Recipes: At home with Filipino flavors

Filipino dishes made in metro Atlanta include (from left) Bistek na Isda (sauteed cod with onions), Fried Adobo Pork Chops and Suam Na Mais (a Filipino corn soup). These dishes come from Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Filipino dishes made in metro Atlanta include (from left) Bistek na Isda (sauteed cod with onions), Fried Adobo Pork Chops and Suam Na Mais (a Filipino corn soup). These dishes come from Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

For Filipino Americans, food connects old traditions with new beginnings

Filipino food has never sustained much attention in the continental U.S. despite ties that date to 1898, when Spain ceded control of its Pacific colony to the U.S. That’s curious, because the cuisines of both countries resemble an evolving stew layered with the flavors of the cultures that it encounters.

The Filipino kitchen incorporates ingredients indigenous to its 7,641 islands, and methods of preparations particular to regions within the three central island groups of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. But influences extend beyond the archipelago, to neighboring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, to China, India, and Arabian nations, thanks to trade.

More than 300 years under Spanish rule, the majority spent under jurisdiction of the viceroyalty of New Spain in present-day Mexico City, brought Iberian and New World staples such as garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and tubers. U.S. soldiers are credited for introducing Filipinos to hot dogs, hamburgers and ice cream, and shelf-stable canned goods like Spam and evaporated milk before the occupation ended in 1946 and the Philippines gained independence.

Put it all together and you get a veritable East-meets-West melting pot punctuated with salty, sour, spicy and savory notes, sometimes pungent and porky, too. For Filipino Americans, including those living in Atlanta, settling a fix for familiar flavors is rare outside the family setting.

ExploreMore must-try recipes
Caption
Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, is shown at his Decatur home with his Filipino recipes: (from left) Bistek na Isda (sauteed cod with onions), Fried Adobo Pork Chops and Suam Na Mais (a Filipino corn soup). Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, is shown at his Decatur home with his Filipino recipes: (from left) Bistek na Isda (sauteed cod with onions), Fried Adobo Pork Chops and Suam Na Mais (a Filipino corn soup). Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, is shown at his Decatur home with his Filipino recipes: (from left) Bistek na Isda (sauteed cod with onions), Fried Adobo Pork Chops and Suam Na Mais (a Filipino corn soup). Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

“Buford Highway has anything else you could practically want. I was surprised to see there was no Filipino food there,” said Mike Pimentel of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, whose job transfer with Delta brought him from New York to Atlanta in 2014.

“As big as Atlanta is, no single Filipino restaurant ever survived,” echoed Amor Mia Oriño, who grew up in Manila and moved to the U.S. to attend graduate school. After relocating to Atlanta from Washington, D.C., a few years ago, she launched Filipino pop-up and catering business Kamayan ATL with her fiancé Carlo Gan.

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Caption
Carlo Gan (left) and Amor Mia Oriño, who have the Filipino pop-up and catering business Kamayan ATL, are shown in their Decatur home with the dish sinilihan, which is more widely known as Bicol Express. It's pork stew in coconut milk with chiles. Styling by Amor Mia Oriño and Carlo Gan / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Carlo Gan (left) and Amor Mia Oriño, who have the Filipino pop-up and catering business Kamayan ATL, are shown in their Decatur home with the dish sinilihan, which is more widely known as Bicol Express. It's pork stew in coconut milk with chiles. Styling by Amor Mia Oriño and Carlo Gan / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Carlo Gan (left) and Amor Mia Oriño, who have the Filipino pop-up and catering business Kamayan ATL, are shown in their Decatur home with the dish sinilihan, which is more widely known as Bicol Express. It's pork stew in coconut milk with chiles. Styling by Amor Mia Oriño and Carlo Gan / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

These fledgling culinary ventures have both relied on Instagram (@Kamayan_ATL and @Adobo.ATL) to accrue a following eager to chow down on chicken adobo, party trays of pancit (soy sauce-laced rice noodles intertwined with bits of meat and vegetables) and fried egg rolls known as lumpia.

“Atlanta is a place that they are willing to try, and if they fall in love with the food, they put it in their rotation,” Oriño said.

