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Craving An Introduction to Filipino Food? Head to Kultura Festival

By Janet Rausa Fuller | October 2, 2015 5:22am

The Oct. 4 Kultura Festival will offer twists on Filipino food such as Hapa Chicago's adobo fried chicken and ube waffles. [Hapa Chicago]

LOGAN SQUARE — The Filipino food to be dished out Sunday at the Kultura Festival at Emporium Arcade Bar won't be much like any Filipino food you've had — assuming you've had it at all.

Filipinos are "sometimes guarded with our food," said Sarahlynn Pablo, festival co-founder and Logan Square resident. "There's no restaurant culture back in the Philippines. You have Filipino food at a party at somebody's home."

For non-Filipinos, their first exposure to the food often comes by way of a friend's party or office potluck.

"We're just helping bridge that gap of, 'I've had it once, but where else can I get it?'" Pablo said.

So at the festival, pork adobo, a common culinary entry point for non-natives, will get the slider treatment with a pickled papaya salad standing in for slaw and pan de sal, a sweet milk bread, as the bun.

There will be tacos and tostadas, but filled with crispy pig trotters and two versions of kare-kare, a peanutty pork stew.

And don't expect dialed down flavors. Those tostadas, for instance, are topped with fermented shrimp paste aioli and a calamansi-jalapeno jam.

"We told all of the chefs, 'Don't pull any punches,'" Pablo said.

Hapa Chicago's kare-kare tostadas. [Hapa Chicago]

Participating Filipino chefs include Kristine Subido of the now-closed Pecking Order restaurant (she and her mom still cater and sell at the Logan Square Farmers Market); Chrissy Camba of Maddy's Dumpling House, a pop-up concept looking for a home; Bryan Collante of Untitled Supper Club in River North, and Rob Menor of Papa Urb's Grill in Stockton, California.

The Chicago-born Pablo runs the year-old website Filipino Kitchen with Natalia Roxas-Alvarez, who was born and raised in the Philippines, and their "honorary Filipino" friend Caitlin Preminger. They post stories, interviews and recipes to raise the profile of Filipino cuisine and its under-the-radar chefs.

"There's so much [Filipino] talent in the back of the house," Pablo said.

For the past year, they've partnered with chefs in Chicago and on both coasts for a series of pop-up dinners. Kultura Festival is their biggest event yet.

There's still more Filipino food to go around in October, which is Filipino American History Month.

Sunda, 110 W. Illinois St., will mark it with weekly specials — next week's is bicol express, pork stewed in coconut milk — culminating on Oct. 25 with a "kamayan" dinner eaten the Filipino way, with your hands. The dinner is $80 and includes one cocktail.

Sunda's Filipino connection? Owner Billy Dec, chef Jess DeGuzman and sous chef Michael Morales are all of Filipino descent.

On Oct. 10, Pablo, Roxas-Alvarez and Preminger along with Menor, the California chef, will lead a Culinary Historians of Chicago event at Kendall College. They'll talk about the influence of other cultures on Filipino cuisine and serve a sampling of rice-based snacks and dessert.

"It's so pervasive but also overlooked, how many different ways we eat rice," Pablo said.

The talk is $5. It's free for Culinary Historians of Chicago members.

The Kultura Festival at Emporium Arcade Bar, 2363 N. Milwaukee Ave., runs from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. It's $10 to attend, with dishes ranging from $5 to $7. Tickets are for sale here; it's cash-only at the door.

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