BuyBust world premiere in NYC

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“BUYBUST,” director Erik Matti’s latest film had its successful sold out world premiere in New York on Sunday, July 15 as the closing film of the 17th New York Asian Film Festival.

The film was sold out as of Saturday morning and by 6:00 pm on Sunday, a line has formed outside the SVA Theater in Chelsea for standby tickets. The crowd grew to almost a hundred moments before the 8:30 pm screening started.

In separate interviews with director Matti and the film’s lead star Anne Curtis, both shared how they felt screening the film before a New York audience, two full weeks before the film opens in the Philippines.

“I’m excited and nervous at the same time to hear what people have to say. This is my first ever world premiere,” Curtis said.

Matti expressed his trepidation as well. He and Curtis have a reason to be nervous.
It has been quite awhile since the Philippines saw an all out action flick. Gone are the days when action kings such as Fernando Poe, Jr., Ramon Revilla, Lito Lapid, Phillip Salvador, Robin Padilla, among others, made films that lorded it over the box office.

Which is why coming up with an action movie — with a female lead star, no less — during this time is a big and calculated risk for producers.

It is a big gamble, indeed, and it was tough to sell the idea.

“We eventually found a partner, Viva, which became our co producer, and in 2016, the new government happened,” Matti said. “It started out as another popcorn film, a buybust operation gone wrong. It is still a popcorn entertainment movie but we didn’t want to do a film that doesn’t put into consideration what’s happening in the country. ”

The idea for the film started when he was still doing his film “On The Job.” They were shooting then in a slum area in Caloocan when a drunk guy started to make a mess in the set.

“I thought then, if all hell breaks loose here, how do we get out? That’s where the germ came from,” Matti shared.

The idea became the major plot point of “BuyBust” and the story revolved around how a team of police operatives got caught in a war inside an enclosed slum neighborhood called Gracia ni Maria, where there is only one way in and one way out.

Empowered woman

“BuyBust” shows Anne Curtis like you’ve never seen her before.

She did not do any films with her mother studio Viva Films for the past two years because she did not like the scripts that were falling into her lap. She felt that she has done numerous drama films where she played either the wife or the other woman, or romantic comedies or even fantaseryes on television.

Then one day, the prospect of an action movie was broached. Direk Erik pitched the project to her, over the phone, and right there and then she said yes.

“I really wanted to do an action film. It is something that I have never done before. I felt that it would really challenge me,” she shared. “Direk Erik explained what the film is about and the story and I was sold.”

Anne then went on to train for four hours a day for four to six months.

She did everything from proper gun handling to parkour and trained with Scout Rangers and Special Forces. For martial arts, she did PTK or Pekiti Tirsia Kali, a style specific to Filipino martial arts that focused on combat and it is the preferred combative training program by elite military and law enforcement units around the world.

There is a three‐minute scene in the film that took three days to make, five if we include the rehearsals. It took them 57 takes to come up with the scene that made the final cut.

On the actual shooting day itself, Anne was covered in blood, it was raining and they were on a slippery roof.

“I ended up vomiting out of tiredness. I was so tired, it was crazy,” she revealed. “It was hard to get that one shot. On the first day, I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be.”

When Anne said yes to the film, she knew what she was getting in to. More than the rigid training, she knew she had to give everything, including sleep.

“The whole film was hard to shoot. May rain effect, we were shooting after Showtime every day, I’d be on set at 5:00 am and once madilim na, we’d start shooting hanggang sa may araw na. Then, Showtime uli. That was the hardest part doing ‘BuyBust’ because it was a graveyard shift shoot,” she shared.

Thankfully, there were no major accidents while shooting. There were some minor mishaps though.

“I have mga peklat, ganyan,” she said, showing us some of the battle scars she acquired during the shoot and fondly calls them her memorabilia.

And did we mention that while shooting the film she was also amidst her preparations for her wedding?

Anne tied the knot with Erwan Heussaff, her boyfriend of six years, last November 11, 2017 in Queenstown, New Zealand.

“I was praying na sana hindi ako magasgasan sa face, na sana hindi ako ma injure. Buti na lang my dress had long sleeves so it was covering the ouchies that I had here,” she shared laughing.

The couple got engaged in 2016, after Anne did the New York Marathon.

She recalled that it became a running joke that she’d already be Mrs. Heussaff and they’d still be shooting “BuyBust.”

Which is exactly what happened.

But when she saw a rough cut, she cried. All the sacrifices she made were worth it.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe while I was watching it,” she said. “I’m very happy, I think it’s about time. Kaya namin, no? It just takes that one director, one writer and one studio to invest on it.”

NYAFF’s 17th

“We try to find every year the best films we could find. From the Philippines, year after year we find stronger films and the energy from these films is incredible,” said Stephen Jamier, executive director of New York Asian Film Festival.

Six films from the Philippines were shown at the NYAFF, including “BuyBust,” “Neomanila” directed by Mikhail Red, “On the Job” also directed by Matti, “Respeto” directed by Treb Monteras II, “Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)” directed by Irene Villamor, and “We Will Not Die Tonight” by Richard Somes.

“It is one thing that these six films have in common is the craftsmanship, the story telling and all the elements you find in great cinema is there, particularly in genre cinema,”

Jamier added. “What we found is that action films from the Philippines are truly incredible and you see some cinematic feats in them.”

Typically when it comes to Asian film festivals, one would expect to close with a Korean or Japanese film.

“It is unusual to close with a Southeast Asian film in general but considering the quality of the film “BuyBust,” it deserves a prominent spot in the festival or any festival for that matter so it seemed natural for us to do that,” Jamier added.

Anne Curtis Day

Last Sunday was Anne Curtis Day at the NYAFF since aside from “BuyBust,” her other film “Sid & Aya (Not A Love Story)” was screened as well.

