Unknown in Norway (An Interview with the Couple behind Oslo’s First Filipino Restaurant), they said,

“Thai (food) is very popular in Oslo because of the growing tourism, trade and industry between Norway and Thailand. Personally, I think tourism plays a big role in boosting Filipino food in Norway. The Philippines has never been marketed as a vacation paradise for the Scandinavians, unlike Thailand and soon, Vietnam. I think there is a lot of concern about safety, corruption and kidnapping incidents involving foreign tourists in the Philippines. Our country needs to be seen and be visited a lot more. Food is a huge factor for tourists. Norwegians long for Thai food right after a relaxing vacation in Thailand, for example. So again, tourism is the main key to be seen and be known in Norway.”

Please comment on this.

GP:  First of all, I commend the couple for their passion and for breaking through to introduce our cuisine.

Sampling local food is always part of any tour program offered by our tour operators. Independent travelers have unlimited dining options also when exploring our country, from local to international cuisine.  


 As part of my job as a tourism marketer, I get to host and dine a lot with many foreign guests and every time I would ask them about our cuisine, they would always say that our food is tasty.

The correlation between food and tourism may not be absolute. For example,  Maldives is very popular for beach holidays but not necessarily for its food. Dubai is very exciting for shopping and unlimited activity options. Personally, I don’t enjoy Arabic food.

Yes, Philippine food could be more popular if more Norwegians are able to travel to the country. We need not wait for that. Conversely, we may make it as a starting point and catalyst to create more awareness about our food and our country, and propel the people to travel to the Philippines.

We know that our Filipino cuisine is delicious and could be world class. We need more enterprising Filipino restaurateurs.

Certainly, we need to do more to promote Philippine cuisine. As of now, our country as a destination is more known for beaches, soft adventure and our friendly and hospitable people.

Our country has a new government, which is aggressively addressing “travel demotivators”  (i.e. corruption, safety concerns, lack of infra and service facilities, etc.) to mitigate the negative impressions and enhance the awareness and overall confidence in the Philippines for both business and leisure travel.

Travel safety is a universal concern even for us here in Europe.  We are glad there are more Europeans traveling to the Philippines. As of May 2016, travel from Norway to the Philippines increased by 4.25%. Overall European outbound travel is expected to grow at a slower rate of 2.8%.  From our market jurisdiction, we are having bigger growth rates out of UK (14.85%), Sweden (19.18%), Denmark (25.39%), Italy (12.04%) and Spain (26.14%).


MFB: Why is travel growth rate from Norway so much lower compared to neighboring Sweden & Denmark?

GP:  It could be partly related to economic conditions. Sweden is projected to achieve a 3% GDP growth in 2017, Denmark 2% and Norway only 1.6%.

MFB: Why is there a lack of Philippine package tour offers or promotions in Norway?

GP: The Nordic market is an opportunity market for the Philippines. We have full market development projects lined up and this would include the development of products, press and blogger trips and tour operator familiarization trips to the Philippines. In this process, definitely food will be something that can be highlighted while we aim to increase the awareness in the market on the Philippines as a whole.

In our next product presentation and marketing activity with the media and travel agents, we may hold it in a Filipino restaurant or a function room serving Filipino food.


Ad on Vagabond Travel Magazine

MFB: If Filipino food becomes more known abroad, would it open a new or bigger market segment of tourists to the Philippines?

GP: We have recently seen an increasing interest in the Philippines in terms of our culinary heritage.  Filipino food featured in international publications, television shows and various content published and shared in social media, slowly but surely, help it make a mark in the international culinary arena. We are optimistic that Kulinarya would continue to be one of the experiences that our visitors can look forward to.

DOT is also working aggressively to get as many hotels/resorts and restaurants accredited to cater to markets which require or prefer Halal food.

MFB: How many visitors from Norway does the Philippines receive each year? How would you compare this number to other countries, say the UK or Italy? Where do you see Philippine Tourism at in Norway five years from now?

 In 2015, we received these arrivals from our source markets (under our jurisdiction):

                               Norway               20,968 (increase of .59%) compared to previous year

                               Sweden                23,206 (+6.15%)

                                Denmark             15,269 (+6.79%)

                                UK                       154,589 (+15.65%)

                               Spain                     24,144 (+24.76%)

                                Italy                       21,620 (+8.83%)


As we have shown in the other table, we are having a good start for all our markets. Norway is up by 4.25% as of May this year. We hope to sustain our growth momentum amidst the challenges brought about by the Brexit and lower travel appetite among the Europeans because of the terror threats.

For more information about travel to the Philippines:

The Official UK Travel Guide for The Philippines


by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings , the Filipino food anthology project

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.


