The Filipino Food Scene is Arguably Nonexistent
Mari and I love to dine out and patronize independent locally-owned restaurants. We often discuss how our friends instantly know what type of food we’re referring to when we ask them to grab pho or sushi. But how come we don’t have a go-to dish for Filipino food? Of course the most popular dishes are lumpia or pancit but I never had a friend crave either one enough to suggest going to a Filipino restaurant.
Despite being the second largest Asian subgroup in America, Filipinos have yet to get their food into the mainstream American diet. When balut gets popular because of Fear Factor, I’m not sure if I should be happy or ashamed. When people refer to dinuguan as chocolate meat, I don’t know if I should laugh or be proud. Living in the Bay Area, a place where diversity thrives, I’m still left wondering if Filipino food will ever be popular.
I have a feeling this will soon change.
Another Reason to Shift Local
I recently interviewed Charleen Caabay, owner and chef of Kainbigan, a Filipino restaurant that opened in Oakland. Feeling miserable working for different corporations, she decided to share her talent for preparing Filipino cuisine to the world. Her restaurant’s name is a clever combination of two tagalog words:
kain’bigan: (kah’in-be-gon) kain v. to eat. kaibigan n. friend
The name makes even more sense with Kainbigan’s tagline, let’s eat, my friends, and Charleen’s motto, where there is good food, there is good company.
It Takes a Village
Everything that Charleen and Kainbigan stands for explains why Shift Local exists. Looking at Kainbigan’s crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, you get an idea of what Kainbigan represents. Those who helped raise funds not only supported her dream but also supports:
- Awareness of Filipino food
- Community growth
- Small business
- Women-owned businesses
- Locally-grown food
Charleen values community and as you can see in this gallery titled: It Takes a Village, you’ll understand how important community is to successfully open a restaurant in the Bay Area. She chose to open Kainbigan in Oakland because,
of its culture, it’s different compared to other cities where it’s all about the community, no matter what gender, sexuality, wherever you are it’s very diverse. You feel it’s all inclusive.
Charleen takes pride in being queer. Not shying away from who you are is a must have characteristic of any business owner. Simply put, a business is the extension of who the owner is. Kainbigan represents equality, the reflection of an all inclusive community.
Furthermore, Charleen understands the lack of awareness for Filipino food.
There’s not a large population of Filipinos here, and when people learned that I cooked, and that I’m Filipino they always requested lumpia, pancit, adobo. Some people haven’t even tried Filipino food, which I’m like, that’s a shame.
The Emergence of the Filipino Food Movement
You have a special talent for cooking Filipino food if you’re asked to be one of the first contributors to the Filipino Food Movement: an organization of volunteers rooted here in the Bay Area that want Filipino food to be more accessible to mainstream America. As one of the first contributors, Charleen is leading the way to put “Filipino food on the map” and inspiring other chefs that have a passion for preparing Filipino food.
As a second generation Filipino American, Charleen understands that traditional Filipino cuisine is in danger of fading away. To shed some light on why Filipino cuisine is failing to become a regular part of the American diet, Charleen finds that
Filipino food gets misinterpreted, it’s not presented well and people have a prejudgment of how it looks.
Therefore she is committed to keeping traditional ingredients but presenting it in more appealing ways (click to see their Instagram photos).
Does Good, Tastes Good and Looks Good Too
With Charleen’s unique culinary skills and willingness to learn through customer feedback, I doubt Kainbigan will fail to please a wide range of appetites.
I believe Kainbigan’s success goes beyond serving amazing traditional Filipino comfort food because of what it stands for, and the good it does for its community. Oakland residents will recognize this, soon after, the entire Bay Area will follow suit.
So whenever you’re craving some delicious Filipino food, go check out
Kainbigan: 2101 14th ave. Oakland For takeout call (510)842-8591
They are currently open 7 days a week from 11am to 8pm.
Check back next week for a transcript of our Q and A session – includes Charleen’s top 3 recommended dishes and advice for aspiring restaurateurs.