• These Pinays are on a mission to introduce Filipino food to Australia. (Entree.Pinyas)Source: Entree.Pinyas
A group of talented Filipinas from Melbourne want to put this lesser-known cuisine on the map, and they're not letting a pandemic stop them.
By
Audrey Bourget

27 Apr 2020 - 12:35 PM  UPDATED 27 Apr 2020 - 12:36 PM

When I get in touch with The Entree.Pinays cofounders Grace Guinto and Fides Santos-Arguelles for a video chat, the latter has just finished pruning her kalamansi tree.

"Kalamansi is like a Filipino lime, similar to cumquat," explains Santos-Arguelles. "It's been in my backyard for over 30 years. My dad planted it when we moved to this home. It's a connection back to our motherland.

Guinto shares a similar feeling: "I don’t think our home feels like a home here in Melbourne, or wherever we migrated, until this kalamansi tree we have planted bears fruits."

But most Australians probably don't know kalamansi, or that it can be grown here. Despite Filipinos being one of the largest migrant groups in the country, their cuisine is still relatively unknown compared to their Southeast Asian counterparts like Vietnam and Thailand.

HOW TO COOK FILIPINO FOOD
In the kitchen: Filipino
Cuisine from the Philippines has evolved over centuries to include a diverse array of dishes – from pinakbet to paella – that fuse the best flavours from the east and west.

Rather than focusing on why this is the case, The Entree.Pinays are asking another question. "We said, OK, if that's the case, we're going to change it up, we'll flip it around and ask 'why not?'

"It's been the catalyst for why we decided to partner up with the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (MFWF) to really spearhead what has been a forgotten cuisine for a long time," says Guinto.

Together with four other Filipina-Australians (culinary curator Kristina Náray, community building manager Felis Sarcepuedes, media manager Sandra Tan and photographer/visual designer Maysie Lecciones), Guinto and Santos-Arguelles want to celebrate Filipino cuisine and share it with Australians. 

"It's a familiar zone for those who love their Southeast Asian cuisines, but also unfamiliar."

"The gateway foods to Filipino cuisine, the trifecta, is pancit, which is a noodle, lumpia, the Filipino version of a spring roll, and adobo, which is essentially a cooking technique as a way of infusing flavour to protein, but is also a testament to how Filipinos used to cook when there wasn't refrigeration," says Guinto.

 

Beyond these three dishes, you'll find a varied cuisine shaped by many influences, punchy combinations of sweet, sour and salty, and a love for flavourful sauces and condiments.

"It's a familiar zone for those who love their Southeast Asian cuisines, but also unfamiliar," adds Guinto. 

Last year, The Entree.Pinays organised the biggest Filipino showing yet at the MFWF with chefs Nicole Ponseca, Jordy Navarra and Ross Magnaye, and food writer Yasmin Newman.

Since then, they've hosted more dinners and community-focused events. "Our purpose is to try and reach an audience beyond our community. We're bringing ourselves from back of house to front of house," says Santos-Arguelles. "There's lots of Filipino culinary talent behind the scenes."

While there's still work to do before Australians crave adobo or sisig in the same way they do pad thai or pho, we can already see the impact of The Entree.Pinays and the new generation of Filipino chefs. Just look at the recent opening of Chibog, Migrant Coffee and Boba Bar in Melbourne, as well as the work of chefs like Ross Magnaye (Rice Paper Sister), John Rivera (Lûmé) and Santiago Cuyugan (Bibelot).

 

The events planned this year for the MFWF are postponed due to COVID-19. But The Entree.Pinays are not letting the pandemic stop their momentum.

They've recently launched Coffee & Chikahan, a series of video chats with guests from the hospitality industry like Nicole Ponseca, Kylie Javier-Ashton and Jem Jacinto.

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"We have real talks about real issues happening now in the hospitality industry. We do it in a way that uplifts, informs and gives knowledge to those struggling to know what to do next in this stage of crisis and uncertainty," explains Guinto.

"It has gone to show what's still possible, even if we've been forced to take a different direction with our efforts. We don't want to hibernate, we're social animals!"

Join the Coffee & Chikahan Zoom sessions on Saturdays or catch the chats later on YouTube. And you can keep up to date with the work of The Entree.Pinays on Instagram and their website.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @audreybourget and Twitter @audreybourget.

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