Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Eating off the Hill: April is Filipino Restaurant Month across Canada

I'll get back to my Halifax culinary adventures soon (think seafood) but I wanted to jump ahead because April is Filipino Restaurant Month in Canada and, last week, a friend at the Filipino Embassy in Ottawa invited me for the luncheon launch event.

The launch was held at Sanduk, which I'm told is Ottawa's newest Filipino restaurant and is located on Holland Avenue, a short walk from the Tunney's Pasture O-Train station. The other participating Ottawa restaurant is Tamis Cafe & Restaurant, at 374 Bank Street in Centretown. They mentioned another Ottawa restaurant with a Filipino chef that is preparing a dish, but I don't recall the name and the web site isn't updated for 2024 yet.

Filipino Restaurant Month is a national event, with participating restaurants across the country that offer a Prix Fixe menu designed to introduce Canadians to Filipino cuisine. And diners also get a contest entry to win prizes from the event sponsors, including a trip to the Philippines.

I'm not a stranger to Filipino cuisine -- besides Jollibee I've gone a few times with friends -- including for a traditional boodle fight, which was a lot of fun.

My friend Nestor and I enjoying a Filipino boodle fight in Toronto.

However, for our lunch at Sanduk, we didn't practice kamayan but instead used cutlery. And we started off with a selection of what I was told were traditional Filipino street foods.

I tried to have (at least) one of each, with selections including delicious grilled pork, fish balls, chicken balls and, interestingly, deep fried battered quail eggs -- known as Kwek Kwek. As I've mentioned in past dispatches I'm not a big egg guy (though I am broadening my egg horizons in my old age) but these weren't bad at all. My favorite, though, was definitely the grilled pork which had a very tasty sauce.

A selection of street food appies.

Interior quail egg.

The mains were served buffet-style so we could each make ourselves a plate (or two), and there were a number of dishes familiar to me from past Filipino dining experiences as well as some I haven't tried before.

The most familiar to me of course was pancit, which is basically a stir fried noodle dish with vegetables -- think a Filipino version of chow mein. There were more tasty BBQ pork skewers which I couldn't get enough of. There was also BBQ chicken, but I didn't want to commit to eating an entire leg when there were so many tasty dishes available. My favourite was a dish that was new to me was the kare kare, which was pork belly served in a delicious peanut sauce.

I remarked to my hostess that I always associated peanut sauce with Thai cuisine and I learned that, while they popularized it in the West, it's a staple of cuisine in the Malay region, which includes both Thailand and the Philippines.

I didn't get any photos but passed around were two versions of sisig, served on sizzling plates. The pork version was made from liver which I wasn't a fan of, but I did enjoy the milk fish version and it paired well with the garlic rice.

Finally, we were served a traditional halo halo for desert. It wasn't the fanciest version of this Filipino desert staple I have ever had. It was shaved ice, condensed milk and some fruit, but it was tasty and rich and am enjoyable end to an excellent lunch.

Salamat to the Ambassador and the Embassy of the Philippines for inviting me, and I hope it's a great month. Be sure to get out and enjoy a meal at a Filipino Restaurant this month -- a peach and mango pie at Jollibee doesn't count. Mabuhay!

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