Top 4 Things Tourists Like Most about the Philippines ( An Interview with PH Tourism Attache for Northern and Southern Europe)

MasterChef New Zealand Opens Another Door to Philippine Cuisine (An interview with the first Filipino Café Owner in Timaru)

In May, we published an article headlined MasterChef Opens a Door to Philippine Cuisine in Auckland, which gained overwhelming readership and comments, especially from followers in New Zealand. Among those who commented was Jonan Castillon.

Jonan wrote,Indeed, Leo (Fernandez)has become an inspiration of many Filipinos, especially those who are in the cooking industry. Somehow, his featuring Filipino food into the NZ limelight through MasterChef has added encouragement to my wife’s pursuing her opening a Filipino cafe in Timaru, months after Leo’s stint in the show. Congratulations on your next venture, Leo. Thank you MFB for this very informative and inspiring article.

I was chuffed to bits (I’m sure Leo Fernandez was too). A door didn’t open only in Auckland, it also spurred an opening in a small port district, more than a thousand kilometers south from the capital city. And this was how the Q & A below began.

Jonan’s wife is Jewel Castillon. She is the woman behind Food Haven, the first Filipino Café in Timaru, a city with a Filipino population of no more than a few hundreds. Her inspiring story is well worth a read.

Jewel Castillon

MFB: Please tell us about your Filipino heritage.

JC: I am from Iloilo, Philippines. I grew up in Ajuy, Iloilo, a town 87 km from Iloilo City. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from Central Philippine University then later my Master of Arts in Psychology from the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City.

My husband Jonan, daughter Jadyn and I came to New Zealand primarily for a change of lifestyle and better opportunities, especially for our daughter.

We wanted a slower pace of life, a place to live where there is balance between work and family. New Zealand is that place for us. The country is beautiful and relatively safer to live.

MFB: Please tell us about the Filipino population and community in Timaru?

We first settled in Auckland in 2011 for almost a year, then moved down to Timaru because of work opportunities for myself and later on, ministry work for my husband, who is a pastor. We got our residence visa in Timaru and stayed here since then.

The whole district of Timaru has a population of less than 50,000 people while Timaru city has a population of around 37,000. Filipinos are a minority here, roughly at one percent.


Timaru (Photo credit:


During our first few months in Timaru, we noticed that most Filipinos we met were married to Kiwis. Then we encountered Filipino families working in dairy farms.

Lately, we have seen the arrival of Filipino professionals moving down here in the south – working as nurses, IT’s and engineers. We have also met several Filipinos who are in the hospitality industry working as chefs in cafés and restaurants in tourist areas like Tekapo and Queenstown.

MFB: Foodwise, what was it like for you to live in New Zealand?

The South Island has a strong English culture. Probably because the first settlers are from England and Scotland and this culture is reflected in their food.

Kiwis in general enjoy a variety of tastes and cuisines. There a number of Indian, Thai, and Chinese restaurants and takeaways here. There are also fast food chains like KFC, McDonald’s or ‘mackers’ as they call it and others more.

What’s obviously missing is street food. The fresh, vibrant kind of outdoor and kiosk-type food stalls.

MFB: How did you get started in food? What prompted you to set-up Food Haven? 

Cooking and baking has always been my passion. I have always wanted to enroll in a culinary school. Even while having a full time work back in the Philippines I used to make and sell pies and cheesecakes as a part time business. I remember I would get lots of apple pie orders in the month of December and I really enjoyed it.

Moving to Timaru from Auckland, I learned about the two-year Diploma in Cookery with Strands in Pattiserie course at former Aoraki Polytechnic now Ara Institute. I thought this could be the chance I’d been waiting for. I enrolled in February 2014.

The school has a very sturdy cookery program. I learned a lot from this course and honed my cooking skills. It was a fruitful and creative two years for me, being able to combine the western way of cooking with our Asian palate and cookery methods.

The fact that there was no Filipino cafe or restaurant in Timaru City was a sign that Filipino food was unknown in the mainstream. We took this as an opportunity to set up a Filipino food business.

Initially we planned to do food business from home, but strict NZ food regulations made us  look for a commercial space to make compliance simpler.  Fortunately, we found an empty cafe in the heart of Timaru City.

With lots of optimism and hard-work, we set sail on this exciting and challenging food business journey.  Along the way, we met friendly and supportive people in the Timaru District Council who helped us in the process.

My husband and I named our café, Food Haven- a place where we offer Filipino food and Filipino hospitality to both kababayans (fellow Filipinos) and local residents.


Food Haven



Food Haven


Food Haven

 Having my own cafe, I am able to design my own dishes.  Most are classic Filipino dishes and some are a fusion of western and Asian ingredients. It’s lots of fun for me to have a venue to express my love for cooking.

It’s not easy to start a business, I have to confess.  A good dose of education, positive attitude, hard work, patience, and perseverance are a must. My previous work and life experiences helped me as well.

Our Christian faith is our rock and foundation that encourages us in all circumstances.  So far things are going well and the future looks bright.

