An Unofficial Filipino Food Tour of California
Most juicy this week is a post I’ve been having such a blast writing. Just going through the photos is making me wanna hop back onto a plane to the US. But, back to reality….
Something that’s missing in Australia is a buzzing Filipino community, which is likely to due to our much smaller population numbers in comparison to the US where you would find Little Manilas in New Jersey and California (inc. The Bay Area) representing our cuisine and culture by filling the streets and town centers with restaurants, bakeries and celebrating with Fiestas amongst other rad events. The closest community hub we have in Australia is in Blacktown, Sydney where as soon as you step off the train platform, you are greeted with numerous Filipino eateries and shops.
As we drove through the Westcoast from LA’s sunset haven Santa Monica, during our recent US Trip, we found ourselves hunting for pig (Lechon) making a pitstop at San Jose’s Filipino Town on route to San Fransisco. That’s enough reason to make a stopover right?!
The Philippine based food chains Jollibee, Chowking, and Goldilock’s, were spotted a mile away with their signature signage reminding me of the time I traveled back home where I ate myself silly hopping from one restaurant to hawker food stall on repeat.
Jollibee and Red Ribbon Bakery
2008 Tully Rd
San Jose, CA 95122
The easiest to spot would have to be Jollibee with the face of the company, the Jolly Bee, smiling away both at the door and on the roof so we headed in there first.
For many, Jollibee would bring back childhood memories with the family, but for me, it brings back memories during my adult years ordering all their kids meals then paying dearly for it because in my mind, I need to order 3 kids meals to make up for not getting a normal sized meal. The mind can be a dangerous thing I tell you…especially when it comes to ordering at Jollibee! Wah.
I’ve recently found out that they have just introduced a hash brown burger! Hash browns!!!
The first thing I did notice was the quality compared to the Jollibee in the Philippines. It’s far better, but understandably so, considering the fresher and higher standard of produce available in the US. As I slurped up the sweet (yes sweet!) and cheesy spaghetti, I couldn’t help but grin and didn’t mind that my mouth was covered in sauce. It’s all part of the experience all served up in oldskool polystyrene (ex-McDonalds) packaging to separate out the spaghetti from the beast – FRIED CHICKEN!
Everyone has their own process when eating fried chicken. Mine goes a little something like this:
1. Undress the chicken by peeling off that golden crispy skin – Kinkay! Oooh lala!
2. Set aside and hide away from prying eyes i.e. friends who will happily snatch that gold away. “Oh, aren’t you eating the skin?” Back off!
3. Eat the butt first
4. Lick ya fingers – don’t be using that freshener towelette yet sunny boy Jim!
5. Use the flesh to mop up the spaghetti sauce. That way, no dry meat will go to waste.
6. Once you are satisfied that all remaining parts have been eaten, you may now close your eyes, slowly pick up the hidden gold (skin!), open the mouth ever so Goldie Hawn wide and chew baby, chew!
Gosh. There’s a reason why this meal is called Chicken Joy. It’s so bloody fun eating it! SUCH FUN!!!!!!
Well, spaghetti and fried chicken aside, there’s more to devour at Jollibee. Try the Taro shake with pearl on for size that comes with a big ass straw to allow for the pearls to creep up – just like Ube in a cup!
A drink I was most looking forward to was a popular dessert of ours Halo Halo which is made up of Leche Flan, jackfruit, evaporated milk, paw paw, ube, macapuno (young coconut), kidney beans, nata de coco, tapioca, sugar palm fruit and shaved ice. A perfect summers drink and although it was the dead of winter, we didn’t care – we just had to have it! *shivers*
Red Ribbon Bakery is a separate shopfront, but it was closed. Luckily for us, it also forms part of Jollibee in San Jose. I’m not sure of they all do this in the US though. I love what Red Ribbon does creates from our classic baked goodies like the Brioche Ensaimada (sweet butter bread with cheese) and the Ube Sponge cake which is a super moist chiffon cake with rich ube.
Pinoy Lechon BBQ & Grill
2011 Tully Rd
San Jose, CA 95122
Now we’re talkin! It took a while for us to find the joint – Google maps was not at all helpful! So we did it oldskool – walked around asking people. Signage wasn’t very prominent but the smell of crackling led us to the promised land and thank fully it wasn’t too far from Jollibee.
Straight off the bat, we realised we missed out on the official Lechon serving times – ‘first in first served’ read the sign. Damn! Nonetheless, there were a tonne of other things on the menu that had me in dog pose (tongue out) begging. With most meals under the $10 mark, it was a challenge keeping my OTT ordering at bay. They had everything from Dinuguan (pork in pigs blood), Sisig, Sinigang Isda (fish in tamarind based soup), Pancit, my fav Ginataang Hipon (prawns in spicy coconut cream), Beef Tapa (steak in soy and kumquat), Longanisa (native sausages), Empanadas and more! Though always one to deviate, I asked if they had any BBQ Pork Skewers which wasn’t on the menu – and they did! Bam. I was so happy when it came out – all sticky, FATTY, charred and sweet. Everything I wanted pork to be.
