Appetite for Filipino cuisine is growing across the United States, such as for staple chicken adobo served by pop-up restaurants in Dallas and other cities. [Marco Verch, Flickr]

Filipino Food Pops Up in Dallas

ASEAN Philippines

On March 8, 2020, Dallas will host the Filipino Food Festival, showcasing new pop-up restaurants such as Ulam and Hella Lumpia, bringing flavors of the Philippines to American customers.

The concept restaurant Ulam serves Filipino staples with a modern take. Owner Anna Swann’s pop-ups were the first to serve Filipino food in Dallas since 2017 and sold out in summer 2019. The chef draws inspiration from her family’s cooking in California, which hosts the largest Filipino population in the country at 1.6 million people.

Other pop-ups such as Hella Lumpia add to the diversity and complexity of Dallas’ Filipino food scene. Hella Lumpia offers crispy lumpia snacks or fried spring rolls with dipping sauce. One cook, Sarah Rañola, expressed eagerness to join the national movement, which enables her to evoke the cooking of her Filipino family while claiming her place as a caterer of lumpia in the city. Like Ulam, the pop-up has featured in events at Peticolas Brewing Company in the past year. Vendors Not Your Lola’s, Marie’s Kitchen, Ulam Modern Filipino Kitchen, and Bilao will also cater at the March festival.

Since the first Savor Filipino festival in San Francisco drew a crowd of 30,000 to try Filipino food in 2014, the food movement has gained momentum in cities across the United States. Washington, DC, with a community of over 4,500 Filipino Americans, has notable restaurants such as Bad Saint, which claimed the title of second-best new restaurant in the country in 2016. Yana Gilbuena , immigrant and founder of The Salo Project, has served pop-up dinners in kamayan or traditional communal style from kitchens in all 50 states. Now the cuisine has come to Texas, where 180,000 Filipino Americans currently reside.

Filipino populations comprise one-fifth of the total number of Asian Americans in the United States. The group also accounts for the largest percentage of immigrants serving in the US military – even as the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent withdrawal from the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States calls the two countries' regional engagement into question. Nonetheless the United States and Philippines support a robust relationship, for example with the highest number of sister city relationships — at 64 — between the United States and any ASEAN country.

The thriving food movement showcases continued integration of Filipinos in American culture. Compared to other groups, immigrants from the Philippines demonstrate stronger English skills, higher education rates and degrees of naturalization, as well as lower poverty rates. To Anna Swann, being Filipino American means acknowledging place — Swann cooks chicken adobo a little spicier in Texas.

Amanda Mei is a research intern in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She graduated from Yale University with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies in 2018.