MFB:  How did MasterChef NZ finalist Leo Fernandez encourage you to go for it?

JC: I watched Leo Fernandez on the TV show Master Chef NZ.  I was happy and inspired to see him seize the great opportunity to introduce and showcase our cuisine on national TV.

Through MasterChef, Leo showed that Filipino food can be a mainstream cuisine and at par with other popular cuisine like Korean, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, etc. That encouraged me to start my Filipino food business.

MFB: Please define your concept, target market and goals for Food Haven. Are there any other Filipino food establishments in the area?

JC: Our concept is to offer tasty Filipino food at a reasonable price. Our target market is both Filipinos and Kiwis.  It is also our mission to introduce Filipino food to the locals.  We wanted Food Haven to gradually grow as a Filipino food hub, catering to Filipinos and Kiwis in Timaru, Canterbury and Otago districts.

The closest Filipino restaurant is in a town next to Timaru which is about an hour drive.

MFB: Which Filipino-inspired dishes are the favorites? What were the comments about these dishes? 

Our customers like Batchoy, Adobo, Lechon Kawali, & Pork BBQ. They also love our Sans Rival and Ube cake. It is always very rewarding for me when our customers express their appreciation of our food by either giving a commendation or eating all the food on their plate.



At first, Kiwis who didn’t know our cuisine thought Filipino food is very spicy, like Indian food.  We explain that it’s not. After they’ve tried it, they would have an ‘aha’ moment and actually like it.

MFB: How far is Filipino food from crossing over in NZ? What else can be done to give it a boost?

JC: I believe it would take at least a couple of years more before Filipino food hits mainstream in Timaru or in New Zealand, in general.

Some customers expressed not being adventurous in food but we gladly introduce them to something that’s closer to their palate, like the fusion dishes we serve.

 I feel that in order for Filipino food to have more appeal to the international community, it should be modernized a little bit. Although the ingredients should remain the same, the presentation should be tweaked a little. I am sure young Filipino chefs who have the knack for modernist plating will have no trouble doing this.

MFB: What is the general perception on Philippine cuisine in Timaru? 

JC: Filipino food is at its infancy stage. Some locals don’t have a clue what our cuisine is.

Though, those who have tried it had positive things to say about our food.  We met a few Kiwis who told us how they’ve tried making adobo but never seem to get it right.

There were several occasions when people stopped by the café to ask about the yummy smell pervading the arcade alley when we were cooking adobo. I take this as an indication that our common and homely food is to be proud of.

MFB: What do you consider as your greatest challenges and accomplishments as the owner of a newly-opened Filipino cafe?

 JC: The greatest challenge is to introduce Filipino food to the local community.  We consider it an accomplishment that we are able to do this and win regular non-Filipino customers.

I find great joy and accomplishment in being self-employed because I have the freedom to do what I’m passionate about.  Of course, the challenge is how to make the business successful.

It’s very rewarding to hear from kababayans how thankful they are to have eaten the food they’ve missed since coming to New Zealand. For example, a Filipino customer said the last time he had Batchoy was 5 years ago back home. Also, another Filipino shared how happy he was for eating Halo-Halo after 8 years.   I’m happy knowing that Food Haven has brought them closer to home.


Food Haven’s Batchoy

Having a food business in the centre of Timaru provides a great opportunity for me and my husband to meet people from all walks of life and be part of a friendly business community at the Royal Arcade in Timaru.



Connect with Food Haven:



by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.

MasterChef New Zealand Opens Another Door to Philippine Cuisine (An interview with the first Filipino Café Owner in Timaru)

Filipino Inspired in Chicago (An Interview with the Co-founder and GM of Oxtail)

Rampelle Aguilar
Rampelle Aguilar

What does it take to make your food business idea come to life? For Chicago-based Fil-Am Rampelle Aguilar, it took guts, creativity and resolve to reconnect with his roots. In order to get his project off the ground, Rampelle pitched his story and concept on a crowdfunding website where he successfully rounded up the money he needed ($5,000) to host his first pop-up under the name, Oxtail Filipino Inspired, a concept he co-founded with his brother-in-law, Ben Sussman. On May 3, 2015, Oxtail launched its first official event, a dinner service held in a cooking class venue in Chicago. It was sold out.

What was on the menu? Though Rampelle associates his Filipino food memory with his grandmother’s cooking, Oxtail’s food is not like the food your grandma would serve. Their repertoire includes Oxtail Ragu in Almond and Peanut Kare Kare sauce, Shiitake Lumpia with Green Mango Slaw, Calamari and Longaniza Sisig and a lot more.

Oxtail-Shitake and carrot lumpia with green mango slaw

Oxtail’s Shiitake and Carrot Lumpia with Green Mango Slaw


Oxtail’s family in their first pop-up event venue

Now a little over a year since their first event, let’s find out how Rampelle, Oxtail and Filipino food, in general, is doing in Chicago. Take a read at the Q & A below.

