Filipino Food: At Least One Reason to Envy California

(Walk the Wok correspondent Kristy Yang has been taking some very long walks lately, so we thought we'd have her tell us about Asian food elsewhere. Presumably, City of Aters do step out of the In-N-Out line now and then and travel.)

Any trip to the San Francisco Bay area would be remiss without an Asian cuisine tour. Along with having one of the better Chinatowns in North America, the region also boasts one of the densest Filipino populations in the States, namely Daly City, the self-proclaimed "Pinoy Capital."

The boyfriend and I recently returned from the Northern California metropolis for a visit with his Filipino family. Whilst visiting his eccentric Uncle Tony in the seaside town of Pacifica, we were told there'd be no Goldilocks for us. (Goldilocks is a popular chain of Filipino food and bake shops.) Instead, we were shuttled to a recently opened Filipino restaurant in the neighborhood.

Juan dela Cruz Asian Cuisine -- or J.A.C. for short -- is a small family restaurant in a shopping center on the border of Pacifica and Daly City. Although its chef comes from a fine dining and hotel restaurant background, the restaurant specializes in hearty Filipino family sized dishes. To our surprise, the boyfriend's cousins informed us that the Bay area is now chock full of fancier Filipino establishments that serve tiny, bite-sized tapas dishes. Fortunately for us, there's nothing dainty about the food at J.A.C. Good thing we had come to San Francisco with murderous intentions.

Over lunch, Uncle Tony regaled us with the history of Filipino-Americans in the SF Bay Area and how many came to settle in Daly City after World War II because of its proximity to several military bases. During the war, Filipinos were recruited (namely into the Navy) to help fight the Japanese. After the war, a few Filipino soldiers and their families settled in the more reasonably priced Daly City. Soon after, many began to follow, wanting to create a community away from their native home and breaking the more migratory nature of past Filipino immigrants. Today, more than 40 percent of the population in the city is Filipino-American, creating one of the densest Filipino populated towns in the United States. If I got any of that wrong, sorry, Uncle Tony. I may have been slightly distracted by the food.

Yes, the food. Before the meal, the boyfriend, his cousin Maria and I had put in two hours at the gym, and I don't think it made a dent. We feasted on bistek, large slices of beef that swam in a sauce of vinegar and garlic; a heavenly barbecue tadyang or shortribs, glazed in finger-licking sweet, red sauce; coconut milk bicolano-style cooked medley of pumpkin, bitter melon, and okra; and finally, the mackdaddy of all hedonistic Filipino food, crispy pata.

The deep-fried pig's feet and knuckles were the size of my head. Where J.A.C. found pigs this large is a Game of Thrones-proportion mythical mystery. For those who have never tried the dish, imagine a thick outer layer of crispy pig skin, a second layer of gooey, sticky pig's fat, then a final layer of tender pork. Then imagine ordering dessert afterward, because that is what we did.

No respectful Filipino meal is complete without halo-halo, the shaved ice dessert. J.A.C's version came with a scoop of mango ice cream, sweet red beans, gelatin and cheese cubes. As in, CUBES OF CHEESE. What started off as me goading and teasing my boyfriend by saying "there's probably shredded cheese" in that menagerie of a dessert was an actual actuality. Uncle Tony's take on why Filipino food is so unabashedly sinful? "Blame the Spaniards. Every culture that has been touched by Spanish colonization has some sort of heavy food full of beans, rice, cheese, and fried foods." I'd never thought of it that way, and it's a whole other blog post to completely check the veracity of his sentiments, but I'm pretty sure the Filipinos took things to a whole other level.

Next week, I'll blog about our visit to the "largest Chinatown outside of Asia," including a decent Peking duck, a wicked salt and pepper crab, and a visit to the famed Fortune Cookie factory.

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Kristy Yang
Contact: Kristy Yang