• Chibog's signature is the pork-based sisig. (Chibog)Source: Chibog
Most Australians have eaten Chinese, Thai, Japanese or Indian in the last few weeks, but it's unlikely they've had Filipino.
Audrey Bourget

12 Jun 2020 - 12:12 PM  UPDATED 20 Jan 2021 - 5:34 PM

--- Learn cooking techniques from across Asia with Diana Chan on the brand-new second season of Asia Unplated with Diana Chan, premieres Thursday 28 January on SBS Food, or stream it on SBS On Demand. ---


Janine Barican, the owner of Filipino restaurant Chibog in West Footscray, Melbourne, tells SBS Food, "It's crazy how there's an abundance of Filipinos here, but many people have never had Filipino food. We want to put Filipino food out there."

Barican grew up on her grandma's cooking in Metro Manila until she moved to Melbourne at 17.

"I go [back to Manila] almost every year to visit, and every time I come back, I crave Filipino food, but there aren't many Filipino restaurants around," she says.

So she quit her nursing career and took the matter into her own hands with the help of a chef friend, Alex Yin. 

Yin, a Chinese-Australian, fell in love with Filipino food at a music festival after trying dinuguan, a hearty pig's blood stew.

Meet Janine Barican (right) and Alex Yin.

Over the last year and a half, Barican and Yin have perfected their favourite Filipino recipes.

Since late February, they serve them at Chibog (a Filipino slang word meaning "to eat"), in the inner-west suburb of West Footscray.

"We try to keep it as traditional as possible, but we modernised the presentation and the experience," explains Yin.

"We try to keep it as traditional as possible, but we modernised the presentation and the experience."

Start your meal with something small like kinilaw, fresh tuna ceviche with cane vinegar and coconut milk.

Chibog's kilinaw is packed with flavour.

Another option is the rich balut, a boiled duck embryo still in the shell.

"You eat it with salt or vinegar," says Yin. "We use a spiced vinegar called pinakurat, which has ginger and chilli in it. It's a popular condiment."

Main dishes include kare-kare (a peanut butter and oxtail stew with bok choy, snake beans, eggplant and bagoong – a fermented shrimp paste) and Chibog's signature, sisig.

"Traditionally, it's made of pig's head, but we decided to tone it down a bit and use cuts that are the right ratio of skin, fat and lean meat. We drizzle the meat with our special sauce made of liver pate, and serve it on a sizzling plate," says Yin.

Barican also recommends kansi, a slightly sour tamarind and beef soup with jackfruit and chilli.

If you're not sure where to start, the bilao boodle is your best bet.

"Usually, Filipinos eat with their hands," says Barican. "The boodle fight [a Filipino feast that revolves around eating with your hands] originated with the military. After they did the training, they would sit down at big tables and put banana leaves on top and chuck all the food there.

"Instead of that, we made a 'bilao boodle'. A bilao is a woven basket or plate, so we put the banana leaves in it and cover them with things like grilled chicken, sweet potato fritters, crab fried rice, jasmine rice, stuffed squid, sauces and grilled pork."

Barican is also a queen of desserts, like the ube waffles and ice cream, which have that distinctive sweet purple yam colour. She puts a twist on the classic leche flan by deep-frying it inside crunchy spring rolls.

Almost too pretty to eat.

While she takes liberty with some dishes, Chibog is resolutely Filipino. "We try to use the same ingredients as in the Philippines...so when Filipinos, or even people who travelled there, come in, they recognise the flavours," says Barican.

This also translates to the cocktail list, which features ingredients like calamansi, ube and macapuno (coconut 'sport').

After just a few months, Chibog already has repeat customers, indicating there's a growing appetite for Filipino food in Melbourne.

553 Barkly Street, West Footscray
Tue – Sat 11 am – 3 pm and 5 – 10 pm
Sun 11 am – 3 pm and 5 – 9 pm

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How to cook Filipino
Filipino cuisine takes its influences from a number of cultures, mainly Chinese and Spanish. Before Spanish colonies settled in the region, the produce available in the Philippines, as well as the methods used to cook it, came from neighbouring China. Rice was widely cultivated and ingredients such as soy sauce, tofu and bean sprouts were traded into the Philippines. When the Spanish arrived, they brought supplies from the Americas such as corn, tomatoes and potatoes, and introduced different styles of cooking, such as frying. The Filipino longanisa sausage is very similar to the Spanish chorizo. Today, the Philippines is known for its sweet, sour and salty cuisine, and communal way of eating.