Giddy and excited about that news, Curtis told us, “I did not expect this to be happening so hindi ako nakakadama ng pagod. I am enjoying it and I am thrilled to be here. I am so happy for both my directors and everyone who is part of both films.”

Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story) is the highest grossing local film in the Philippines for 2018 so far. The film earned P132 million in its first two weeks of screening.

Up next for her is Aurora, an entry to this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival this December.
“It’s such an honor and I am very happy for the Filipino movie industry that we have more entries in festivals around the world. Nakaka proud,” she said.

Asked about what roles she wants to tackle next, the actress paused.

“I’d love to something like a psycho thriller, very ‘Girl, Interrupted’. I think that would be fun. I already did my ‘Reality Bites’ movie which is Sid & Aya and now, action sa ‘BuyBust,’” she said.

She is praying that Filipino fans watch “BuyBust” in droves when it opens in the Philippines on August 1 and across North America on August 10.

“I am hoping that the Filipino audiences realize that girls can also be badasses when it comes to action films,” she said. “I hope they enjoy the film and the ride with us. It is not a light ride, it will definitely leave you with a heavy feeling but I am just proud of the two years we spent in making this film and I think it showed.”

Would she say that this has been the hardest thing that she has done in her entire career so far?

Anne responded with an unequivocal yes.

Which we gently followed up with ‘More than singing?’ in reference to her other career as an aspiring singer and concert performer.

“Yes! Effortless yun eh,” she said, breaking into a loud guffaw.

In the end, the “BuyBust” experience gave Anne Curtis a big lesson, one that she hopes she can use again in the future: “Go all out or go home!”

Disrupting the laundry industry: Fil-Am entrepreneur turns her passion for clean clothes into a business

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In New York City, it is a luxury to have your own washer and dryer in your unit, or even in your building. Some would stuff their dirty laundry into a luggage and go to a laundromat or use a store front cleaner nearby.

Rechelle Balanzat struggled with her laundry needs and got frustrated by the service she was getting from her neighborhood cleaners.

This led her to think: there must be a better way.

That was in 2012. Balanzat used her frustrations and made notes as to how it could be better. She saw a vacuum and felt she could fill it up.

“I saw the opportunity there, that a lot of the cleaners were lacking something,” she reminisced. “I was actually solving my own problem. I was unhappy with the cleaners in my neighborhood, the way they cleaned my clothes and the way they dealt with us, the customers.”

Because of her background in marketing, branding and customer service, she saw it as an easy fit to bring her expertise to the industry.

“The business is already saturated. Just look around Manhattan,” she said.
Indeed. Walk three to four blocks and you’d see cleaners, more if you are in mostly residential areas.

But saturation per se is not bad.

“It just means that there’s no shortness of dirty clothes,” Balanzat said.

Last April, after toiling hard, she finally opened a brick and mortar in the Upper East Side for her company Juliette.

Juliette actually started in September 2014 when Balanzat launched her app in three buildings in Midtown East. The mobile app offers premium overnight laundry service.

Using a smart phone, clients can request Juliette for a pickup. Then her staff will clean their clothes and we deliver it back to them the following morning.

“Juliette is my alter ego,” she explained. “I wanted to give a sense of someone who is there cleaning your clothes, someone real. The idea is about Juliette watching over and taking care of your clothes.”

Opening her UES home is a real game changer for her business. Prior to this, she was renting out space in an existing plant, which posed some challenges for her. The new store gives her control as far as service and quality are concerned.

It took two years of endless phone calls and emails to laundry facilities and cleaners asking them if they are selling or if will they sell to her. She also visited cleaners across the city and one day, she got lucky with the space she has now since the previous owner was already looking for a way out and retire.

Now, her business is more than just app-based, it has encouraged foot traffic for residents of nearby buildings who do not need to get into the waiting list for Juliette invites.

The Juliette App is by invitation only but one can request for an invite through their website. For now, Juliette covers Manhattan from the Financial District to 110th Street and prospective subscribers have to live in a 24-hour doorman building because they pick up and deliver throughout the night.

Juliette started with seed money “just shy of $200 thousand” which Balanzat raised on her own.

“It was not given to me in one lump sum, it was a lot of pretty much begging and asking and knocking on so many doors. You start off with your family, then you go to your friends, then business associates. At the end of the day, it is a hustle,” she shared.
Along the way, she encountered a lot of people who said no to her.

“You shouldn’t lose your fire when someone says no to you,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason and to all the people who said no to me, I am happy that they did because I probably would have taken a turn somewhere else and I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Challenges as a woman entrepreneur

Our conversation with Balanzat shifted to the challenges and struggles she faced as a woman entrepreneur in New York City.

“Is this PG 13?” she asked laughing.

“Part of the challenge being a female entrepreneur looking for funding is, as we see in the current landscape right now, a lot of men in powerful positions would use that as an opportunity to take you out to cocktails or dinner.

That is when you enter the gray area and as a female looking for capital, it is very alluring because you want that capital. But then, where do you draw the line. I am trying to earn his trust, I want to show him that I am easy to get along with but I want this to be strictly business.

Regardless of what’s going on right now, this is a struggle that many women would always have to deal with because unfortunately, that is the way it is,” she said.

She personally encountered a few indecent proposals.

“It brings me to tears when I think about it, when they say, ‘Rechelle, all you have to do is go out on a date with him and he’ll write you a check’. Someone said that to me and I really had to think about it. Then they followed it up with, ‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do’ and I thought to myself, ‘What? Am I a high-end prostitute? What is going on?’ I am looking [to] fund my company, a working company. That really brought me to tears,” she shared.

“Best way to deal with it? You smile and you say no and try not to cause a scene because the world is very small and word gets around fast and unfortunately if you cause a scene, it works against you. You still want to maintain your professional demeanor and politely decline,” she said.

