A lot of Filipinos and a Buffet
I had never tried Filipino food. Although I usually do not like buffets, there is no better way to jump in the deep end of a cuisine than with an $8 buffet with more than 50 dishes.
The New Filipiana Restaurant, 9671 Bissonnet, is in the same strip center as La Sani. On Sunday at lunch -- as on weekdays -- New Filipiana serves an enormous buffet. On Sundays, it costs around $8.
On this Sunday at noon, it was packed with Filipinos. They had filled every table and a crowd of at least 30 was waiting for tables.
Fortunately, I had arrived earlier, just before the crowd. Apparently, I stood out. One Filipina woman asked me incredulously, "Do you like Filipino food?"
Do I like Filipino food?
I do now. But Filipino food was not what I expected.
Before Spanish colonization, the indigenous culture in the Phillipines was Malaysian. I knew Filipino culture has a broad mix of influences. But I expected the food to be a Malaysian/Asian blend, much like the food in Hawaii.
Instead, the dishes I tried reflected more a mix of European cooking techniques with island ingredients. The food resembled more than anything else the food of Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.
Still, there is no question that this food was diverse. Many meats were braised or stewed, including goat, beef, and oxtail. There were adobo preparations, tomato sauces, and peanut sauces. Some seafood items such as calamari were lightly fried, but many were cooked in a stew. A few dishes included dried fish. Many dishes included fruits, such as coconut, bananas, mango, and currants, plus a lot of sweet potatoes.
Only a handful of dishes had much Asian influence. These included a popular but unappetizing batch of chopsuey, tiny fried spring rolls, at least one dish with tamarind sauce, and a dish called sweet bananas, which included firm bananas, sweet potatoes, and coconut milk.
It was hard to know exactly what I was eating. Only a few dishes were labeled, and about half the labels were in Spanish. I had heard that Filipino cuisine tends to use more of the animal than American cuisine. So I would not be surprised if I ate some unusual animal parts.
One of the more interesting dishes was dinuguan, a stew made from pork blood. Although the sauce had a blood-brown color and a slightly gritty texture, it tasted like a traditional European stew. Another stand out was kare-kare - 0xtails and vegetables in a light peanut sauce.
In short, I like what I tried. But there were so many items on New Filipiniana's buffet that I did not try even a third of them. The experience whet my appetite for more Filipino food. But perhaps next time, I will eat Filipino food off a menu -- so I know what I am getting.
What it looks like