MFB: Please tell us about your Filipino heritage.

RA: My mom is from Bulacan and Quezon City and my dad is from Aliaga,Nueva Ecija. My mom came to the US when she was 16 years old with my grandmother and some of her siblings. One uncle joined the US Navy from the Philippines and convinced everyone to come over. As for my dad, he was forced to leave the Philippines due to political issues and was able to find refuge through the US Navy as well.

MFB: What was it like for you, of Filipino heritage, to grow-up in the US?

 RA: The neighborhood I grew up in as a child was culturally diverse and filled with many 2nd generation Europeans and Latinos. Everyone held onto their cultural heritage in some way. I learned to appreciate different households and how each family did something different.

Sometime in high school, I moved to an area which lacked any diversity. I went from having culturally diverse friends to being buried in a generic white demographic. This part of my life also made it difficult for me to stay in touch with my Filipino heritage. Filipino food was inaccessible; my mother worked late nights and I learned to appreciate American fair as majority of my meals. The lack of Filipino influence forced me to adapt to American food culture more.

Skip ahead about 10 years and I found myself trying to rediscover my Filipino heritage. Out in the suburbs of Chicago, Filipino food is not very accessible. My family relies primarily on house parties and family celebrations in order to keep the culture alive. It was a struggle growing up to keep tradition alive.

MFB: How did you get started in food?

RA: My first food job was server at a fried chicken restaurant in the suburbs of Chicago. It started as a summer job and led into a lot of other opportunities. Through High School and part of College, I was interning with my dad as a Junior Consultant at his practice. After a couple years of shadowing my dad and taking random jobs, I found myself working at Chipotle. This is where I learned everything about restaurant operations. I eventually left Chipotle to finish undergrad with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management.

I initially had the goal to leave food completely behind and try to transition into a full time consulting position. Majority of my clients ended up being from the restaurant industry. After a couple years of supporting and starting, closing and selling other people’s concepts, I made the decision to sell my own concept.

MFB: What is the concept of Oxtail?

RA: Oxtail is Filipino American. I identify with American cuisine more than Filipino cuisine. For the better part of my growing up, my mom was the only person to teach me about Filipino food. It was largely inaccessible and almost lost in our family for a long time.

Oxtail is a reflection of my Filipino roots working with other culinary influences. I’m not trying to be traditional, I’m not trying to be fusion, I just want to cook food that reflects my upbringing.

Our menu has some Filipino flavors, as well as dishes that are not Filipino at all. Our pop-ups are intermittent. We have been focusing on finding a partnership with another restaurant in order to create a more regular appearance. Most of our work has been for private catering and events.

MFB: How close are you to achieving your food truck and brick-and-mortar restaurant dream?

RA: We had to change our strategy several times and decided to start as a catering company. We still have a little way to go on the food truck and restaurant. Once we have a consistent following, we can start finding partners to help get the truck off the ground, then a restaurant group from there.

MFB: Which Filipino-inspired dishes are the favorites?

 RA: Three of our signature dishes: Pork Belly Adobo, Ramen Fried Chicken and Oxtail Kare Kare. We get a lot of excitement about the flavor profiles for each dish. The amount of time and technique for the initial prep is always a wow factor. The reception has been mostly great.

Braised Pork Belly Adobo

Oxtail’s Braised Pork Belly Adobo with pickled green mango


Oxtail’s Ramen-Fried Chicken with Togarashi Pickles

Almond and Peanut Butter Kare-kare with eggplant and green beans

The biggest complaints we get are the lack of authentic ingredients. I prefer to use something fresh, vibrant and in season, rather than using mediocre, out of season, wilted, authentic products.

Majority of the customers that try our food have never experienced any Filipino food. We tend to attract a lot of younger foodies who are adventurous eaters that are interested in trying all different foods.
MFB: Has Filipino food crossed over in Chicago? Why or why not?

RA: Filipino food is on the cusp of breaking through. There are about 18 Filipino restaurants in the entire Chicago land/suburban area. This includes grocery stores, mom and pop operations, as well as popular chefs working under a larger brand.

For non-Filipinos, the entry into Filipino food can be difficult. There is a disconnect with the Filipino population in Chicago vs. the amount of food that is represented. Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean and Indian food have somehow seen a huge growth in representation, but Filipino has been left behind.

MFB: What is the general perception on Philippine cuisine in Chicago?

RA: In Chicago, Philippine cuisine is still exotic to many people. I still meet many people who’ve never eaten at a Filipino restaurant. Most people I meet have only tried the cuisine at a friend’s party.

Oxtail-Coconut Leche Flan with Ube Cream

Oxtail’s Coconut Leche Flan with Ube Cream

MFB: What do you consider as your greatest challenges and accomplishments?

