By Vanette Colmenares
New York – The weather was cold, but not that chilly to hamper the mood of Filipinos who took to the Manila Zoo festival held in Astoria, Queens on a Sunday, October 24,2021. The event had more than 36 vendors, from as far as California to the neighboring borough of Brooklyn at Radial Park organized by enterprising millennials of the Barkada Market Market.
The vendors sold gourmet food, skin care products, media items and many more. One would think that they were back in the Philippines as dialects from all over could be heard from conversations in Tagalog, Bisaya, Ilonggo, and even Chavacano.
I was greeted by Ms. Dierdre Levy, one of the organizers. She gave me my media badge and told me about the event and project Barkada (in Filipino this means group of friends).
Long lines were visible from all the vendors and I made my way to the end where the stage was located. A disc jockey was playing familiar songs reminiscent of home. Fronting the stage were tables and chairs for the comfort of those that wanted to enjoy the sumptuous purchases made.
The food truck ‘Twelve Truck’ was right smack the stage that sold specialties such as vegan monggo with rice and crispy chicken arroz caldo which were a bit pricey but were appropriate for the chilly weather.
There was a booth of ‘WeAreSunRaised,”depicting California, the sunshine state since the vendor is a Filipina that hails from the sunny capital. Their merchandise of cards with slippers on the mat that says “Welcome’ right at the doorstep is so Filipino and the other card that ketchup that depicted the famous Jufran banana ketchup of the Philippines but instead placed as ‘Girlfran’ with two yellow bananas probably a symbol of friendship.
But what I found as unmistakably Filipino (and a reminder of the elderly Pinay’s is the badge that says ‘CERTIFIED TITA’ and only one who is authentically Filipino will understand it. We are one big family of titas and titos by heart, and even if not by blood. (Tita is Aunt in the English language. Such as Americans wonder if the one called ‘tita’ is a relative. And we often say, if not by blood then by love.)
“Kusi” is the other half of the booth shared by an Illongga, whose seasonings for Sisig are made of natural ingredients for that umami – tangy and spicy – flavor that makes it just like home. Aside from that salt seasoning is her chili oil of fermented black beans in a spicy savory sauce.
When asked why she chose the word “Kusi” as her brand, one cannot help but remember her mother’s telling her that she will get a ‘pinch’ if she disobeys. Thus the similarity of spice in her products and that memory of the pinch has a meaning in itself.
The Kaylee Corner offered pork lechon belly. It also had adobo, pork longanisa, barbecues of pork, chicken, esaw, pork belly, pork ears, pork blood, and chicken feet which were all big hits in the event.
However, the number one item that was easily sold out was the rice. Why? Because Filipinos cannot have all these sumptuous food without rice.
As comedian Jokoy says, rice is rice and in any Filipino event, we do have rice cakes as well. Keyks and Kukis are indicative of two cultures of Filipino and American. As their statement says – their desserts are a culmination of childhood nostalgia and life experiences told through diverse flavors, textures and color.
To prove that they are committed to that, Keyks and Kukis do have kids keyk packs with descriptions such as birthday confetti, cookies and cream and lemon lucky charms—all American names, but made of rice cakes.
Food Diaries Kitchen, owned by Chef Mari, a Dominican Republic native, has captured the taste buds of many Filipinos with her gourmet presentation and interpretation of the pork dishes which I gobbled up.
Partnering up with Barkada Market Market was Linda, who’s on the drinks side with her display of liquid concoctions. I particularly liked the drink of gardenia which is a combination of a club soda and her own concoction of liquid drink seasoning. That fresh taste of washing out the spicy food awhile ago. Truly a pair of sorts – Mari and Linda.
Another booth worth mentioning where fresh is best is Sugarcane Daddy. You savor a glass of sweet juice pressed from real sugarcane right in front of you, and poured into a glass. After the pressing, all that is left of the cane is that green membrane that holds it.
A Filipino meal cannot be complete without dessert – and one of the best desserts is our famous halo-halo. Henry Alesna and his wife Eva came up with a brilliant idea of packing halo-halo into individual packs for sale.
I have had the pleasure of having this iced dessert even before the food festival. I placed several of them in the freezer and when the urge to eat was there, I easily had my halo halo anytime of the day and still tasted fresh as ever.
Henry has already placed his halo halo in some stores under the Filro label. They come in flavors of ube, pandan, coconut, avocado and mango—and yes, inside the pack, there is leche flan. How cool is that!
The most notably popular of the desserts had a snakelike line that wound its way to a booth with a simple serving of one item each on a plate: Leche flan ni Lola, Ube, and Bad baboy. The booth Cora is named after a grandma by the imagination of a creative chef during the time of pandemic. Since there was no in-person selling, they did it with technology. And before they knew it, the orders took longer due to the demands. It was a business success during the pandemic and all because of Filipino ingenuity.
The whole afternoon was indeed as enjoyable as can be. The Filipino culture was indeed alive, the palate of every Filipino who came was satiated and bellies filled. The hospitality of every Filipino was displayed too.
Kudos to the organizers! Congratulations to the vendors, and to everyone who was there- it’s always fun in the Philippines (even if it was celebrated in Astoria). Looking forward to more events.
Sa uulitin. Maraming salamat.# (Featured photo Manila Zoo Festival at Radial Park; photo by Josh Vasquez)