In the midst of this global pandemic, traveling seems far-fetched for most of us. Therefore, savoring local delicacies in tropical countries like the Philippines is quite difficult for many. But not in New York City.
Now, the Big Apple foodies can have a taste of the bursting authentic flavors of Filipino street food.
Exotic food for all
Named “So Sarap NYC,” the newest Filipino street food pop-up store was established by father-and-son Virgilio and VJ Navarro and French-Chinese businessman Sebastian Shan.
The small food business is the latest Filipino signature pop-up craze to hit the streets of New York where foodies, even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, would converge for a taste of these authentic exotic delights.
Fishball and Kikiam
Fishball and Kikiam are primarily made from fish meat ground to a paste, are deep-fried until golden and then skewered in wooden sticks and dipped in a variety of sauces ranging from sweet, spicy to sweet, and sour.
Isaw (grilled chicken intestine) and Magwheel (grilled pork intestine)
Isaw is popular street food in the Philippines, it is made from barbecued chicken intestines. Isaw's preparation was very tedious at it has to be cleaned several times to ensure it doesn't have the bitter taste once cooked. After cleaning, the intestines will be boiled then grilled on sticks. They are usually dipped in vinegar.
Meanwhile, Magwheel is boiled pig’s large intestine until tender then grilled. It resembles a car tire, therefore, called “Magwheel”. This street food pairs well with beer or liquor and has earned its reputation of being the best affordable “pulutan” or snack. Probably one of the most sought after and most popular street food in the Philippines.
Kwek-kwek (deep-fried quail eggs)
If Japan has the Tempura, the Philippines has this “Kwek-Kwek”. It is a boiled quail egg, with the shell removed, dipped in an orange batter ( batter is a mixture of cornstarch, baking powder, water, annatto powder (which makes it orange in color), salt, and ground pepper) when the eggs are already coated, the final step is to deep fry it. It is best served with vinegar as the dipping sauce.
The name sounds so funny and rhymes as quack-quack for a duck, queck-queck for a deck. But no, Kwek-Kwek is not an animal sound, it is a favorite food among the children and teenagers here in the Philippines. It is actually one of the popular street foods along with the level of fishball, kikiam, and barbecue.
Betamax (grilled pork blood),
Betamax is dried chicken blood that is shaped into cubes and cooked on the grill. The blood is extracted from the chicken and set aside to cool. This leaves a gelatinous substance that is scalded to form a more solid-state. It is then cut into rectangles and placed on a stick, at which point it resembles the shape of a Betamax tape.
Balut (boiled egg duck)
Of course, Filipino street food wouldn't be complete without the infamous balut. A balut is a fertilized bird egg (usually a duck) that is incubated for a period of 14 to 21 days and then steamed. Balut that is incubated for longer periods have a well-developed embryo and the features of the duckling are recognizable. The partially-developed embryo bones are soft enough to chew and swallow as a whole. The contents are eaten directly from the shell. And So Sarap NYC had their spicy vinegar perfectly paired with balut.
These exotic delicacies are also affordable as you can get two sticks of each kind for only $5, while $4 per balut. Trying these unique flavors would definitely make one say, "so sarap" (so delicious).
"We are missing something in New York. There is a large Filipino community [here], but how do we bring it out? And I feel like what we can bring everyone together is food." - Sebastian Shan
Not all Filipino street foods are savory, grilled hot, and deep-fried. Some delicacies are sweet and chilled, perfect for the humid climate of a tropical country.
So Sarap NYC also offered these sweet desserts in the street of New York such as ice candies, Sorbetes (coconut milk ice cream), and Taho (silken tofu with vanilla syrup and tapioca)
Though it is usual to see people standing in long lines in America’s busiest city, what is unusual to see is the steady stream of people who are waiting to get a taste of Filipino street food.
"It's all about community for the Filipinos. So, we are bringing it here" - Sebastian Shan
The “secret” to their popularity comes from the older Navarro's recipes who cooks authentic Filipino street foods in the Philippines. Back in his hometown in Pangasinan, he was a street vendor selling these delicacies as well.
Invest in culture
Co-owner Sebastian, who is the high school buddy of VJ, said the business was supposed to roll out in March but was pushed back by the pandemic.
The delay had given the small business venture some advantages, like getting a good spot in New York, New York because not too many ventures were popping up due to the pandemic.
And of course, the customers keep on coming because the taste of real Filipino street food brings good memories to those who had once upon a time fed themselves sticks of isaw, fishball, or balut in their own hometowns. Meanwhile, to those who have never tasted Filipino street food, it brings the delight of a new mix of flavors.
"We definitely wanted to bring something in New York that has a nostalgia factor. Something that people would miss. And I think that is street food." - Sebastian Shan
So Sarap NYC invested in the Filipino culture, which occupies 4 million in the U.S population. In New York alone, there were about nearly 150,000 Filipinos living in the City.
The pandemic luck
So Sarap NYC had been delaying their business since the pandemic broke out last year. The initial plan was to open in March 2020, but it got pushed back as they thought the people might not patronize their products because social distancing is important.
It was only August last year when they finally opened to the public.
“Our first pop-up was on Aug. 9, 2020, at Kabisera Cafe, in Lower Manhattan. We were shooting content for our launch in early summer, but due to the pandemic, we were hesitant to roll it out. It’s been difficult to serve food in these conditions. The restaurants struggle to bring that hospitality atmosphere. Back in the Philippines, it was so easy to just tusok-tusok the fishball and gather around the isawan and be able to just enjoy and dip your food in the sauces. But we have to stay compliant. We reinforce wearing face masks, social distancing, and make sure no one double dips or crowds the food cart.” - Sebastian Shan
With vaccines currently on the roll-out in the US, it seems like we’re about to see more delicious Pinoy street food from So Sarap NYC.
In a Facebook post, the Tourism Promotions Board Philippines (TPB) expressed its delight to see the thriving Filipino business in the US despite the crisis. The post also encouraged foreign travelers to visit the country soon when border restrictions are finally lifted.
Be on the track where the So Sarap NYC gang will go next, and to be updated to their new offerings, follow their Instagram page at @sosarapnyc.