ExploreNew cookbook gives Filipino food a seat at the culinary table
Caption
Executive chef Walter Cortado (left) and Hope Webb (center), co-owners of Estrellita restaurant in Grant Park, and chef Blesseda Gamble, Cortado's sister, pose in the restaurant's dining area. The window decorations (left) called Kapis (oyster shells strung together) were made by Webb and are traditional Filipino curtains, or room dividers. The painting (right) by artist Laura Bochet is painted from a photo of Hope Webb's mother Estrella. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Executive chef Walter Cortado (left) and Hope Webb (center), co-owners of Estrellita restaurant in Grant Park, and chef Blesseda Gamble, Cortado's sister, pose in the restaurant's dining area. The window decorations (left) called Kapis (oyster shells strung together) were made by Webb and are traditional Filipino curtains, or room dividers. The painting (right) by artist Laura Bochet is painted from a photo of Hope Webb's mother Estrella. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Executive chef Walter Cortado (left) and Hope Webb (center), co-owners of Estrellita restaurant in Grant Park, and chef Blesseda Gamble, Cortado's sister, pose in the restaurant's dining area. The window decorations (left) called Kapis (oyster shells strung together) were made by Webb and are traditional Filipino curtains, or room dividers. The painting (right) by artist Laura Bochet is painted from a photo of Hope Webb's mother Estrella. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Hope Webb and Victor Cortado sure hope so. Last month, the business partners opened Filipino restaurant Estrellita at 580 Woodward Ave., in Grant Park. Although currently only open for takeout due to the pandemic, Estrellita prepares traditional Filipino recipes that Cortado’s mother, Florida Cortado, learned in her native country.

Estrellita may have roots in the Pacific, but these children of immigrants are culling from their experiences growing up in the U.S. (Webb in Florida, Cortado in New York) to distinguish their restaurant from failed Filipino restaurants of yore.

“A lot of restaurants weren’t anything that had a nice atmosphere,” said Webb. “They were more cafeteria-like.” When Estrellita opens its dining room, it will be sit-down service with a full bar.

Caption
At the Estrellita restaurant in Grant Park, chef Blesseda Gamble (sister of co-owner Walter Cortado) prepares a dish they grew up with, called Afritada, a Filipino dish of a whole chicken cut up, with potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion served over jasmine rice. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

At the Estrellita restaurant in Grant Park, chef Blesseda Gamble (sister of co-owner Walter Cortado) prepares a dish they grew up with, called Afritada, a Filipino dish of a whole chicken cut up, with potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion served over jasmine rice. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
At the Estrellita restaurant in Grant Park, chef Blesseda Gamble (sister of co-owner Walter Cortado) prepares a dish they grew up with, called Afritada, a Filipino dish of a whole chicken cut up, with potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion served over jasmine rice. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

It’s a similar story for Pimentel. “A lot of my recipes are influenced or inspired by the food I grew up eating at home, but I don’t want to mislead people into thinking that I grew up in the Philippines. I grew up here. I want my food to reflect that it tastes of my own experience of other foods, other cultures.”

WHERE TO SHOP

Find common Filipino staples at these metro Atlanta stores:

Buford Highway Farmers Market. 5600 Buford Highway NE, Doraville. 770-455-0770, Facebook: BufordHighwayFarmersMarket.

First Oriental Market. 2774 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-377-6950.

H-Mart. Various locations. hmart.com.

Manila Mart. 5938 Buford Highway NE, Doraville. 678-389-8595, manilamart.business.site.

Your DeKalb Farmers Market. 3000 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-377-6400, dekalbfarmersmarket.com.

RECIPES

Vinegar, soy sauce and chiles — with a side of jasmine rice — are hallmarks of Filipino cooking. You’ll see these ingredients in these recipes that also bear the accent of the cook — be it a Filipino native or one who grew up in the U.S.

Caption
Suam Na Mais (a Filipino corn soup) is a recipe from Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL. Some of the produce choices in the soup reflect his time in Atlanta. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Suam Na Mais (a Filipino corn soup) is a recipe from Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL. Some of the produce choices in the soup reflect his time in Atlanta. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Suam Na Mais (a Filipino corn soup) is a recipe from Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL. Some of the produce choices in the soup reflect his time in Atlanta. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Suam Na Mais (Filipino Corn Soup)

Mike Pimentel of Adobo ATL pop-up says his approach to cooking reflects his Filipino heritage and his upbringing in the U.S. This recipe for corn soup is one he grew up eating in the summertime. “Usually, there is pork belly or pork shoulder,” he said. Since moving to Atlanta in 2015, he has added more produce to the soup, including collard greens and okra, both used in this version.

