Cookbook review: Filipino-American finds a voice through food

“Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream” by Alvin Cailan with Alexandra Cuerdo and Susan Choung (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35).

‘Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream,’ by Alvin Cailan

“I didn’t grow up eating Gerber baby food,” Alvin Cailan tells his friend, filmmaker Alexandra Cuerdo. Rather, he was weaned on lugaw — a simple rice porridge his grandmother always promised would make him feel better when he was sick. “Grandma was right,” Cuerdo says. “Filipino food is soul food.”

It’s one of many conversations that season Cailan’s newly released “Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35). Both cookbook and memoir, and written with Cuerdo, it chronicles his journey from first-generation American raised in a blue-collar neighborhood of East LA to nationally acclaimed chef, YouTube sensation, and champion of the Filipino food movement.

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“Amboy” is Tagalog slang for an American-born Filipino. It’s how Cailan defines himself, as well as the name of his latest venture, a burger counter and butcher shop in LA’s Chinatown.

Nearly a decade earlier, he birthed a food truck called Eggslut, which earned a following for its namesake dish, a coddled egg atop a chive-flecked potato puree. Food writer Ruth Reichl deemed it “heaven in a spoon.” Long lines followed, then a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

You’ll find that recipe for his post-culinary school, breakout creation in “Amboy.” But the heart of the book comes in recipes such as his great-grandmother’s Patis Fried Chicken brined in Filipino fish sauce; Pan de sal (sweet rolls) inspired by “my latchkey Costco kid life;” and Lechon (roast pork) that includes instructions for building a fire pit.

Lacking the backyard and the will to pull that off, I gave Hot Silog a try instead: crispy skillet-seared hot dogs served with fluffy, soy-seasoned Garlic Fried Rice (sinangag) and a sunny side up egg. It was an unexpected and delicious combination that offered a glimpse into the Filipino-American food experience, and made me hungry to learn more.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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