Looking back

Entrepreneurs say that the first couple of years of a new business can be characterized by lack of sleep, a lot of debt, minor depression, a lot of not knowing which way to turn, which way to go.

Balanzat said she went through all of that and more.

“Sometimes it is a very lonely journey when you are trying to pursue a dream or a vision that only you yourself can see and no one else seems to understand. It gets to you,” she said.

One of her lows happened early on, when she lost her initial staff.

That was the point when she was doing practically everything, from the pick up of the dirty laundry to the physical cleaning to folding to delivery of the clothes.

“When I was at that low point, the one that hurt the most was seeing my mother, because no mom would want to see their child struggle and it was a difficult conversation that I had with her where I had to explain that I believed in what I was doing and she just had to accept it,” she recalled.

“That was hard, but I persisted,” she said. “I believed in my dream, and I believed in myself and I knew that if I kept on trying, I knew someone was going to open the door.

Mathematically, someone had to open it eventually, right?”

Nowadays, Balanzat says she can breathe, relax a little and sleep through the night, confident that she has a physical space, a team and staff that support her.

Owning her space now has further emboldened this young entrepreneur to continue disrupting the laundry industry.

“It means that I can go and get some more, that I am just starting out. I can expand outside New York and it means that I am not crazy,” she said laughing.

Manny Mogato & Mariel Padilla: Getting to Know the Filipino 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winners

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When Manuel Mogato won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting earlier this year, he became the first Philippine-based journalist to do so after 75 years when Carlos P. Romulo won it way back in 1942.

Mogato worked with his colleagues Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall and won the Pulitzer Prize (International Reporting) for their relentless reporting that exposed the brutal killing campaign behind Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Mariel Padilla is a graduate student of journalism from Columbia University who worked in the past summer at the Cincinnati Enquirer where she worked on the opioid crisis in Cincinnati. The staff won for a riveting and insightful narrative and video documenting seven days of greater Cincinnati’s heroin epidemic, revealing how the deadly addiction has ravaged families and communities.

Both Filipinos (one a veteran, the other a newbie) won for their work on two disparate drug issues—one on the drug war in the Philippines and the other on the opioid crisis in an Ohio town.

This year, their paths crossed and found themselves belonging to the elite group of Pulitzer Prize winners. The Pulitzer Prize is the highest and most prestigious award in journalism, literature and music composition.

Her story
She was taking notes while her professor was talking. One of her friends was on her laptop watching the announcements as they were coming and she texted Padilla during class asking ‘Did you just win a Pulitzer?’

She replied with ‘I don’t know’ and her friend replied back and said that the Enquirer just did. “I was silently freaking out and I didn’t want to interrupt the class so I waited until the break to check it myself,” she shared.

Padilla knew that the Enquirer had won but she did not know if her name was attached to that win at all until her boss there texted her with ‘Congratulations! You’re a Pulitzer winner.’ That was when she officially knew.

Padilla worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer as an intern last summer. She was the breaking news intern so she did crime, courts and breaking news. This project was a full newsroom effort and there was one weekend during the summer where every single journalist in the newsroom went out and reported on the different angles of the opioid crisis that is especially prevalent in Cincinnati.

“I was told to go to the jails every morning and look through the arrest lists and check which ones are related to the opioid epidemic,” she recalled.

She would then take pictures of them and go back to the office where she created a database for all these information, which would then be shared with all the other journalists. The information she collated would end up being used in the writing process.

Mariel also did some interviews and shadowed other journalists as they went out in the field.

She got the internship while she was still in college and there were 7 to 10 up for that internship.

Patty Newberry, her professor and adviser and was one of the main reasons why she chose journalism. Padilla was initially an English major and didn’t think she wanted to be in journalism until she took Newberry’s class in her junior year.

“It was a local news reporting class and I was writing about local schools and board meetings and I remember thinking that my writing could help people in the community and that’s when I fell in love with journalism,” she said.

That summer experience was Mariel’s first ever professional experience in a newsroom. The amount of things she learned was so much, she said.

“I learned how newsrooms worked and how fast you have to go and write but the biggest thing I found in that newsroom was everyone’s dedication to the people and the community and I think that watching some of the senior reporters there and how they dealt with very sensitive issues was great to see in person and that really helped me how to become a better journalist,” she added.

No one in the family works in the media. Her dad is an engineer while her mom is a statistician. She has an older brother in med school and a younger brother in college studying math.

“When I told my parents I wanted to do English, they were not happy. It took a lot of conversations about why I want to do what I love, which is reading and writing and learning,” she recalled. “They were kind of pushing me to think practically so I got another major in communications so I have a fall back and I can do PR or marketing and I think that calmed them down a little. They’ve been supportive but still nudging me about how to make money.”

Now, at 23 years old, she is already a Pulitzer Prize winner. 

“I texted them while I was in class. They were the first people I told. My dad was just so excited, he told me later that he stopped his meeting and told his co-workers about the news. They’re very proud,” she shared.

A few weeks after our interview, Padilla finished her 10-month program and became a member of the 2018 graduating class.
Since she decided late in the game to get into journalism, she felt like she needed to do more school before she entered the workforce since she didn’t study it officially.

“I knew I wanted to do it in New York, I’ve always loved New York. I applied to three New York schools and a Boston school and I got into Columbia,” she quipped.

Just being around the amazing professors here, and the connections and events and mentorship. I am still in awe when a certain professor gets into a room because I know all the great work that they have done and that is amazing.

Padilla recently accepted a six-month fellowship opportunity with Sheila Coronel for a project related to the Philippines. For her long-term plan, she said she has goals but nothing is set in stone.

“I hope to keep pursuing journalism. I am in the data concentration here so I am trying to mix data and investigative skills with writing,” she explained.

When she started the program last year, she was told to talk to someone about her interest in the data program.

