Don’t be surprised if you run into a Filipino anywhere you go in Norway. But in the cosmopolitan city of Stavanger, Norway’s oil capital, be very surprised if you stumble upon a place serving Filipino food – the odds are probably as slim as fishing a tilapia out of the fjord.
Taking a step towards upping the odds is Manila born and raised, Michelle “Alex” Mossige with her Adobo Afternoon pop-ups. Married to a Norwegian and now 12 years in Norway, Alex works as a chef cum personal restaurant manager at Wilberg. She is also the founder of MP events by Michelle P. Mossige, which organizes food related events for Lola’s Kusina and Stavanger Dining Club.
My Food Beginnings interviews Alex, the Pinay behind the Adobo Afternoon pop-ups.
How did you get started in food?
I’ve been working with food for as long as I can remember. Food and cooking have always played a big part in my life, especially because my father hails from Pampanga, the Philippines’ culinary capital. I remember women from all over town gathered together at my grandparents’ place to prepare huge vats of food for fiestas. From the age of seven, I watched folks slaughter and eviscerate chickens and pigs for cooking. I tried to help in anyway I could and learned how to do stuff.
Though I’ve always loved eating, cooking for me then was more like something you did out of necessity. I had no idea I would end up in food. As a child, I was fascinated watching TV cooking shows like “Wok with Yan”. But my interest in cooking and eating different types of food only fanned out in my twenties. When I started working, I began to collect cookbooks. More are being added.
My love for cooking and food, in general, had just been a hobby; it was only when I moved to Norway that it became a passion and a profession. I guess now, you can call me a foodie.
What is Filipino cuisine to you? If a foreigner comes up to you and asks you to describe it, what would you say?
Filipino cuisine for me, first and foremost, is the food I grew up with, which is Capampangan cuisine: Lechon (roast suckling pig) and dishes that my mom taught me to prepare, such as Sinigang, Adobo, Pansit and Paksiw.
Our cuisine is influenced by our colonizers and groups of people from neighboring countries that settled in the Philippines in the old days.
When people ask me about Filipino food, I say it’s not like Thai or Malay food, but a mixture of those flavors. It’s not spicy, in general, but taste and flavor may vary depending on the region. Spanish and Chinese influence is strong in many of our local dishes but indigenous ways of cooking from our aboriginal tribes, like the Aeta, are evident as well.
What do you think are the reasons why Filipino Cuisine is slow in catching up in the international mainstream?
One of the reasons why it’s slow in trending is because we, Filipinos, only love to serve our food to our families and guests in our homes. We have never been so good in bragging about our own food culture. We capitalize more on foreign influences and feel that Filipino food is not sophisticated or delicate enough for other people to appreciate. But it’s changing fast. Filipino cuisine is going mainstream in the US, thanks to the shows of Antony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. And in London, it is slowly getting attention through Josephine’s Restaurant and pop-up restaurants, like Luzon, showing how Filipino cuisine can be different and elegant, unlike the typical turo-turo or street food style.
What are the chances of our cuisine breaking into the Norwegian mainstream?
There is a huge chance for us to break into the Norwegian market. It’s all about educating the people. Most Norwegians I met thought Filipino food is Thai or Chinese. When we organized festivals and ran a cafe, people, especially the kids, love the pork BBQ and our version of spring rolls. And when catering, my clients love the kare-kare (meat stew in a thick savory peanut sauce). Norwegians like food that is not so spicy, and we have a diverse range of food to offer.
What was you inspiration for “Adobo Afternoon” pop-up? What personal memories does adobo stir-up for you?
I love organizing events. After we closed down our cafe, I started a group on Facebook called Stavanger Dining Club, which was inspired by pop-up restaurants abroad. The club presented Filipino cuisine and sometimes we did other types of food as well depending on what I fancy creating at the time. Since it’s been a year since I organized an event with the Stavanger Dining Club, I decided to re-introduce Filipino food, but this time in Stavanger. What better dish to showcase Filipino cuisine than the most popular Filipino dish, Adobo.
Pork adobo is my fave. Especially if it’s twice cooked and the sauce is reduced to a consistency just enough to glaze the rice. Chicken adobo with liver or a combination of pork and chicken adobo are also divine. Oxtail adobo, another variation, works really well too.
Adobo reminds me of home in the Philippines. It reminds me of a stage in my life when I was young and innocent. It evokes memories of preparing food in the kitchen with my mom and of eating together at our dining table with my dad and two siblings. When I cook adobo, I also think about my favorite aunt who passed away before my interest in food turned into a passion. How I wish I could share my love for food and cooking with her.
Adobo is my comfort food. It’s a good thing my husband loves it too, especially when it’s flavored with a lot of vinegar.
What are your plans and dreams in food?
I plan to focus on presenting Filipino cuisine in the region. I also want to start-up a food safari tour for Nordic travelers visiting the Philippines. I plan to do more food and travel related events since both are my passion.
My dream is to have a cafe again wherein we can serve Philippine coffee beans and cocoa based products. It will be a hub where people can enjoy both coffee and Filipino food with that Filipino hospitality that we are all known for.
For an update on Alex’s upcoming Filipino pop-up events, you can find her on her Facebook page, Lola’s Kusina.
by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings, a Filipino food anthology project
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