Melting pot

Multicultural flavors define Filipino fare

By Kerry J. Byrne
Filipino food is the original fusion fare.

“There are a lot of influences,” said Jervin Erasquin, chef-owner of JnJ Turo-Turo in Quincy, Greater Boston’s lone Filipino restaurant. “It’s part Spanish, American, Chinese, Thai and Malaysian.”

Beef, pork or fish (typically smoked and fried) is served at most meals. Garlic is used liberally. Many dishes are simmered or braised with soy sauce, vinegar, tomatoes or coconut milk. Filipino food tends to be more sweet than spicy. Even Filipino spaghetti, commonly made with tomato sauce and banana ketchup, is sweet compared to its Italian-American counterpart.

There are obvious geographic and historic reasons for the multicultural flavors. The Philippines is a nation of 7,000 Pacific islands near Southeast Asia. China is its largest mainland neighbor. Malaysia is its closest. It was occupied by Spain for three centuries and was a U.S. territory from 1898 to 1946.

The flavors and names of Filipino dishes are peppered with Spanish influence. Adobo is a traditional stew of pork simmered in soy sauce and vinegar. Adobo is also the Spanish word for marinade.

“There’s probably not a week that goes by that a Filipino family doesn’t have (adobo) for dinner,” said Sam Floro, who runs Filipino caterer Kakain Na (“Let’s Eat”) from her Lowell home.

At JnJ Turo-Turo, the most popular appetizer is lumpiang Shanghai, a Filipino version of spring rolls. Erasquin fills rice-paper wrappers with ground pork, potatoes, carrots and eggs, then deep fries them crispy and golden brown before serving them with honey sauce.

Massachusetts’ Filipino community is small, but that may soon change.

“It’s one of our fastest growing Asian-American subgroups,” said Richard Chu, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who specializes in Filipino history.

Erasquin, who managed a Japanese restaurant in Manila, moved two years ago when his wife landed a nursing job at Massachusetts General. He opened Turo-Turo last summer.

It’s a simple storefront restaurant of six tables that mostly serves cafeteria-style dishes. It has no liquor license. He chose his location for practical reasons: It’s next to Sure Pinoy (another word for Filipino), the area’s only Filipino grocery. Together, they make their Quincy street corner the heart of the region’s Filipino culinary community – at least for now.

Erasquin hopes to open another restaurant near his home in Framingham.

Floro is looking to turn her home-catering business into a restaurant north of Boston. “With our history, we offer a taste for everyone,” she said.

JnJ Turo-Turo, 143 Water St., Quincy; 617-471-8876, jnjturoturo.com.
Sure Pinoy Food Mart, 145 Water St., Quincy; 617-328-8880, surepinoy.com.
Kakain Na, www.kakain-na.com; 781-354-8457.

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