“They told me to talk with Sheila, she’s one of the deans.  I walked in and I didn’t know who she was at all and halfway through our conversation, she asked, ‘Are you Filipina?’ and I said ‘Yeah’. She’s like, ‘Me too’ and I said ‘Cool’. We talked a little bit about her but I still had no idea about her and how big she was until I got home and I googled her,” she said, sounding embarrassed.

Mogato’s way

Last year, The New York Times won a Pulitzer for Breaking News Photography for “They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals.”

This year, Reuters (including Mogato) won a Pulitzer for International Reporting for “Duterte’s War: Inside the Bloody Crackdown in the Philippines.”

Mogato, Reuters’ Manila-based veteran correspondent, shared honors with Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall. The citation reads: “For relentless reporting that exposed the brutal killing campaign behind Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs. Mr. Stephen J. Adler, Reuters Editor-in-Chief said of the winning entry, it ”demonstrated how the police in the President’s ‘drug war’ have killed with impunity and consistently shielded from prosecution.”

The 55-year-old journalist has built relationships with the community, local police and the various organizations he worked with throughout the more than three decades he has spent in the field.

Over empanadas and coffee at a Cuban restaurant in midtown Manhattan, Mogato told some members of the Filipino American Press Club of New York his own back story, starting back in 1983 when he joined the Metro Manila News Bureau of the KBL party which was then busy preparing for the Interim Batasang Pambansa elections for the following year.

He was then a newbie, a fresh mass communication graduate from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. After the elections, they were absorbed by People’s Journal where he worked the graveyard shift covering the police beat in the Eastern Police District.

He also worked as stringer and reporter with various agencies and publications such as Asahi ShimbunManila Times and Manila Chronicle.

“Hindi pa nga nag si sink in eh,” Mogato said about his win, laughing heartily.

The announcements were made at 3:00 pm in New York. It was 3:00 am in Manila and Mogato was sound asleep. He was awakened when his phone rang.

“Ano kayang istorya? May lindol kaya? Tapos sabi sa akin ng editor ko, ‘I have good news for you. You won a Pulitzer Prize,” he shared.

On the other end of the line, dead silence. Mogato said he froze and muttered an incredulous ‘Talaga?’

He wasn’t able to go back to sleep as the phone calls kept coming.

His office told him last January that some of their works on Duterte’s drug war were submitted for consideration. He said he shrugged it off, knowing that the Pulitzer Prize was American centric.

In 2003, he joined Reuters as a general assignment reporter.  He has covered major political and security events in the country’s history, from the downfall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a near bloodless “People Power” uprising in 1986 to the ouster of the another leader, Joseph Estrada in 2001, to the meteoric rise of maverick southern mayor Rodrigo Duterte as president.

He recalled one of the stories he remembered while he cultivated his relationship with his sources, including the military and police. It was 1985 and Marcos was still in power.

It was a birthday party and they were having drinks with the police. He noticed a couple of men who were silent and were not talking. Around midnight, the police left with the two men.

“After 30 minutes, tumawag yung mga pulis sa radio, may encounter daw. So kami naman, pumunta to cover. May dalawang tao nakabulagta sa kalye. Yung kainuman namin kanina,”he shared. “Sabi sa akin, ‘Huwag ka nang maingay. Isulat mo na lang, mga holdaper’.”

He also remembers going to Davao in 1986 to cover Alsa Masa issues. President Duterte was just a vice mayor then. Two years later, he ran for mayor and won.

“To survive Davao, kailangan matapang ka. Kaya siya kinatakutan. Yung formula niya, maraming namamatay na addicts, petty criminals. He saw that it was a good formula to control the city kasi natakot sa kanya lahat. Yung formula nay un, in-apply niya nung naging presidente siya,” he shared.
“From July 2016 to December 2017 3,900 people were killed, ito yung mga nanlaban, killed by the police. Then 2,000 plus yung vigilante killings. Ito yung drug war. Bumagal na during the first four months of 2018, nasa 280 na lang, konti na,” Mogato added.

One of their stories was entitled Dead on Arrival.

It was about sending in bodies of victims to the hospitals with one caveat, most if not all are dead. The Reuters investigation revealed that according to witnesses and family members, the drug suspects were executed and their bodies were removed from the crime scene.

“Yung mga duktor nagugulat na lang. Siyempre sa autopsy makikita nila yung mga bullet wounds. Ang lalapit binaril, sa ulo, sa puso. Isa mga classic case niyan si Kian delos Santos,” he said. “Yung bata, naka slump, hawak hawak yung baril sa kanang kamay. Sabi ng nanay niya, kaliwete yung anak. At yung baril, hawak hawak pa. Kung totoong nanlaban siya, pag nangka encounter, yung baril titilapon yan, hindi mo hawak.”
“Parang suntok sa buwan. Hindi ko talaga inasahan na mananalo kami,”
 he said.


Fil-Am Elaine Castillo’s debut novel earns rave reviews

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“[AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART is] a love story, a multi-generational family epic, and a deeply personal, lavishly painted portrait of lives in revision . . .With a sophistication rare in a first novel, Castillo recognizes a larger network of suffering—an understanding that trauma is, along with our mutual need for love, food, sex, and a coherent sense of self, one of humanity’s least exclusive clubs . . . [AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART] has an offhand vitality that startles on every page with its compassion and humor.”— Megan O’Grady, Vogue

The chorus of praise for Elaine Castillo’s debut novel “America is Not the Heart” is a symphony of adoration from mainstream publications and critics such as New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan, Elle and Vulture, among others.


Castillo has been called “one of the most promising new voices in fiction” and her book, published by Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House as “extraordinary, exquisite and evocative”.

The 33-year-old Milpitas, California-based author was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and received her MA in creative and life writing from Goldsmiths, University of London.

Her dad, from Ilocos Sur, was a surgeon before she was born and when she was growing up, she remembered him working as a security guard. Her mom, from Pangasinan, worked as a nurse.

