Lumpia with a Texas twist, anyone? “Howdy, Kuya!” was a “pop-up” one-night only, taste-test debut for Texas-Filipino fusion cuisine.
San Antonio chef John Concepcion Constantino, NY-born Texas-bred Filipino-American teamed up with Chris Christal, as “grill associate” barbecue aficionado . John’s parents are originally from Fairview in Quezon City. Chris is Texan from Dallas. Chris said he was “Howdy” and pointing at John at the kitchen behind the counter, he is my “Kuya.” (For non-Filipinos, Kuya is a respectful appellation for an older brother.)
It was held last Monday, November 4 at Cullum’s Attagirl, a cozy chicken-shack beerhouse just at the edge of San Antonio’s Montevista historic vicinity. It is a charming neighborhood with refurbished, gentrified and repurposed pre-WW II structures and residences, just a couple of blocks off Highway 281 at Mulberry and St.Mary’s. I was told that the corner location of the 5-year-old “Attagirl” establishment used to be a barber shop and a neighborhood grocery, whose original commercial refrigerator is still in use and in full view, chilling varieties of beer.
By the way, “Pop-Up” is a resto term connoting a temporary dining event hosted in a variety of venues. It could be an existing restaurant, a vacated arcade, a food truck in a parking lot and even in the patio or yard of a chef introducing and promoting his culinary concoctions. It is really another way to build partnerships with a community and an investment-safe, prudent introduction and launch into the restaurant business. Testing the market, as it were. The promoter of the event is known as “Fantom Kitchen,” a local outfit that specializes in spotlighting rotating chefs, restaurants and culinary experiences.
Judging by the queue that snaked out the door, spilling onto the street just as dusk was setting in, the Pop-Up was a sell-out. In fact, “Fantom Kitchen” referred to the event as an “INSANE turnout,” ending the service (and apologizing for it), long before the night was over. Apparently, the kitchen ran out! “We have had many events and none have ever had an instant turnout like this…..we are so damn happy to have so much support.”
Evidently, Filipino fare was the drawing card.
The crowd was almost totally non-Filipino, attracted by the notion of Texas barbecue in fusion with traditional Filipino fare such as adobo, lumpia, pancit and halo-halo. Many might have heard of the Philippine table staples but never responded to an enticement to even try. A strictly ethnic Filipino menu might not be enough of an invitation for an uninitiated American palate but “fusion” might just possess some draw, sufficient to entice an introduction and sampling of Filipino cuisine when intermingled with familiar American food.
Hopefully, so savoring such fusion, San Antonio foodies might begin to venture and upgrade for the authentic “originals” in regular Filipino restaurants. After all, there are about a dozen Filipino restaurants in San Antonio. Most are located north of downtown. More often than not, each of them are Mom and Pop owned and operated, with an attached ‘sari-sari’ cum grocery section.
“Howdy, Kuya’s” appetizer was what I referred to as “Lumpia with a Texas twist.” Billed on the menu as “Dr. Pepper Pulled-Pork Lumpia,” it was described as “crunchy hand-rolled rice wraps.” ‘Coca-colonized’ Filipinos in the Philippines are not familiar with Dr. Pepper, a carbonated soda drink that is older than Coca Cola! Dr. Pepper, around since 1885, is very Texan, out from and still is in Waco, “deep in the heart of.” Therefore, using Dr. Pepper as marinade to simmer pulled pork with, and with it, stuff your lumpia, how Texas-Filipino fusion can it ever be!
Their “Pinoy Pancit Noodles” was made of bihon (rice vermicelli noodles) and aside from the usual cabbage, carrots, onions and garlic, the meat ingredient (instead of pork, chicken or shrimps, although these choices were also available) is what made this particular Pancit, a Texas-Filipino fusion entree. Traditional slow-smoked brisket by Texan Chris Christal. I found my serving of bihon a tad too limp and soggy which ought not be, as in its original ‘unfusioned’ setting, somewhat drier. I put across my critique to John, tactfully though.
The evening also served pan-fried garlic rice with egg, identified as “Fried Fridge Rice, as another entrée and a “grilled chicken thigh finished in a tangy adobo sauce.” For dessert, “Not your Lola’s Halo-Halo,” described as “sweet condensed milk poured over shaved ice on a base of mixed fruit and topped with cereal. I did not partake of any of the foregoing.
Filipino cuisine has been touted, for several years now as the next big food trend here in the US. The late American cuisine critic and celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, had so predicted. But I am not aware, however, of much takeoff for our sought-after culinary renown in these parts of Texas. Familiarity, renown and patronage are indeed experienced more in California areas and in the East Coast where Filipinos are markedly teeming and in the midst of more cosmopolitan communities. And surely, more than any spot in the United States, it is in Hawaii where Philippine cuisine is most enjoyed.
It is safe to assume that Fil-Am fusion may have been in practice since the arrival of pensionados (scholars) and sacadas (agri-laborers) in the early 1900s. Obviously, food popularity is a function of having greater population presence in any given geography. Incidentally, the Filipino population in San Antonio is growing.
From personal experience, fusion actually begins with substitution. Of basic ingredient(s), that is. For instance, our Bicolano “la-eng” which is made from taro leaves, coconut cream, ginger, shrimp and chilis. Not having fresh taro leaves, as I prefer not to use the available packaged dehydrated ones, once I substituted it with collard greens. Collard greens (visually similar to kale and mustard leaves) is an American South veggie and is in fact ‘soul food’ down deeper there. I have yet to ideate an apt name for my concoction. “Southern Express” to marry it off with our fiery “Bicol Express,” perhaps?
One of these days, I will fusion-try another Texas fare — “chicken fried steak.” Nope, it is not chicken at all but a cutlet of beefsteak, breaded. I will grill-sizzle it and for sauce-topping , I will use Anthony Bourdain’s favorite. Now emerging popularly, “Sisig” sauce and/or marinade. (You may ‘google’ it) It is a spicy citrus-pepper-chili mix.
There is indeed reason to regard kitchen fusion, and attempts at it such as last Monday’s “Howdy, Kuya!” as a facility towards promoting Filipino culture through the palate. Chef John C. Constantino and barbecue pit master Chris Christal deserve congratulations for their venture and encouragement to experiment some more. Their promoter, Fantom Kitchen, did state after last Monday nights’s successful Pop-Up: “……Based off of the crowd from tonight,” a repeat is “obviously much needed.”
“Keep an eye out for “Howdy, Kuya! 2”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.