Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Taste of the Philippines, Denver, Colorado

I admit that the food I talk most about is rather "high-brow".  I'm a self-professed "Top Chef Stalker" and not ashamed to admit it.  Yes, I have the James Beard Award list bookmarked on my browser and I keep count of Michelin stars.  All this aside, at heart I am a lover of food no matter where it comes from.  I grew up on a lot of Filipino home cooking and know that really good food can come from humble beginnings and unexpected places.  So, it was rather fortuitous when I came across a Filipino food cart while taking a final stroll down the 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver only hours before catching my flight out of town.

Donning the iconic sun of the Filipino flag, the aptly named food cart "A Taste of the Philippines" is situated on the Mall between Stout and Champa Streets (near Walgreens).  Lucky for me, we were looking for a drug store and Walgreens won out over Rite Aid.  Because, had I not ventured far enough to get to "Wags" (as it is affectionately called by my pharmacist cousin), I would have never known that this cart even existed and that would have just been a shame.

Filipinos are all over the United States and Canada.  We've been coming to the U.S. for years and quite a number of us (like me) are actually born and raised Americans.  Yet, regardless of our ties to this country, we are also very tied to our "pinoy" culture.  We are a proud people and we like to show it (mostly when doing karaoke).  To paraphrase Bruno Mars (who, yes, is Filipino), we are all so happy and proud to be Filipino!  So, when one Filipino happens upon another, we are compelled to introduce ourselves and demonstrate just how proud we are.  And that's exactly what I did when I met Kathy Gietl.

Kathy is the proud proprietor of A Taste of the Philippines.  She was born in Quezon City, near the country's capital of Manila.  And, although she immigrated with her parents years ago to Springfield, Illinois, she is still very conversant in the national language, Tagalog.  This I know because she asked me exactly from where in the Philippines I was from - all in perfect Tagalog - just after I placed my order for "turon" (plantain banana fried in an egg roll wrapper, often with a slice of jack fruit).  See, I was with my daughter, Anna, and naturally I had to say I wanted "tatlo" (three) pieces of turon because it was compulsory for me to demonstrate for Anna's sake just how Filipino I am.  (Let's forget that I only understand Tagalog and am only 50% conversant in "Taglish".   Let's also forget how I've bastardized both the Ilongo and Visayan dialects.)   Kathy's Tagalog is perfect and mine ...  is not.  So, from there, I quickly initiated a conversation with her - in English.

Kathy told me that she's had her cart on the 16th Street Mall for about a year.  And although she has some Filipino visitors, she is proud to say that she has a lot of American regulars too.  She offers a "frequent diner" card (so diners can earn a free entree) after 10 visits.  And her cart window displays quite a number of frequent diner cards to prove just how popular she is becoming with the locals.   What's intriguing to me is that Kathy's popularity is being built upon on traditional Filipino staples, our "comfort food" so to speak.  From her cart, Kathy serves dishes like fried "lumpia" (the Filipino version of the egg roll made primarily of meats and more tightly wrapped than its Chinese cousin), chicken adobo (similar to the Spanish version but employing soy and vinegar), bistek Tagalog (a version of stir fry beef and onions) and sinigang (a vegetarian or seafood soup often made with bok choy and similar greens).  (Photos of these Filipino favorites appear under the menu tab of Kathy's website.  Click here to see them for yourself.)  She does this with a personal mission to expand interest and awareness of Filipino culture.  And that is something that I can definitely support.

When I happened by Kathy's cart, I'd just had breakfast and it was too early for lunch.  She was just setting up shop and I didn't have enough time left in Denver to sample her usual lunch time fare.   So, my full review of A Taste of the Philippines will have to wait for my next trip.  But until then, I do encourage Denver visitors and locals to stop by Kathy's cart near 16th and Stout and give her Filipino dishes a try.  I think you'll find that Filipino cuisine definitely stands apart from other Asian cuisines that are better known to American diners.  Our food reflects a unique fusion of Spanish and Asian influences and even our more Asian dishes draw influences from all over Asia.  Believe it or not, Filipinos - like Americans - are diverse and varied people.  Kathy's chosen menu of usuals does a good job of demonstrating that.  And, if the reviews of other bloggers are any indication, I suspect that dishes will be satisfyingly good to the American palate.   But, of course, you'll have to try it and tell me for yourself!  Would love to hear your comments below!

A Taste of the Philippines on Urbanspoon

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