“I have one younger brother and three older half-siblings from my father’s first marriage, we’re a little mixed family. Minsan baby ako, minsan ate,” she shared in between bites of longganisa.

We were at Jeepney with a big group enjoying a hearty kamayan feast. For someone who has already read the book, the kamayan dinner was most appropriate.

Castillo wrote unapologetically about Filipino language, culture and food, the one she grew up eating, particularly dinuguan, pinakbet, daing na bangus, Pinoy pork BBQ and of course the classics: pancit, lumpia, and lechon.

She recalled writing about 1,000 pages for the book’s first draft. By the time it was ready for publication, it was whittled down to 400 something pages.

Elaine Castillo with Elda Rotor, Vice President and Publisher for Penguin Classics about to enjoy the kamayan feast prepared by Chef Miguel Trinidad at Jeepney. Filipino food is almost on every page of her book, something that Castillo said she did not realize at first.
AJPress photos by Momar G. Visaya

“It was surreal and I was in denial. If you’re a writer and you’ve been writing for so long, you don’t really believe that it exists in the universe. You just know it as something that exists in your Word document,” she reminisced the moment she turned in her final draft. “I felt a kind of detachment from it – okay, this is for the readers now, there’s some alienation from it.”

She said it took three years of editing, starting in 2013 when she wrote the prologue. She thought she was going to write it from another perspective but she couldn’t write from that same point of view anymore after writing about 200 pages of text.

Then she shifted to a POV of someone from the NPA or New People’s Army, one that has always been at the back of her head.

“We have a family member – who I never met – who is a high-ranking NPA official. I knew I had to write from her perspective. It was a seed planted in my head. That character knows Roni and the other characters and that was when the entire world sort of opened up,” she shared.

Back from PH

Elaine Castillo with Nicole Ponseca, owner of Jeepney and Maharlika.

Castillo was still giddy with excitement when we met.

She was just in Manila a little over 24 hours earlier as part of her book tour where she headlined the Philippine International Literary Festival and World Book Day celebrations. She was there for about eight days.

“It was absolutely life changing for me,” she admitted.

Her first time was when she was kidnapped – spoiler alert – much like a character in the novel. Second time was 22 years later and obviously, she said there was some trauma about going to the Philippines.

Besides, going back to the Philippines for vacation was unheard of for her and her family.

“The only people I knew who regularly went back were in a middle class family or upper middle class who could afford to do it. My parents couldn’t afford to do that. I’ve never been on a vacation,” she said.

This year it was totally different.

“This was my first time going back as an adult, without my family, not as a daughter or cousin of somebody. It gave me a relationship with the Philippines, with Manila that I hadn’t anticipated ever really happening,” Castillo admitted.

Aside from meeting new friends and starting relationships she never imagined she’d be able to make, Castillo is ecstatic to learn about the state of the literary world in the country her parents call home.

“The things that I learned, the literary scenes in the regions and not just in Manila, and the kinds of comics atmosphere there; and the real, radical resistance to a regime,” she quipped. “It was deeply nourishing and revivifying in a way where I now think, when do I go back?”

She mentioned buying books of the amazing writers and authors she met, among them Glenn Diaz (“The Quiet Ones”), Kristine Ong Muslim (“The Drone Outside” and “Black Arcadia”) and Emiliana Kampilan (“Dead Balagtas Tomo 1: Mga Sayaw ng Dagat at Lupa”).

Memorializing Milpitas

Growing up in the Bay Area, she said there were only a few Filipino-American authors that she knew of.

Castillo grew up in what she describes as a very Filipino neighborhood in a very Filipino atmosphere. Her town, Milpitas in California is a majority minority and there’s a large Filipino, Vietnamese, Mexican, Taiwanese communities there, which is why she said she didn’t grow up thinking of herself as a minority.

“I read quite a lot of translated works, which I realize now probably is a sub-conscious political response to a white mainstream canon. I read a lot of Filipino American writers from Jessica Hagedorn to Carlos Bulosan. That book, “America is in the Heart”, was the first time I ever read about someone from Pangasinan,” she said.

Castillo had read books about the Philippines but most of them focused on Manila and the rich people who lived there. She found it hard to reconcile that with the stories of her parents about provincial life, which is why she immediately related to Bulosan’s description of rural life in his own hometown of Binalonan, Pangasinan.

Asked if her novel is her response to Bulosan’s classic masterpiece, she replied, “To be honest, I didn’t actually think of the title as the grand, ambitious answer to Bulosan.”

“As a Filipino, I like a pun. So whenever I read the title America is in the Heart from Bulosan, I always thought, ‘America isn’t the Heart’ just as a rhyming joke that I used to say to myself. It was never a big thing. It came from that private, personal joke,” she said.

At the Asian American Writers Workshop in New York a few days later, Castillo shared the stage with poet Joseph Legaspi and author Luis Francia in a panel moderated by another author, Gina Apostol. The event was sponsored by Kundiman and PAL / Pilipinx American Library, a moveable non-lending library that celebrates Filipinx narratives.

“I was a very big reader as a kid but at that point, I didn’t know I was going to be a writer. I didn’t read him (Bulosan) in class, I found him in a library and I was around 13, 14,” she shared. “We are all in some way kids of Bulosan. It was the first Filipino book I read that talked about Pangasinan and the rural poverty that my mom came out of.”

Hero’s Story

Loosely based on Castillo’s family history, America is Not the Heart is a fierce, heartbreaking novel that traces the promises and limitations of the American dream over three generations in one family. It is also a deeply affecting, modern love story about two young women struggling to forge their identities after shedding past versions of themselves.

“The main character is a bisexual woman who is a former NPA rebel. For me personally, I am a bi woman myself. I would love to see more bi characters in fiction, I don’t think I see enough,” she lamented.

