Houston Chefs Take Note: Filipino Cuisine in Texas Unraveled by Yana Gilbuena

By Christy Panis Poisot

(HOUSTON, TX) Self-proclaimed gypsy chef Yana Gilbuena, held a pop-up dinner in Downtown Houston’s Henke and Pillot on December 27, 2015, Kamayan style –where you eat with your hands. Gilbuena laid down ground rules before commencing the Sunday dinner – “serve with your left hand, eat with your right.”

Filipino cuisine in Houston, much like Filipino American history and identity has been perceived as a mystery to many Americans.  Origin stories are not well known to young Filipino Americans due to the lack of a formal curriculum in mainstream education.  The colonial past plays a huge part in these mixed emotions and stories.  There are high points and low points.  “A lot of young chefs who want to try their hand at doing Filipino food, I said, ‘you need to learn your history,’” reflects Gilbuena.  “You need to learn why certain things are cooked a certain way.  For me, I understand adobo.  The reason why adobo was created was there was no refrigeration.  My goal is for Filipino Americans to appreciate their country and where they came from.  How they got here.  The struggles we have been through to get where we are.”

In spite of this ambiguity of Filipino-American identity, one thing is clear: Filipino food is delicious and access to the food can prove to be a mystery to a Houstonian.  Ambitious foodies can seek out steam table options or turo-turo at Filipiniana, Godo’s, and Pugo de Manila.  Jollibee, a national chain, offers a fast-food approach to dishes with fun names like Fiesta noodles, known to the Filipinos as pancit palabok.  Anyone wishing to access the cuisine must be friends with a Filipino who has a mother living nearby and hope for an invitation.  Gilbuena explains, “As someone born in the Philippines, our only connection is food,” she said.  “Food, like the flavor or any odor, is a big memory invoker.  We go to the mom-and-pop places because it reminds us of home.  I wanted to share that, what home is defined for me.”

For one night, Gilbuena demystified the cuisine as a rebellious gypsy chef.  The dishes were both traditional and deconstructed.   Her holiday visit to Houston showcased dishes from the three regions of the Philippines:  Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.  Gilbuena visited earlier in 2015 and sold out in minutes to a few fortunate souls who jumped on the invitation at Phoenicia Marketplace in Downtown Houston.

A full house, hosted by Henke and Pillot, provided an ambiance of old friends and foodie adventurers looking to experience something very different and delicious.  Deep Eddy Vodka concocted drinks such as the Manila Mule made from the citrus found in Filipino gardens known as calamansi.  Gilbuena was pleased to find that the year-round tropical weather of Houston was able to provide her with fresh calamansi and banana leaves for her traveling dinner.

The sourcing of fresh local ingredients allows flexibility in the recipes. “That is the beauty of Filipino cuisine, it is very adaptable.  The reason we have pinakbet is that those are the only vegetables you can grow,” explained Gilbuena.  “So, what if you grew other vegetables?  You would still make pinakbet, but with a different mélange.  Why would it not be a pinakbet anymore if I put kale in there or turnip root?”

Bringing people together throughout all fifty states has been a learning experience for the chef. About eighty percent of all the pop-up guests were non-Filipino.  “It all comes down to being able to share food with or without utensils, without the pomp and theatrics at the table.  Breaking barriers and making connections while you are eating.”

The SALO Project has big plans going forward. “I want to inspire people to keep spreading the word and spread culture through food.  I am not saying I am a world-class Michelin star chef,” said Gilbuena.  “I am far from that, this is my language and food is my currency.  For me, being able to share that experience with people and give them a concept of what Filipino food is and Filipino culture, I think that is one of the best rewards I can ever get.”

Gilbuena will start her South American tour in 2016 starting in Bogota, Columbia. “I want to finish the Americas and two continents and then go on to the other five.”

To see the full interview go to www.american-filipina.blogspot.com or to join Yana on SALO Project Goes to Cuba, go to www.CulturalContrast.org.

Congressional Gold Medal for WWII Filipino Veterans Gets a Boost in Texas

Students attending “Isang Mahal” (One Love) take a moment to support the Congressional Gold Medal for Filipino Veterans.

HOUSTON, TX (Nov. 17, 2015) – Filipino American National Historical Society – Houston Chapter (FANHS-HTX) and National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) have joined forces to support the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVETRep).

On a rainy weekend on October 24, 2015, Patlindsay Catalla, Deputy of FANHS-HTX, Anthony Guevarra – NaFFAA Regional Rep, and Christy Panis Poisot, FilVETRep Board member set out to engage with 400+ students in College Station for the Annual Isang Mahal (one love) Talent Show and to celebrate Filipino American History Month. The show is hosted by the Philippine Student Association (PhilSA) of Texas A&M University and brings together all Filipino Student Associations across Texas.

One hundred and fifty letters to Congressman and Texas Senators were signed. Photos and videos captured the event and were shared on social media – all pleading one message to Texas leaders, Pass the Congressional Gold Medal now!

Southern Intercollegiate Filipino Alliance (SIFA) President Miko Jao observed, “it was the most successful collaboration with an organization outside of SIFA. There were positive remarks and everyone enjoyed the (FilVETRep) booth.” Following the event, University of Texas Filipino Student Association (UT-FSA) Vice President of Culture, Kelsey Banaglorioso, continued efforts at Filipino Heritage Night in Austin by doing a read-out on veteran contributions and soliciting one hundred signatures to petition Texas Congressman to support the Congressional Gold Medal bill. “It’s amazing to see how many people care about the Filipino soldiers that fought for this country,” said Banaglorioso. “I take pride as a Filipino, but also as an American.”

Filipino American History month concluded with a TV appearance by Poisot and Guevarra on Channel 13 “Visions” with Miya Shay. The two paired up to recap efforts to support the Congressional Gold Medal in Texas.

To date, only two Congressional Representatives support the Congressional Gold Medal Bill from Texas: Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee representing the Houston area.  No Texas Senators have shown support for the bill to date. A majority of Congress must show support by the end of the Obama administration or the bill will need to be re-introduced in the next administration.

There were an estimated 200,000 Filipino soldiers who fought in WWII. Only 16,000 to 17,000 soldiers remain in the US and the Philippines and their death toll is growing. According to the Census 2010, there were 137,713 Filipino Americans and Multiracial Filipino Americans in Texas. In 2011, five percent (86,400) of all Filipino immigrants in the United States lived in Texas.

The initiative behind the recognition of Filipino and Filipino-American World War II veterans is the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), a nonpartisan, community-based, all-volunteer national initiative whose mission is to raise awareness through academic research and public information and obtain national recognition of Filipino and Filipino-American WWII Soldiers across the United States and the Philippines for their wartime service to the U.S. and the Philippines from July 1941 to December 1946.


We have been here a lot longer than you think…

The history of Filipinos in Texas goes a lot further back than most would think.  From the nurses to the veterans to the first Filipino at Rice University.  We believe we are a part of American history and deserve to be recognized for our contributions to Texas history.  We look to uncover these stories, share them, and work towards integrating these facts into American mainstream education.

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