RA: My greatest challenge is building a consistent presence. I would like to make more consistent events, rather than once every several months. One of my greatest accomplishments is finding a cuisine that fits my style. I love working with Filipino flavors and look forward to applying them to different cooking techniques.

Oxtail’s Fried Fish with ensalada and shrimp paste

MFB: What’s your goal for this year?

RA: Our goal this year is to be a regular food vendor at a local farmer’s market and build on our catering events.

oxtail chicago

MFB: If someone asks you for advice about opening a Filipino-inspired restaurant in Chicago, what would you say?

RA: People are waiting to experience Filipino food. Filipino food is ready for the spotlight. It’s just waiting on people to take the chance and make it happen. With any restaurant concept, do your homework and be confident in your style.


Connect with Rampelle Aguilar:




by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

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Filipino Inspired in Chicago (An Interview with the Co-founder and GM of Oxtail)

Filipino Food to Replicate Sushi’s Success in Norway? (includes a Q&A with 2015’s Best Non-Japanese Sushi Chef in the World )

What does sushi have to do with Filipino food? Bear with me. I’ll make the connection soon, I promise.

I first met Roger Asakil Joya at one of Alex Mossige’s Filipino food pop-ups in Stavanger, Norway. He, his wife and 4-year-old son had just finished eating  Kare-Kare, a thick oxtail stew in peanut saucewhen Alex suggested I interview him. “He’s from Sabi Sushi,” she said.

roger and son
Roger and son

Sabi Sushi is a well-known chain of sushi restaurants in Stavanger. It grew from one small take-away outlet to nine restaurants within a span of five years. In my family, Saturday is Japanese food day. Every week, we would either dine in at or take-out from the nearest Sabi Sushi restaurant.


Sabi Sushi Hinna


“At which Sabi restaurant do you work?” I asked Roger.

Overhearing my question, a Filipina seating at the table cut in, “He’s the owner, you dum-dum!” (Well, she didn’t say “you dum-dum”, but I surely felt like one :-))

“I’m the one who mops the floor,” Roger replied, eliciting laughter and diffusing the embarrassment caused by my “dum-dum” question.

Roger Asakil Joya, originally from Cavite, Philippines, is a sushi master, co-owner and founding partner of Sabi Sushi and the head chef of Sabi Omakase. He immigrated to Norway when he was 18. He is one of the few sushi chefs in Norway accredited by the All Japan Sushi Association (AJSA).


Roger at Sabi Omakase

In August  2015, Roger competed at the Sushi World Cup in Tokyo and snatched second place in the Edomae sushi category and fourth overall. As the top three winners were Japanese, Roger, can affably claim the world’s best non-Japanese sushi chef title.


Roger at Sushi World Cup in Tokyo (Photo credit:

Sabi Sushi, conceived as an everyman’s sushi diner, played a big part in converting skeptic raw fish eaters into sushi enthusiasts in Rogaland, the Southwest county of Norway. Ironically, decades ago, it was the Norwegians who tried to convert the Japanese to eat a particular type of fish raw – salmon.

Salmon sushi, now a world favorite, was unheard of in Japan until the Norwegian salmon industry reintroduced it to them. Salmon fished in Japan bred parasites and was considered repulsive to serve raw. It took a clever campaign by a Norwegian to change the Japanese’s perception of salmon sushi. Salmon also played a big role in popularizing sushi worldwide due to the threshold fish’s mass appeal. In fact, Sabi Sushi’s Newbie,  a set my son craves for every week, consists of mostly salmon. As you know, Norwegian salmon has that buttery, melt-in-the-mouth quality and a universally-liked taste that even children love.

Sabi Newbie



 Which provides us with some food for thought: What would it take for Filipino food to crossover in Norway and the world? How can we change the negative perception on our cuisine and relabel the “unhealthy” tag slapped on it into “healthy yet exciting?” What’s our takeaway from the Norwegian salmon sushi story?

Now on with some snippets of the Q & A with Roger Asakil Joya. Can Roger help popularize Filipino food in Norway just as he helped popularize sushi in the region?

MFB: What do you think is the reason for the absence or lack of Filipino food establishments in Norway? What can be done to boost the visibility of Filipino cuisine in the mainstream?

RJ: Most Filipinos do not have a business mentality. They are more focused on getting a secured job so that they can help their family in the Philippines, which I think is understandable.

In terms of Filipino food, I think we don’t have a distinctive or easily identifiable gastronomic style. Most of our food is diluted with European, Chinese, and Malay influences. To give it a boost, I would recreate a native tropical paradise atmosphere, like a restaurant with a nipa hut type of motif inside.

MFB: Have you ever thought about starting up a Filipino restaurant? Why or why not?

