BERKELEY, Calif. – Chef Yana Gilbuena has been bringing the experience of eating Filipino food kamayan-style to every state in the United States for the past year.
Berkeley is one her final stops in California before she leaves for Hawaii to complete her 50-state food tour called the SALO Project.
Gilbuena says she is proud to help introduce more people to Filipino food especially in areas where there are not a lot of Filipinos.
“In Little Rock, Arkansas – I’ve never had such an amazing reception,” said Gilbuena. “And the same goes to Des Moines, St. Louis, and Omaha. Everyone was like, ‘Oh my God. Where have you been and are you coming back?’”
Gilbuena’s journey has come with challenges that she also finds rewarding.
“Sometimes I get a little discouraged when I reach out to certain people and I don’t hear back,” said Gilbuena. “Sometimes it could be the foodie community or the Filipino community, whatever it is. Sometimes you just reach a wall. But then you see the diners who are there and come and are genuinely interested and happy that you are bringing this cuisine to them.”
Eric Pascual and Alex Retodo of the Lumpia Company joined Gilbuena on this night on her tour and said they enjoyed collaborating with another inspiring Filipino chef.
“It’s been more than an honor to be able to work with her and when you’re able to work with someone and learn you’re going to pick something like trying a new ingredient,” said Pascual. “It’s awesome.”
On this night, diners were able to enjoy kare-kareng lumpia which was slow-cooked tongue and oxtail wrapped in a lumpia wrapper with dried peanut butter curry.
They also feasted on pork covered in Thai chilies in coconut sauce, commonly called Bicol Express.
Non-Filipino customers welcomed the new experiences of eating Filipino food with their hands.
“She exposed not only me but a lot of other people to some really nice Filipino food,” said shop owner Eric Lindgren.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Emma Emmerich of Berkeley. “I was so pleased by all the different types of food and I’m not familiar with Filipino food so it’s pretty much my first time.”
And for kababayan customers, the dinner was much like their childhood meals with their Filipino families.
“It was a very good experience. I think it really reconnected me back to my own Filipino roots,” said Elgin Aguilar.
After her final dinner in Hawaii, Gilbuena plans to take a break by spending two months backpacking in the Philippines.
But afterwards, she already has plans to bring the SALO Project to Canada, South America, and Europe.
Follow Rommel Conclara on Twitter @rommelconclara for more breaking news.