The novel follows Geronima (“Hero”) de Vera, a Filipina doctor and communist rebel who is captured from a remote insurgency outpost by the military. After enduring isolation and torture, she is finally released from prison and her wealthy family helps her escape the country.

Hero finds refuge with a favorite uncle now living in a tight-knit Filipino-American community in Milpitas, California. Slowly, Hero adjusts to her new life as an undocumented immigrant. Unable to immediately mend the bonds shattered by class difference and misunderstood vulnerabilities with her blood relatives in Milpitas, Hero finds surprising refuge in the larger Filipino community–who welcome her with a gentle compassion and easy acceptance that she has never experienced before.

The book reveals a side of the San Francisco Bay Area that is sorely lacking in representation. Castillo’s Milpitas is not the glittering techscape most often portrayed in the media; it takes place in strip mall beauty salons, church multi-purpose rooms, and Filipino restaurants.

Castillo’s characters speak in English and Tagalog, Pangasinense and Ilocano. They visit emergency rooms and faith healers. They work graveyard shifts and over-mortgage their homes, supporting a rotating cast of family members in need. Castillo is at once generous and incisive in how she writes about the inequality, immigration, sexuality, multiculturalism, and power in contemporary American life.

Exuberant reviews aside, “America is Not the Heart” is a great addition to the growing diaspora’s own literature since it presents not just a snapshot of Filipino immigrant life in America but also one that is rich and replete with details of Filipino culture and history.

Ariel Layug: A chef fulfills his potential with dream job at Cirque du Soleil

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When he was a young boy growing up in the Philippines, Ariel Layug would look at his school’s atlas and collection of encyclopedias and wonder in general about life in other parts of the globe.

“I never really thought back then that I would leave the Philippines, that I would travel the world. And now, to be able to work in a well-known company and have the Philippine flag out there, it is a great experience,” Layug told the Asian Journal.

The Philippine flag waves proudly along with other flags outside the Big Top tents, made famous by Cirque du Soleil.

Working for Cirque du Soleil has brought him to many parts of the world including Australia, Europe, Mexico, USA and Canada. He is now on his tenth year with the company and Volta is his fourth touring show, after Dralion, Totem and Kurios.

Volta is currently in the tri-state area and will be in Uniondale, NY until July 1. Launched in April 2017 in Montreal, Volta is the newest Big Top production from Cirque du Soleil. After visiting three cities in Canada, it played engagements in Miami and Tampa and just recently, East Rutherford in New Jersey.

As the head chef and kitchen manager of the touring company, Layug is in charge of feeding more than a hundred people every day. This includes the artists, technicians, admin staff, and sometimes with visiting family members and local staff.

Photo by Benoit Leroux

“I get inspired by a lot of things and I use that [inspiration] when we prepare our food,” he shared. “I try to open up people’s minds, I love it when I get people to try different dishes.”

As part of introducing global cuisine to the company, he has prepared Filipino dishes, including “adobo madalas, lechon kawali, pancit, longganisa, tortang talong for the vegetarians, kare kare.”

“They go crazy for the lumpiang sariwa because it’s fresh and we make our own crepes. I try to do something different every time I do Filipino cuisine,” he added.

Journey to Cirque

Layug moved to Australia when he was a young boy and spent almost 12 years there. He didn’t know what he wanted to do then so he stopped university (“I wasn’t enjoying it as much and at the time I was working in a restaurant”).

Photos by Michael Kass

There was a college near their home that offered short courses on bartending so he did that, and when he finished, his parents told him to study more.

He gave culinary school a try and he enjoyed it.

Layug became a chef in Sydney and had a chance encounter with some people on tour who encouraged him to join Cirque. He said he’d give it a try.

It was supposed to be a temporary job for a year. He was first hired as a sous chef and became chef de cuisine.  He was promoted as a kitchen manager last year.

He credits his grandmother Consolacion Layug for the inspiration he didn’t even realize was already in him.

Growing up in the province, he saw his Lola foraging for food, not just in their backyard but in the forest even and their neighbors then thought that it was weird.

“She was a very good cook and quite picky with the ingredients when we went to the markets. She was also very particular with how the dishes taste,” he said. “Feeding people and watching them enjoy was something she did on a regular basis.”

Which is exactly what he is doing now.

His team feeds 124 people from 25 different countries and most of them are well-travelled. They don’t repeat dishes for the entire two months, the length of time that they stay in a particular city.


Layug says being here in the tri-state area is amazing because of the proximity to New York and the diversity of the ingredients available, compared in other cities where there is a severe shortage of ingredients and there are few Asian and Latino stores.

Touring life follows a routine, something that he has grown to master and love.

“We have a routine, we take the city bus to get our bearings right, we find our barber, coffee shop, grocery store. We travel with a few items, which we put in our rooms, apartments just so it feels like home,” Layug shared.

Their operation is like a pop-up restaurant that is in a particular city for two months. And one by one, the pieces come together – the barbecue and picnic tables, then the tent, then the main kitchen is built and they move in and set it up.

For their final meal in each tour, the kitchen team prepares only one thing: spaghetti Bolognese.

“It has never been broken in the entire history of the Cirque touring shows. It’s a very simple meal but after two months in a city, everyone craves for it,” he said.

But sometimes the biggest challenge comes not from the feeding of more than a hundred people.

“It’s not always necessarily the volume because it is not that hard to scale up the operations. Sometimes a bigger challenge is being able to guess what people would want to eat,” he said. “When we plan our menus, it is not just about writing stuff. I check the weather and see what’s available. I also eavesdrop sometimes, and I also ask them what they want to eat. Then put all of that together and make sure that it doesn’t feel repetitive. It is challenging but it is definitely fun.”

In a sense, chef Ariel Layug’s journey mirrors the story of Volta since the show is about transformation and how one becomes his true self through self-acceptance and freedom, the same process he had to go through himself.