RJ:  I’m open to it.  If there are Filipinos who can give me a viable proposal and ask me to be their partner, I would seriously consider it.

MFB:  If an aspiring entrepreneur comes to you and asks you for advice about putting up a Filipino restaurant in Stavanger or anywhere in Norway, what would you say?

RJ: Prepare a business plan and I will consider financing it.

MFB: What are your goals in the next few years?

RJ:  Invest in the Philippines. I love our country.

Connect with Roger Asakil Joya

Websites: Sabi Omakase, Sabi Sushi

Facebook: Sabi Omakase

by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

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Filipino Food to Replicate Sushi’s Success in Norway? (includes a Q&A with 2015’s Best Non-Japanese Sushi Chef in the World )

Filipino American from Tennessee -Finalist at Paula Deen’s Recipe Contest (An Interview with an Asian Girl in a Southern World)

When Kraft invited kitchen-savvy women, not only to create their own recipe, but also to shoot, edit and upload instructional videos for its online promotional campaign for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Dalena Benavente rose to the challenge.

Dalena Benavente

With celebrity chef Paula Deen as host, the competition received a massive response. Out of over 10,000 entries, only 16 finalists were selected. One of them was Dalena.

Dalena was born and raised in Tennessee. In case you didn’t know, Tennessee is one of the least Filipino populated states in the USA. In fact, Filipino population is so marginalized, one of the questions Dalena was often asked was, “What are you?”

Take a read below and find out what it’s like to be a Filipino in Tennessee. Meet the author of  soon-to-be-released, Asian Girl in a Southern World, an unconventional cookbook entwined with current, controversial issues, such as racism, bigotry and hope.

 MFB: Please tell us more about your Filipino heritage.

DB: Both sides of my mom’s family are from Pampanga.  Her father was in the Navy and they came to the United States when she was a teenager.  She met my father, who is Caucasian American, in Arizona while he was serving in the United States Air Force.  After they got married, they moved back to his home state of Tennessee.

MFB: You were the first Filipino to be born in the hospital where you were born. Please tell us more about that.

There wasn’t a special announcement, but there was definitely a bit of a fuss because many people had not seen a Filipino baby before.  White- yes.  Black- yes, but nothing in between.  I’ve been told that even the nurses who worked in different wards of the hospital came to see what I looked like through the hospital nursery glass, as if I was some kind of a baby exhibit.  I was the first Asian baby that many of the nurses had ever seen.  I actually write about it in great detail in the first chapter of my book.

MFB: In your cookbook teaser trailer, people asked, “What are you?”  How did you answer that question? Would you like to share how you felt about it?  

Video link:

I remember not understanding their question at first.  I grew up in a home where my parents were two different colors and from two different parts of the world, so racial variety was something that I lived with everyday.  Once I understood they were actually asking why I looked different from everyone else, I explained to them that my mother was from the Philippines and I looked like her.  No one knew where the country was. They asked, “Is that in Japan?” or “Does that mean you’re Hawaiian?”  I never considered their lack of knowledge about the Philippines or the phrasing of their questions to be something I should feel badly about, even if people asked them in a demeaning tone.  If anything, it showed me that I lived in a place that did not offer much cultural variety, and it allowed me to experience the effect of the lack of diversity in cultures can have on people and a community.

MFB: What was it like for you to grow-up in Tennessee? Please relate a point in your life when you became acutely aware of how your Philippine food culture is different from everyone else?  

Dalena and cousin
Dalena with her cousin

Looking back, growing up in Tennessee was quite an adventure, but I didn’t recognize it at the time.  It wasn’t until I became an adult and had children of my own that I understood I had quite a unique childhood.  I was half Filipino, half Caucasian American, living in a part of the United States that was extremely racist against darker skin colors, and had no experience with Filipino people.   For most of the kids in town and for many of the adults, I was their first “Asian encounter”.  That makes me  laugh ,but seriously, if I had been a negative child who got emotionally hurt or offended easily, I could have very well grown up to be bitter and angry. But that has never been my style.

I remember one time; a friend came home with me after school.  My mom prepared adobo, rice, and pancit- one of my favorites, for our after school meal.  My friend had never seen rice.  She had never seen food that was poured over rice.  She had never seen noodles except for spaghetti.  She almost seemed disgusted by what my mom had made and tried to shame me for liking it.  We ordered pizza for her to be hospitable, but once I saw how rude she was about my family’s food, I knew it was the last time I would ever invite her to my house.  Besides, for me personally, a friendship with someone who thinks cheap pizza is better than adobo is going to eventually come to an end anyway.

Bacon & Garlic Fried Rice
Bacon and garlic fried rice

MFB: How did you get started in food? Please share with us how you got to cook for Paula Deen. What was it like?

