Filipino Advisory: A page from Dale Taldes cookbook Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn.
Filipino Advisory: A page from Dale Talde's cookbook Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn.

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I grew up in a food-obsessed immigrant household, eating an equal mix of traditional, homemade Filipino dishes and easy-to-fix "American" dinners like Hamburger Helper and Old El Paso tacos. One night, I would walk into the kitchen and find my father chopping up pigs' feet. The next night, I'd find my mother removing two Little Caesars' pizzas from their cardboard-and-paper tray. From a young age I understood fthat food was more than a meal, but a reflection of personal history and the culture we live in.

I’ve been thinking about these issues even more ever since I read Hua Hsu's terrific New Yorker article, "Chinese Food and the Joy of Inauthentic Cooking," last November. It's a sprawling piece, as much as a roundup of recent cookbooks with modern Asian recipes as it is a meandering, moving exploration of the complexities of Asian-American identity.

"In recent years, a frenzied interest in all things Asian has given chefs like Roy Choi, Dale Talde, and Danny Bowien an opportunity to turn their restaurants and cookbooks into sites of autobiographical exploration," Hsu writes. "Whether we can actually consume our way to cultural comprehension is, of course, another question entirely. And what if it’s your own culture you’re trying to understand?"

Hsu was talking about The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Danny Bowien and Chris Ying, Asian-American by Dale Talde, and 101 Easy Asian Recipes by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach magazine, all of which were published in 2015. Choi's excellent L.A. Son, published in 2013, is the obvious predecessor to these books, especially in its particular mix of dude swagger and emotional openness. ("It’s worth noting that the most famous Asian-American chefs are almost all men who chose cooking as a mode of self-expression; kitchen work was not a responsibility that the culture thrust upon them," Hsu writes.)

While the recipes are interesting, it’s the personal stories of growing up Asian in America that I was most drawn to in these books. Bowien, who was born in Korea and adopted by a white family in Oklahoma, writes beautifully about "being a white kid in an Asian kid's body." And I really identified with what Talde, who is Filipino, writes about coming of age: "I embraced my American identity, though my Filipino life kept intruding."

Talde, who owns two restaurants in Brooklyn, writes, "I realized 'Asian,' 'modern Asian,' or 'Asian fusion,' doesn't describe my food. I prefer Asian-American. . . I'm Filipino, sure, but really I'm an American chef who just happens to be Filipino."

He articulates something that I've been thinking about for a while, in terms of Filipino chefs and other Asian chefs here in Seattle: Writing and talking about food demands convenient ways of labeling and summarizing what chefs are doing, when the truth is, it can't be easily done. Food is personal, linked to our identities, which are complex. And it's hard to convey those kinds of complexities because they are often exactly what we take for granted about ourselves.

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Jonathan Kauffman, a writer at the San Francisco Chronicle (and my friend), recently published this article about the Filipino food movement in the Bay Area, and the conversations it has sparked around the country. I talked to Kauffman casually about the story a few months ago, and I was surprised to find myself quoted at the end of his piece. But what I said felt especially true: Here in Seattle, Filipino cooks are taking their own experiences and creating food that they see as an expression of who they are—grounded in tradition, but also entirely distinct.

You’ll be able to eat some of this food on Monday, when Chera Amlag and Geo Quibuyen of Food & Sh*t will host their Filipino pop-up the Comfort Room, at Kraken Congee. They'll be serving Filipino comfort food such as coconut adobo fried chicken wings and sizzling plates of sisig—both a traditional version made from pork belly, pig’s face, and chicken liver, and a vegetarian-friendly version with tofu and oyster mushrooms.

"It's within cultural intersections...that we've conceived and presented all of our menus in hopes of crafting an experience that shatters one's preconceived notions of Filipino food," they write. "Whether you've eaten it all your life or have yet to try it out, a redefinition is happening with each bite."