Suam Na Mais (Filipino Corn Soup)
  • 4 cobs yellow corn
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 cups okra, sliced into 1/2-inch disks
  • 1 Basque fryer pepper, cut in half (substitute with any mild long green chile pepper, such as Anaheim) (for milder heat, remove seeds and membranes)
  • 1 bunch collards, stems removed, roughly chopped
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Peel husks from corn. Slice kernels off by standing each cob up in the middle of a large bowl to help catch the kernels. After kernels are removed, scrape cobs with the back of a knife to extract juices from the cob. Squeeze kernels with hands to release more liquid. Set aside.
  • Add the oil to a large stockpot and warm it over medium heat. Add diced onions and saute for 5 minutes, until softened. Add minced garlic, pork and 1 teaspoon salt. Continue cooking for 5-7 minutes, until pork begins to brown.
  • Stir in corn and remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Add 2 quarts of water, increase the heat to high and bring to boil. Once boiling, stir in the okra and Basque fryer pepper, turn the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add collards, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, until collards have softened.
  • Remove from heat, add salt and black pepper to taste, and serve. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 479 calories (percent of calories from fat, 48), 37 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 26 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 107 milligrams cholesterol, 1,735 milligrams sodium.
Caption
Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, uses fish in his Bistek na Isda (sauteed cod with onions), and he says any white fish will work. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, uses fish in his Bistek na Isda (sauteed cod with onions), and he says any white fish will work. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, uses fish in his Bistek na Isda (sauteed cod with onions), and he says any white fish will work. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Bistek na Isda (Sauteed Cod with Onions)

“Bistek is normally done with beef. I also cook it a lot at home with fish,” said Mike Pimentel of Adobo ATL. “Any white fish works pretty well. Using cod, tilapia, sea bass or trout, it cooks in about 30 minutes.”

Bistek na Isda (Sauteed Cod with Onions)
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless cod fillets or other mild white fish
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 lemons, juiced
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Steamed white rice, for serving
  • Place cod fillets in a casserole dish. Add soy sauce and lemon juice. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
  • Peel and slice onions into 1/4-inch rings. Set aside.
  • Remove cod fillets from marinade and pat dry. Reserve marinade and set aside.
  • Add the oil to a heavy skillet and warm on medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry the fillets, about 3 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.
  • Add onions to the same skillet and cook over medium-high heat until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping bottom of pan to release drippings.
  • Add reserved marinade and 1/4 cup water to the skillet and cover. Decrease to low heat and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until onions are soft and translucent.
  • Place cod fillets back in the skillet with onions and gently combine, being careful to keep the fillets intact. Remove from heat. Serve hot with steamed white rice. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 280 calories (percent of calories from fat, 28), 42 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 8 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 98 milligrams cholesterol, 344 milligrams sodium.
Caption
Fried Adobo Pork Chops is based on a dish made by the Filipino mother of Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, while he was growing up in New York. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Fried Adobo Pork Chops is based on a dish made by the Filipino mother of Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, while he was growing up in New York. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Fried Adobo Pork Chops is based on a dish made by the Filipino mother of Mike Pimentel, founder of Filipino pop-up Adobo ATL, while he was growing up in New York. Styling by Mike Pimentel / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Fried Adobo Pork Chops

“I don’t know if it’s Filipino or not,” said Mike Pimentel of Adobo ATL of this dish that his Filipino mother frequently prepared for their family during his upbringing in New York. “It starts Filipino where we use a lot of garlic and vinegar, braise the pork chops, then bread and fry so it becomes crispy but has the taste of adobo.”

Fried Adobo Pork Chops
  • 2 pounds bone-in pork chops, 1/2-3/4-inch thick
  • 10 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 cup cane vinegar or white vinegar
  • 2 cups water plus 2 tablespoons water, divided
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, separated
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Place pork chops in a deep saute pan. Add garlic, vinegar, 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt, and bring to boil. Cover partially and simmer over medium-low heat for 60-75 minutes, until meat begins to loosen from bones.
  • Transfer pork chops to a plate, pat dry and let cool. Reserve about 1 cup of braising liquid.
  • Combine 1/2 cup cornstarch, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, garlic powder and black pepper in a wide, shallow dish and mix well. Set aside.
  • Add enough oil to a heavy skillet to reach 1/2 inch up the sides. Over medium-high heat, heat the oil to 350 degrees.
  • Dredge pork chops in cornstarch mixture, covering all surfaces and shaking off excess coating.
  • Working in batches, add pork chops to a heavy skillet and fry over medium heat, about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove pork chops from heat and let rest on a wire rack or paper towels.
  • Place reserved braising liquid in a small saucepan over low heat. Add brown sugar and stir until dissolved. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water, mixing well to create a slurry. Add the slurry to the braising liquid and bring to boil. Remove from heat once thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  • Serve pork chops and sauce with steamed white rice. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 567 calories (percent of calories from fat, 46), 47 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 28 grams total fat (7 grams saturated), 134 milligrams cholesterol, 1,592 milligrams sodium.
Caption
Sinilihan, more widely known as Bicol Express, is a pork stew in coconut milk with chiles. Amor Mia Oriño of Filipino pop-up and catering business Kamayan ATL calls it "a very versatile dish" since you can swap out ingredients. Styling by Amor Mia Oriño and Carlo Gan / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Sinilihan, more widely known as Bicol Express, is a pork stew in coconut milk with chiles. Amor Mia Oriño of Filipino pop-up and catering business Kamayan ATL calls it "a very versatile dish" since you can swap out ingredients. Styling by Amor Mia Oriño and Carlo Gan / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Sinilihan, more widely known as Bicol Express, is a pork stew in coconut milk with chiles. Amor Mia Oriño of Filipino pop-up and catering business Kamayan ATL calls it "a very versatile dish" since you can swap out ingredients. Styling by Amor Mia Oriño and Carlo Gan / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Bicol Express