 Cooking with Paula Deen

(PHOTO: Dalena with Paula Deen)

I was in my late twenties and I had moved two thousand miles away from my little hometown in Tennessee to downtown Los Angeles in California for work.  After a few months of being in California, I got homesick and missed the food that I was raised on- a fusion of classic southern American food, and traditional Filipino food.  I didn’t know of any restaurant where I could get anything like it, so I started learning how to cook.  A couple of years later I saw that Kraft was having a recipe contest.  The contestants were required to submit a video of themselves making an original recipe on YouTube.  There were over 10,000 entries in all.  I put my video on YouTube, and a few days later Kraft announced on their website that I was one of their sixteen national finalists.  They flew me to Savannah, Georgia, where I worked with their professional film crew to cook on camera in their production studio with Paula Deen.  I thought I would be nervous, but I wasn’t at all.

MFB: What prompted you to write Asian Girl in a Southern World? Please tell us more about the cookbook. Are there any Filipino-inspired recipes in the cookbook?

People who meet me for the first time always want to know why I look Filipino but speak with a “twang”- a common sound Americans from the south speak with.  After I tell them that I was raised in Tennessee, they always want to know about my childhood.  Also, people respond very positively when I cook, so it was a very natural decision to write a book that combined both things.  The book is about adventures from my childhood with recipes that are inspired by the stories.  The readers will be able to see very clearly that the recipes are inspired by classic southern cooking in the United States and by traditional Filipino dishes as well.

MFB: Have you ever been to the Philippines? If yes, what was the experience like for you?  

I went with my Nanay (grandmother), mother, and my aunt after I graduated from high school.  I was really excited to go.  I had never left the United States before, and my mom didn’t prepare me for it at all so I experienced a big culture shock.  Groups of people followed me everywhere and I couldn’t understand why.  My mom had to pay six or seven of my older male cousins to be my bodyguards to keep me safe.  I spent most of the time traveling to visit family.  My cousins kept saying that protecting me was a lot of fun because all I did was drink 7-Up out of a bag, eat young coconuts, and chase the man who sold ube ice cream from his bicycle.  Of course when I bought for myself, I bought for them too, and I made them eat and drink with me, so they said it was like a dream job.  They cried when it was time for me to leave.  I felt a special connection with them and I was so thankful they took care of me.

MFB:  Do people now have an idea who Filipinos are in the South? What is the general perception about Filipino food/ Filipino people?

In general, I think Filipino food and people are still a mystery in Tennessee and the South. I just learned that there is a Filipino- American Association of Tennessee.  I would really like to see groups like this grow so that the Fil-Am community and culture have a presence throughout Tennessee and America.  I also hope my upcoming book sparks interest and raise awareness.

MFB: What can be done to boost Filipino food in the South?  

It would be nice if more Filipinos had the funding, confidence, and business knowledge to start more restaurants that appealed to their community’s specific demographics and aesthetics so that it could be sustained long term.  Until then, I say just keep making lumpia and take it everywhere you go. No one can turn down lumpia.


Connect with Dalena Benavente:




by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.


Filipino American from Tennessee -Finalist at Paula Deen’s Recipe Contest (An Interview with an Asian Girl in a Southern World)

Vegan Filipino Food Anyone ? (An Interview with the Astig Vegan: Recipe for Vegan Filipino Spaghetti Included )

It’s been often said. Pork is king and seafood is queen in Philippine cuisine. So what would Filipino food be without meat, seafood or any animal-derived products? Well, it’ll be Vegan Filipino food. Quite unheard of. It’s like reading the word “humble” beside Donald Trump’s name. It sounds more of a contradiction, but nevertheless worthy of investigation.

Can you believe it’s not pork? Mushroom and Tofu Sisig ( Photo courtesy of Astig Vegan)

Born and raised in Cavite, Philippines, Richgail Enriquez aka RG, is a cook and purveyor of traditional vegan and veganized Filipino food. She grew up helping her mother prepare traditional Pinoy dishes at home. At 15, she and her family immigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, USA, which exposed her to a new world of varied cuisines. But it was in college when she began her gradual transformation to veganism. What led her to stop consuming animal meat and their by products? Is it possible for vegans to enjoy Filipino food? The Q & A below is a revelation.

Richgail Enriquez

 MFB: What prompted you to go vegan?

RG: My journey to veganism started when I took a nutrition class in college. That class opened my eyes and made me aware of what I put inside my body and the impact of what I consume. The transition was very gradual from “clean eating” to becoming vegetarian then vegan.

MFB: Why vegan Filipino food? 

RG: When I became vegan about ten years ago, I didn’t want to give up on the food I grew up eating as a kid. With the help of my mom, we both found ways to veganize Filipino dishes without losing its soul. Since then, I was hooked on veganizing Filipino food.


Photo credit: Astig Vegan

MFB: How strictly vegan are you? No eggs? No milk? No cakes? 