With the Philippine flag waving outside the big tents along with the flags of more than 20 other countries, Layug is bursting with pride, which he shares with his husband Edonn Erwin who is part of Volta’s VIP services.

“By having the Filipino flag out there, you know, ‘I am Filipino’ and I am proud of what I am doing. This is who I am, I can even cook Filipino dishes for others and they enjoy it,” he said.

(Cirque du Soleil’s Volta will be at the Under the Big Top, NYCB Live – Home of The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York until July 1.)

A Filipino Gastronomic Tour of Brooklyn

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When Purple Yam opened in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn back in 2009, it became a dining destination for many Filipinos and Filipino-Americans who live outside the borough. Some prefer to drive while others take the leisurely route via the Q train going to Coney Island.

One by one, Filipino restaurants followed suit and less than decade later, we have a strong list of places in Brooklyn where foodies and admirers of Filipino cuisine could gather and share a steaming pot of chicken adobo while drinking their San Miguel Beer.

Some of them – like Tama in Bed-Stuy and Ibis Eats in Crown Heights – are targeting their respective neighborhoods in order to become the go-to spot among its residents. Tama opened a year ago along Lewis Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area, still a predominantly lower-income neighborhood on the verge of imminent gentrification.

“We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve taken to the neighborhood and the neighborhood has taken to us. That was our goal to begin with – to have a community-based Filipino restaurant,” one of the owners, Miguel de Leon told the Asian Journal. “We wanted to be the neighborhood Filipino spot.”

Just a little more than a mile away is Swell Dive, a non-traditional taqueria serving Filipino flavors. Owned by the husband and wife team Dennis Mendoza and Autumn Stanford (they also own Brooklyn Kolache Co.) Swell Dive opened in 2016 and they have been serving chicken adobo, spam and sisig tacos, among others since.

The idea of opening a Filipino Tex-Mex spot has been at the back of his mind since opening Brooklyn Kolache back in 2012 and they were just waiting for the right time. The couple got inspiration from their own backgrounds, Stanford traces hers to Texas while Mendoza’s roots are from the Philippines.

Ibis Eats on the other hand started off as a café which Bjorn dela Cruz opened with a Trinidadian partner five years before he and his siblings started Manila Social Club.

They’re offering some traditional, authentic-style Filipino food, and they’re going this direction because of the neighborhood.

“They don’t know about Filipino cuisine [here] so when I opened in Williamsburg for Manila Social Club, we had avant-garde, cutting edge Filipino food. Here now in Crown Heights, it is a great place because it’s a blank space where I can show them the real strengths of our tradition,” dela Cruz shared.

They are also exploring Filipino food as it pertains to the Galleon Trade, Spanish influence and incorporating Trinidadian and Caribbean influence.

“There are some dishes – when we were making the menu, like laing – and my partner would go, ‘This is like my grandma’s dish and it’s called callaloo!’” he added.  “For a staff meal once, I made some afritada and he asked me how I learned to make it because he never learned how to make it. I told him it’s as Filipino as it gets.”

Tama x Purple Yam

For two evenings last week, I had an opportunity to dine at Purple Yam with chef Romy Dorotan in the kitchen and serving us great-tasting food.

The first night was a dinner with some colleagues and Tourism Attaché Susan del Mundo as part of the Filipino Restaurant Week. The plan was take eat our dinner first at Tama and drive to Purple Yam for dessert.

We ate our way through Tama’s menu and found amazing and bold flavors in their dishes. My favorite remains to be the smoked mackerel over spicy chocolate rice (it’s like champorado but different). The sisig burger and sisig fried rice were both delightfully delicious.

Since we eat with our eyes first, we couldn’t help but be appreciative of Tama’s decision to use ube bun – it was indeed Instagram-friendly. Notable among what we tried were the Bicol Express and Lengwa (beef tongue served with smoked mushrooms).

We tried not to be so full since we knew our desserts were waiting.

At Purple Yam, we had one dessert each, which we shared with the group so we could decide which one was the best. When chef Romy arrived while we were dining, he went straight to the kitchen and next thing we knew, he was sending out some appetizers. How could we say no?

We had a light salad of apple and mango with mulberry vinegar from Bukidnon, followed by kinagang, a Bicolano dish similar to tamales, made with cassava and coconut and served with squid. Then came the jackfruit dish with four kinds of toasted cheese.

Then, dessert happened.

Chef Romy makes his own ice cream and tonight, we had the best time eating some of his rather uncanny concoctions. Ever heard of sineguelas ice cream? How about champoy ice cream? We had both and we craved for more.

The sineguelas (ciruela in Spanish) ice cream brought me back to those childhood summers in the province where we would feast on sineguelas picked straight from the tree with a sarukang, a long pole of light bamboo. Romy said he bought the frozen ciruelas from a neighborhood store.  He served it with suman diket (sticky rice).

Then came a parade – a plate of mango ice cream served over a mango tart, gojiberry ice cream with longan, calamansi tart served with a scoop of guava sorbet a d my personal favorite, the ube tikoy served with champoy ice cream.

Chef Romy and Amy Besa should open a place that only serves desserts, or maybe an ice cream shop.

Ube Kitchen & Lumpia Shack @ Smorgasburg

NYC foodies look forward to the month of April because this is when Smorgasburg, the largest weekly open-air food market in the country opens.

Now a Brooklyn institution, Smorgasburg gathers about a hundred of the city’s main food purveyors and local vendors and brings them to East River State Park in Williamsburg on Saturdays and Prospect Park on Sundays. Between 20,000 to 30,000 people make the trip to Brooklyn every weekend to try the multiple options that the vendors have to offer.

Chef Neil Syham and his Lumpia Shack, a non-traditional lumpia stand, have been fixtures at Smorgasburg since 2012. Two years later, they opened their brick and mortar store in the West Village, part of chef Neil’s dream to create a fast casual, upscale Filipino eatery in NYC.