Bicol Express, also known as sinilihan, is a Filipino stew that combines pork, chiles and coconut milk. ”It’s a very versatile dish,” said Amor Mia Oriño of Filipino pop-up and catering business Kamayan ATL. The pork can be swapped for shrimp or meaty fresh produce like kabocha squash, young bamboo shoots, winged beans (or other green bean, such as yard long beans) or young green jackfruit. “Whatever is in season, you can put in. It can morph into a Southern dish,” she said.

Bicol Express
  • 2 tablespoons canola or any neutral oil
  • 1/2 pound pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ginisang bagoong (Filipino sauteed fermented shrimp paste)
  • 2 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 3 siling haba (a type of moderately hot Filipino green chile pepper) (substitute with shishito or jalapenos), chopped
  • 3 siling labuyo (a tiny, very hot Filipino chile pepper) or Bird’s Eye chile, chopped (for milder heat, use fewer peppers)
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, sear the pork belly and pork shoulder.
  • Add the garlic and shallot to the skillet and saute until limp and aromatic. Add the ginisang bagoong and cook for another minute.
  • Pour in the coconut milk and add the long green chiles. Bring it to boil then lower heat and let simmer for about 1 hour, or until pork is tender and sauce begins to thicken.
  • Add the Bird’s Eye chile. Season to taste with black pepper and sea salt, if desired. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 823 calories (percent of calories from fat, 85), 20 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 80 grams total fat (46 grams saturated), 77 milligrams cholesterol, 175 milligrams sodium.
Caption
Afritada, a Filipino dish of a whole chicken cut up with potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion, is shown here over jasmine rice at Estrellita restaurant in Grant Park. Styling by Walter Cortado and Blesseda Gamble / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Afritada, a Filipino dish of a whole chicken cut up with potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion, is shown here over jasmine rice at Estrellita restaurant in Grant Park. Styling by Walter Cortado and Blesseda Gamble / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Afritada, a Filipino dish of a whole chicken cut up with potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion, is shown here over jasmine rice at Estrellita restaurant in Grant Park. Styling by Walter Cortado and Blesseda Gamble / Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Chicken Afritada

Chicken afritada is a Filipino tomato-based stew with chicken, carrots, potatoes and bell peppers. This version of the comfort dish hails from Florida Ollero Cortado, mother of Victor Cortado, co-owner of Estrellita Filipino restaurant.

Chicken Afritada
  • 4 tablespoons corn, canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 whole chicken, broken down into 8 pieces (breast, wings, thighs)
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch disks
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded, and cut lengthwise into thin strips
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • In a large stockpot, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and cook until browned. Remove potatoes and set aside.
  • To the same stockpot, add the chicken pieces and cook over medium-high heat until browned, 3-5 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.
  • To the same stockpot, add the garlic, onions and tomatoes. Saute over medium-high heat, cooking until the onions are translucent.
  • Return the chicken to the pot and add the soy sauce. Stir. Lower the heat and let simmer 10-15 minutes.
  • Stir in the carrots and cook another 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook another 5 minutes. Add bell peppers and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 3-5 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender and the flavors have melded. Remove from heat and serve over jasmine rice. Serves 6-8.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 6: 561 calories (percent of calories from fat, 57), 36 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 35 grams total fat (9 grams saturated), 151 milligrams cholesterol, 743 milligrams sodium.

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