RG:I still eat cakes, lots of them! Delicious vegan cakes🙂 The concept may seem unique, even strange for some but vegan food has come a long way that I don’t really miss and consume any animal products anymore. Almost anything can be veganized including cakes, milk, eggs, and yes- even Filipino food.


Vegan Maja Blanca : Astig Vegan

MFB: How has turning vegan affected your lifestyle?

RG: Since I went vegan,  I’ve discovered my passion for food and cooking. I have also become more compassionate and open-minded. Health-wise, my skin cleared up and started glowing. I have more energy to tackle my day.

MFB: Is everyone in your family vegan?

RG: My family is not fully vegan yet but has become receptive to vegan food. They cook vegan food for themselves, they invite me to vegan restaurants, and they text or call me when they’re shopping for vegan ingredients and needed my opinion.

 MFB: Are vegan options widely available in restaurants and shops in San Francisco?

RG: The San Francisco Bay Area has many vegan-friendly places. It has restaurants that are either fully vegan or have plenty of vegan options. I don’t usually eat out though; I rather cook at home. The ingredients I use could be found mainly at Asian grocery stores and are not necessarily specialty products.

MFB: Can you please share with us one of your vegan Filipino food recipes?

RG: Sure.

Vegan Filipino Spaghetti Recipe

by RG Enriquez  (this recipe originally appeared on


There used to be only one way I knew how a spaghetti sauce should be -savory, sweet, and meaty. Growing up in the Philippines, I was exposed to only the Filipino-style spaghetti sauce. While the Italian version focuses on the flavors of the tomatoes, the Filipino version focuses on the sweet meat. You could just imagine my shock when I bit into the Italian kind, too sour! Now my palate has developed and I have found both versions equally satisfying on their own right.

In my household, we make Filipino Spaghetti for special occasions like birthdays, town fiestas, and noche buena or Christmas eve. It could be just as popular as the other Filipino noodle dish, pancit (if you ask a Filipino kid though, spaghetti might win over pancit). Filipino spaghetti may not be typical everyday food at home, but it’s widely accessible at Filipino fast food restaurants like Jollibee’s (Philippine counterpart of McDonald’s).  Jollibee’s spaghetti is one of their most popular items on the menu.

Prep time

20 mins

Cook time

20 mins

Total time

40 mins

Serves: 6


For the “meat” of the sauce:

12 ounces extra-firm tofu, frozen overnight or for at least 4 hours, then thawed, then crumbled (using your hands or food processor)

3 vegan hotdogs, thinly sliced

4-5 tablespoons canola oil

3-5 tablespoons refined coconut oil

For the sauce:

5 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and minced

1 cup roughly chopped yellow onion

1 cup roughly chopped celery sticks

1 cup roughly chopped carrots

½ cup roughly chopped, red bell pepper, seeds removed

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish

¼ cup maple syrup (agave or regular natural sugar works too)

3-4 tablespoons soy sauce

¼ cup non-dairy milk

4 cups tomato sauce

For the noodles:

1 pound Spaghetti pasta

medium size pot of hot water

For garnish: (optional)

¼ cup grated vegan cheddar cheese as topping (optional)


  1. Heat medium size pan over high heat. Once hot, pour oil until it covers the base of the pan. Wait until oil is very hot. Carefully add crumbled tofu (do not overcrowd the pan) and fry until tofu is golden brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Using the same pan, fry hotdog slices and sprinkle sugar and salt. Fry both sides and turn off heat. Transfer alongside fried tofu.
  3. Place onions, celery, bell pepper, and carrots in a food processor and pulse for one minute or until finely minced. Transfer to a bowl.
  4. Using the same pan you fried the tofu and hotdogs on, saute garlic until light golden. Follow with finely minced vegetables, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, sweet relish, soy sauce, maple syrup, and non-dairy milk. Mix well, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring every minute so sauce won’t stick on the bottom of the pan.
  6. Add fried tofu and hotdogs. Mix well and if desired, add more salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat.
  7. Cook spaghetti per package’s direction (usually 1 lb of spaghetti in 4 quarts of boiling pot of water) until pasta is tender . Drain well using a colander.
  8. To serve, place sauce over noodles and top with grated vegan cheese. Serve warm.


To help crumble the tofu, use a food processor.

To successfully fry tofu, make sure the oil is very hot and that you do not overcrowd the pan. Fry in batches if needed.

If you have a small food processor, pulse the vegetables in batches.

If you couldn’t find maple syrup, you may use natural or evaporated cane sugar of the same amount.

If you’re watching your sugar intake, use stevia instead of sugar and maple syrup.

If you’re watching your fat intake, skip the refined coconut oil.

Connect with RG Enriquez:


Facebook: Astig Vegan

by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.


Vegan Filipino Food Anyone ? (An Interview with the Astig Vegan: Recipe for Vegan Filipino Spaghetti Included )