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Filipino Dishes Served Up With Flair as First Kultura Fest Draws Crowds

 Chicago's first Kultura Festival, held Sunday Oct. 4, 2015 at the Emporium Lounge, opened to the venue's capacity within the first hour. Favorite traditional Filipino dishes were given a fresh taste, such as adobo fried chicken with ube/coconut waffle sandwich, while a lesser-known version of pancit, pancit palabok, made its debut in the mainstream. 
Kultura Festival 2015
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LOGAN SQUARE — Kultura Festival, Sunday's celebration of favorite Filipino dishes with a twist, packed the venue to capacity within the first 45 minutes of opening. Soon after, a line snaked down Milwaukee Avenue and people waited up to 15 minutes in line to get inside.

By all accounts, the wait was worth it.

"The ambience is wonderful," Jerry Clarito said, executive director of the Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment.

Clarito, who was born and raised in the Philippines, where festivals often bring out social hierarchies, was struck by the different festival style formed by Kultura. He said social strata was absent in this gathering, held at Emporium Arcade Bar, 2363 N. Milwaukee Ave.

"There is a palengke [market] atmosphere that treats everyone equally. This food has brought everyone together, and has the potential to start conversations," Clarito said, noting the number of non-Filipinos in attendance.

For those who had never had Filipino food before, the festival served as a great introduction.

The festival featured innovative takes on traditional favorites. Only one dish was left intact: a dessert called halo-halo, with flan, beans, gelatin, ube ice cream, and Rice Krispies over shaved ice.

The staple Filipino dish is served with steaming white rice and side dishes. At Kultura, some favorite entrees became side dishes, such as kare-kare, braised oxtail and peanut sauce. The beloved dish was added inside a rice flour bun to become kare-kare siopao.

Another dish was the adobo chicken normally served by itself over rice. At Kultura, larger chicken pieces were kept whole, coated and fried, and served as a sandwich with ube coconut waffles, which a taster enthusiastically gave a "10 out of 10."

The lesser-known pancit palabok — rice noodles topped with achuete seasoned gravy, tofu, sautéed Napa cabbage, egg and chicharon — made an appearance, but this time with tinapa (smoked fish).

By the event's third hour, almost all of the food was gone. The sisig fries (citrus soy-marinated grilled pork, topped with herb aioli sauce, yams and cilantro) had to sub in sweet potato chips after the purveyors ran out of fries.

Festival co-organizer Natalia Roxas-Alvarez said she hopes the festival will grow to become a yearly affair. She is confident that the chefs at Kultura can take on the mainstream, and confident in the Filipino community's support. 

"It's about time," she said.

Take a peek inside Sunday's festival:

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