The entree.pinays


- Words Emma Do

Here’s a dinner table conversati­on starter for you: Filipinos outnumber Vietnamese people as one of the largest migrant groups in Australia. But unlike its Southeast Asian neighbour, food from the Philippine­s rarely gets dished up on Aussie plates. Melbourne collective The Entree.pinays are working to turn that around. Started by Grace Guinto and Fides Mae Santos-arguelles in 2018, the team – which also includes Felis Sarcepuede­s, Kristina Náray, Sandra Tan and Maysie Lecciones – is on a mission to get people curious about Filipino cuisine through tasty events and pop-ups.

Look up Filipino food and dishes like adobo (meat cooked in a vinegar, garlic and soy-based sauce), lechon (roasted pork) or lumpia (spring rolls filled with sweet or savoury ingredient­s) will pop up. “Those are the gateway foods to become more familiar with how we cook,” Grace says. “But it’s definitely not reflective of the nuances of our cuisine.”

Like any nation’s culinary traditions, it’s hard to sum up Filipino food in a sentence, let alone the confines of one article. Fides describes the flavours as “a juxtaposit­ion of salty and sweet”, with sour ingredient­s like tamarind and calamansi (a lime native to the Philippine­s) key to the balance. Then there’s the funkiness and umami of bagoóng (fermented fish or shrimp paste), and the “holy trinity” of garlic, onion and tomato, which forms the basis of many dishes. For a nation of 7000 islands, seafood is a pretty big deal, and as in other Asian countries, rice is foundation­al: present in breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.

“Filipino food is the original Asian fusion, purely by virtue of being a fusion nation in the first place,” Grace says. Sit down to a Filipino meal and you’ll end up tracing its rich history in the process. Chinese trade and migration from the 9th century resulted in pancit (noodles) and lumpia, while the kare-kare peanut stew has a lot in common with curries in neighbouri­ng countries. In the 16th century, Spanish colonisers brought produce from their settlement­s across Central and South America. Annatto seeds, tomato salsa and tamales (which Filipinos make with rice flour rather than corn) all stemmed from the Manila Galleon trade that linked the Philippine­s with Mexico across the Pacific Ocean, Grace explains. Meanwhile, ketchup, SPAM and other packaged foods came with US colonisati­on from 1898 to 1946. With all these influences, Filipino cuisine has adapted and evolved into something pretty unique. Unfortunat­ely, Grace and Fides reckon a colonial mindset still permeates the community’s view of their own foods.

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