They may have run out of Lechon but onve variation of the roast pig that’s available at all times is Lechon Kawali which is boiled then deep fried pork with a killer crackling that id served with vinegar and the infamous mang tomas sauce. This would have to go down as the best Lechon Kawali I’ve ever had – perfectly crisp and golden fried but all succulent with juices trickling down with flavour upon each bite. Getting these two elements right can be difficult with the flesh sometimes found to be a wee bit on the dry side after being deep fried. Not that I was too concerned, but the vinegar helped to cut through the fat.
Being smack bam in the midst of winterdom, a soup was in order and what better way to warm the soul than with a bowl of Sinigang Baboy – yes, more pork- I couldn’t help it plus there was bok choy in it which =healthy! It does so much for the tamarind based broth in terms of body and flavour. A dish I grew up eating, it felt like I was at home despite being on the otherside of the globe.
Did I mention that the serving sizes here are massive?! I’m calling on my OMG’s.
I loved this place. I felt so at home. It was great to see the place filled with so many different nationalities all sharing the love of Filipino food together – on our right was a Caucasian family hoovering down pancit and Tocino and a behind us a group of Mexican’s enjoying a bowl of Dinuguan, Lechon and Pork Skewers which they got after they saw that we had ordered it! LOL
V Tropical Bake Shop
3041 McKee Rd
San Jose, CA 95127
To think that we still had room for more food was quite disturbing but the unofficial tour had to go on. Do it for the team!
We hopped back in our Bumblebee ( a hire yellow Chevy Camaro convertible..eep!) and drove 5 minutes up the road to V Tropical Bake Shop which we heard so much about.It’s the kind of specialty bakery you’d find on Sydney Rd (e.g. Al Nada Quality Sweets) where the fitout may scream no frills but what comes out of their ovens are nothing short of small miracles. I could tell this was one popular joint as it was packed during a weekday with people stocking up on carbs.
The shelves are filled to the brim with traditional sweet breads from ensaimada with cheese, Turon (banana fritters), ube rolls, cuchinta, pandesal (done in many ways), polvoron, siao pao (steamed buns filled with pork or chicken) and more. I lost count as I was too focused on what was coming out of the oven – I made a promise to myself that whatever comes out next, I was gonna get. Ta da! Empanadas!
1698 Hostetter Rd
San Jose, CA 95131
Probably the most iconic and most successful bakery in the Philippines operating since 1966, Goldilocks has expanded to the US spreading it’s buttery wings so that more people can taste their famous polvoron – a shortbread made up of milk powder, sugar, butter and flour moulded into bite sized crumbly pieces. It also comes in various flavours such as crisp rice, cashew and cookies and cream.I recall taking back a dozen bags of these babies from my trip back to the Philippines – makes a good plane snack.
In addition to their polvoron, they also specialise in cakes, biko (glutinous rice pudding cooked in coconut milk, brown sugar), Chicharon (deep fried pork skin), Pastillas, sweet and flaky Hopia done several ways with my fav being pork and are also known for their traditional main meals from Arroz Caldo (congee), Lumpia and Beef Mechado.
Talk about bringing back some childhood memories. There was a time when I ate some magical jelly with all sorts of colours moulded together by cream and milk. It was exactly 20 years later that I had the pleasure of eating it once again. It’s called Cathedral Jelly mainly due to the fact that it is reminiscent to the cathedral windows at your local church and party due to the fact that devouring it is a religious experience. It rocks.
Cathedral Jelly (above) and Polvoron (below) eaten at our hotel in San Fransisco
So there you have it, a slice of Filipino Pie in the US. If we had more time, we would have also gone to many other eateries in the area like Barrio Fiesta Restaurant, Kalesa Restaurant, Toppings Tree, Chow King, Seafood City Market and Filipino Desserts Plus to complete our culinary journey- here’s a GOOGLE MAP of the unconquered. We had a blast! Thank you for your hospitality. For many fellow Pinoy citizens of CALI, you may already be aware of the many Filipino hubs around your neck of the woods so please please pretty please fill me on where to go next time I’m up your way by emailing me or simply leaving a comment.
I had a blast roaming the streets of Cali restaurant hopping on this unofficial food tour. I felt right at home and so did my tummy!
NEXT POSTS ON THE US: Santa Barbra, Malibu, Food Trucks in San Fransisco
Until then, here’s another shot of our beloved Bumblebee (Chevvy Camaro) that we drove around the US! It made my heart melt!
Shot taken during our visit to Malibu
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