TEXT AND PHOTOS BY NASTASHA ALLI
Summer is hands down my favourite time of year in Toronto, and Filipino food was everywhere this year. Here’s what that looked like - the movement’s in full swing!
Lamesa’s Summerlicious 2016 Menu
As part of this year’s Summerlicious festival (the best chance to check out some the city’s top restaurants offering prix-fixe specials), Chef Daniel Cancino and his team at Lamesa brought a progressive vision of Filipino food to life on the plate, using locally-sourced ingredients to create dishes that undeniably satisfy the Filipino palate.
Take Ensaladang Talong, a salad of smoky, charred eggplant nestled above generous dollops of calamansi crème fraîche, topped with a garlicky tomato and mustard seed caponata and strewn with crunchy puffed pinipig.
Or Lechon Lettuce Wraps, made with thrice-cooked pork belly (boiled, cooked confit then deep-fried) tossed with a zesty calamansi dressing, topped with garlic chips, finger chilies and a papaya-carrot-raisin atchara, finished with yet more calamansi in a light aioli.
I’m a particularly big fan of their Daing ng Bangus - milkfish cured in-house, served with a thick nut-based sauce of tomatoes, bell peppers, red wine vinegar and cashews called romesco, a condiment that hails from fishing towns in northeastern Spain. You know that goes right with a briny, crisp-around-the-edges fillet of boneless bangus (especially near the belly). Ribbons of shaved celery, peppery radishes, pickled onions and crisp pea tendrils top it off, alongside a bowl of steamed white rice.
From walking in the door to the moment you leave, Lamesa Filipino Kitchen proved why they’re Toronto’s best Filipino food spot. They get genuine hospitality down to a science, and exhibit a vibe about them that bridges being Torontonian with being Filipino - the art on the walls say it best. From the way the menu is shaped (including ala carte classics to communal kamayan-style dinners) to provide diners a range of experiences with Filipino food, Lamesa’s definitely a destination in Toronto; bang on to sate those Filipino food cravings, executed with a refinement that’s earned over time.
Instagram favourite: Tito Ron’s Ube Turon Sundae
#Ooobae became acceptable to splash over all our social media accounts for a reason: this summer, intense purple hues took over scores of foodie accounts on Instagram, prompting several local online spaces to declare ube the next dessert craze in Toronto.
Tristen and Mike from Tito Ron’s (a Filipino-Carribean lumpia shop in Toronto’s eclectic Kensington Market) hit the sweet spot with their Ube Turon Sundae, scooping either all ube, ube/mango or ube/langka ice cream into a bowl topped with ube pillows (seriously addictive), banana chips and a twist on a street food classic - turon made with ube and bananas. After wandering into bakeries, sandwich shops, vintage stores and bars with excellent craft brews on tap, it’s the perfect treat for an afternoon spent exploring a tiny yet large world in one Toronto neighbourhood.
KulturaTO’s Street Eats Competition
I live for outdoor festivals in the city, and the love explodes tenfold when I get to enjoy a beautiful summer day wandering the streets of Toronto while munching on Filipino street food. My worlds collide in delicious ways!
From its start as a small community barbecue at the youth-led Kapisanan Community Centre, the Kultura Festival grew tremendously over the last decade and has drawn in crowds of over 15,000 to experience what being Filipino is like in Toronto - celebrating our culture, history and naturally, food. With events held in some of the city’s most vibrant public spaces - this year at their largest yet - the folks from Kapisanan (at the helm of this volunteer-driven festival every year) have much to be proud of as they continue to establish a mainstream market for Filipino food in Toronto.
Over the past couple years, Kultura’s “Kain Kalye” Street Eats Competition has become THE place for a generation of millennial Filipino chefs, caterers and food enthusiasts in the city to meet, talk shop and serve up their takes on Filipino food. You could say that, like others have about Toronto, we’re coming out of our shell by learning to be truly proud of who we are.
Lamesa had long lines for Pork Neck Inasal Skewers, charred and deliciously tangy, along with a legit Halo-Halo made from ingredients finished in-house.
Tito Ron’s served a playful take on sweet Filipino-style spaghetti, in a totally awesome fusion with hotdogs that turned me into a 5 year old at the doors of a Jollibee.
At Kanto by Tita Flips - downtown Toronto’s first Filipino street food vendor slinging take-out classics such as pancit, lechon kawali and lumpia out of shipping containers - I tried Cabcab, thin cassava flour wafers topped with shreds of Kanto’s cured beef tapa, tomatoes, green onions and a coconutty syrup. I imagine platters of these would disappear instantly at a party - and make excellent bar snacks!
I ordered Toasted Pandesal with Ube Cream Glaze and Coconut Jam from the guys at Merienda, whom I first met at a SALO Series dinner with Yana Gilbuena. Though a relatively simple concept, this dessert (that you can really have anytime) delivers three layers of distinct sweetness - first in a mildly sugary pandesal dough, then through the vegetal fruitiness of a glaze bursting with ube, and finally with coconut milk reduced for hours into a thick jam, filled with whiffs of toasty-until-almost-burnt coconut in every bite.