In summer, a taste of home

By Jessie Mangaliman – Mercury News – For Bay Area Filipino immigrants who want an authentic taste of home, the Western Pacific Oriental Grocery Store in Sunnyvale has long been a source for hard-to-find ingredients.

But in the summertime, discerning cooks, amateur and professional, know that the small, one-room, third-generation variety store tucked in the corner of an East Duane Avenue strip mall that looks like it needs a makeover, is ethnic produce central.

Local gardeners from Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and Mountain View – all of them Filipino immigrants in their 70s and 80s – bring their homegrown fruits and vegetables during the hot growing season, turning the store into a small farmers market for the Filipino cooking cognoscente.

Sometimes, store owners Manuel and Estela Agustin said, the gardeners refuse to get paid. Instead they might barter bunches of “ampalaya” leaves, the young, leafy shoots of bitter melon for a homemade snack, or “karioca,” caramelized sticky rice.

Buckets of “calamansi,” a cherry tomato-sized citrus from the Philippines began arriving in recent days. Last week, “upo,” a white gourd the length of two baseball bats was delivered unannounced. Deep purple “talong,” banana-shaped eggplants, are in profusion now.

“It was exciting to find some of these ingredients because first of all, they’re rare,” said well-known Bay Area chef Tim Luym, who bought two bags of the calamansi recently. “I didn’t know some of these things can be grown here!”


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