One notable trend in Dallas’ dining scene is the food pop-up. Rather than opening a storefront or an outpost, many new chefs are starting out by doing a series of these events, where they can serve their food on the go, usually collaborating with another business.
One pop-up that’s been bringing in customers is Ulam – Modern Filipino Kitchen. Ulam was founded by Anna Swann, who is determined to make Filipino cuisine part of the Dallas zeitgeist.
“It’s not truly traditional Filipino food,” Swann says of Ulam, “but it’s also not ‘elevated’ Filipino food, as some people might say. It’s really my take on Filipino food. I grew up Filipino American, so obviously, I’ve received that influence from different cultures having grown up in the States.”
Swann hails from Dublin, California, and moved to Dallas in 2006. Upon arriving here, she noticed there wasn’t a huge Filipino food presence in Dallas. In 2017, she decided to launch the Ulam pop-ups, where she would bring her versions of Filipino cuisine to local bars and taprooms.
“At that point, no one was really doing [Filipino food],” Swann says. “There were a handful of Filipino restaurants, but they would maybe last a couple of years, and then you’d hear about them closing. Or they’d be more in the outskirts of Dallas, like Arlington, Bedford or Plano. Nothing really in Dallas proper.”
With Ulam, Swann does a series of ticketed events at Peticolas Brewing Company in the Design District, and she's done events with Trinity Cider in Deep Ellum. This month, she will pop up at the Filipino Food Festival at Four Corners Brewing Co. on Sunday, March 8, as well as the Sandwich Hag Night Market on March 23.
Some of Ulam’s items include the adobong manok, a chicken adobo dish with egg and potatoes. Equally good is the tipsy pancit, Swann’s Filipino take on the drunken noodles. While Swann may not follow Filipino recipes exactly as tradition holds them, she believes her dishes, like those of traditional Filipino cuisine in general, are simple joys.
“For me, it’s our love language,” Swann says. “You’ll hear people say that a lot, but it’s the central part of our culture. You’re able to use uncomplicated ingredients. It’s pretty simple and humble; but the way the dish comes together, you’re able to get these bursts of flavors that seem complex, when they’re really not.”
Last month, Swann and her husband took a weeklong trip to the Philippines. It was her first time visiting in 15 years. While there, Swann enjoyed getting reacquainted with the culture.
“Throughout the whole day, there are literally like five meals,” Swann says. “There’s breakfast, lunch, the merienda, which is like an afternoon snack, then dinner and dessert. It’s kind of like a constant meal all day. My husband joked when we were there, saying, ‘Oh no, we haven’t eaten in four hours, what are we going to do?’”
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During the day, Swann works in product development for a watch company. By night, she comes home and sets goals for the months ahead, as she decides where she wants to have her pop-ups. As of now, she has no plans for an Ulam storefront, as she's enjoying the freedom of not being tied down to a store. She would, however, like to help popularize Filipino food in Dallas.
“I would love for Filipino cuisine to become a norm for people,” Swann says. “For it to be a norm in people’s kitchens at home or for going out. Growing up, it was never like that. Filipino food, for me, was mainly eaten at home. You would never hear my friends saying, ‘Let’s go out for Filipino food,’ because it just wasn’t known to them.”
While Ulam has been on the scene for only about three years, Swann finds it fulfilling when people enjoy her food. Whether you’re a Filipino food connoisseur or have never tried the cuisine in your life, Swann hopes her creations are able to establish common ground among all people.
“It’s great,” Swann says, “when a Filipino person comes up to me and says, ‘That was like a taste of home, even though it was different.’ It’s also great when someone who’s not Filipino says, ‘This is delicious, I’ve never had anything like it.' Ulam is all about bringing people together.”