Early this year however, he announced that they are closing the restaurant down and he will be focusing on a partnership with fellow chef Carson Yiu for their venture called OKLah in Flushing.

Ube Kitchen, one of the more famous vendors at Smorgasburg serves healthy Filipino-inspired desserts using plant-based options.

They became viral social media sensations after foodie features from Food Insider, VICE, New York Times, OZY, Gothamist, and Refinery29 with each one bringing a different way to understand the purple dragon concept.

“While one of us is a plant-based fanatic and the other a Filipino-trained chef, we wanted a way to pay homage to the Filipino culture and create a vessel to celebrate the use of plant-based ingredients in a dessert with no dairy or animal products,” Vanz Consignado told the Asian Journal. “Inspired by halo-halo, our purple dragon is filled with colors and unexpected flavors such as dehyrated pineapple and dragon fruit to have fun with plant-based cuisine at a time plant-based foods is reaching critical mass. When someone sees a purple ball in the shell of a dragon fruit, how else can you not say, “what the hell is that?” and not try a taste.”

Vanz was born and raised in the Philippines and graduated culinary arts from De La Salle – College of Saint Benild. He later went on to work at the 5-star Gran Hotel La Florida in Barcelona, Spain and at the Delano botique hotel in South Beach, Miami. His partner Nick is from Rochester, NY, a business administration graduate with wide-range of experience at food banks, clinical research, and freelance web design that eventually led him into the digital publishing world for before taking his marketing talents to Ube Kitchen.

They knew as early as the summer of 2016 that they would create a dessert together and invested to not just experimenting but conceptualizing the business model and taking the time to browse how an outdoor tent operates. They also felt there was enough of the rise of ube and Filipino flavors and plant-based options in New York to propose a Filipino-inspired dessert to an outdoor market that thrived on the latest and unique dishes.

They saw an opportunity and ran away with it. Now, they are offering more than just the halo-halo served on dragon fruit.

Ube Kitchen serves the “rainbow of colors in plants and unafraid to experiment in our Ube Lab testing with plant-based dishes for chia pudding, pizza, mac-n-cheese, cupcakes, musubi, homemade seitan, hot chocolate, matcha drinks, and everything you can imagine plant-based at a ‘kamayan’ feast”.

And after munching and snacking at Smorgasburg, one can make the little-over-a-mile walk to Mountain Province and enjoy their selection of ethically-sourced, fair trade coffee beans sourced exclusively from the Philippines through Kalsada Coffee, a roaster that works with small independent coffee farmers in the Philippines.

And speaking of ube, their ube latte is sublime and I can trek all the way to East Williamsburg just to have a cup or two. While at it, I’d be having their Filipino pastries – cassava cake and ube ensaymada – as well, thank you very much.

Owner Ray Luna opened Mountain Province in 2013 with his lola, the matriarch of his family, as the main inspiration.

He told Gothamist then, “My grandmother was able to provide and send six kids to school by baking cakes for the neighborhood. Soon after, my mom and my aunt followed in her footsteps in one form or another. So in a way, our tiny shop is a celebration of her legacy and the legacy of my family.”

Celebrating the rich flavors of the Philippines at Filipino Restaurant Week 2018

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Filipino Restaurant Week (#FRW2018), that annual, much-awaited foodie event among fans of Filipino cuisine, has grown so much after its inception back in 2015 when 13 Filipino restaurants across the boroughs of New York as well as Jersey City offered fixed priced lunches and dinners. This was in reaction to the then emerging popularity of Filipino cuisine, particularly in New York City.

This time, 24 restaurants and pop-ups in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia are participating and will be providing special prix fixe menus of delectable Filipino cuisine from 14 to 26 May. Lunches are at $25 and dinners are priced at $35. Other a la carte menu items are also available in these restaurants during the promotional period.

The eclectic mix of participating restaurants and cafes offers a wide spectrum of Filipino food to make sure that there is something for every diner out there. There are traditional restaurants that offer home-cooked goodness and there are coffee shops like Mountain Province and Kabisera Kape that offer light fare and truly Filipino coffee and tea.

This year, we have a number of first-time participants, including Perla in Philadelphia, Flip Sigi, Swell Dive, Ibis Eats, Tama and Mighty Bowl.

Chef Jordan Andino of Flip Sigi shared his excitement about being a part of this group and seeing the same restaurants he visited in the past few years made him a little nostalgic.

“I feel honored to be a part of this and it is cool to see the same restaurants that I’ve visited in the past 8, 9 years that I’ve based my life on doing so well and to be a part of that is a real honor,” he shared. “We are a Filipino taqueria, meaning we serve Filipino food using Mexican vessels like sandwiches, tacos and burritos with a little bit of Filipino love sprinkled on top. It is by no means traditional and I don’t try to pretend and I tell our guests this is my take on Filipino cuisine.”

His restaurant Flip Sigi opened its second location last year in the Upper East Side in addition to its Greenwich Village home. He is also the current featured chef at the Chefs Club Counter in Soho.

Another first-timer is Bjorn dela Cruz of Manila Social Club. He now runs Ibis Eats in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

“I am excited for Filipino Restaurant Week to be able to open up Filipino food in the Crown Heights area. What should we be doing to mainstream the food – we have to be very honest with ourselves, no shortcuts, no half-measures,” dela Cruz said. “Filipino food is absolutely amazing. It is so vibrant and delicious. It is a very dynamic cuisine and we can’t get stuck on just one thing or one dish.”

Dela Cruz is famous for his creation, the ubiquitous $100 golden ube donut that was the toast of the social media world a couple of years ago. The donut was made out of ube, covered with 24-karat gold leaf and piped with Cristal gelee and ube mousse and its icing laced with more Cristal champagne.

“I love ube and I made it my mission in 2016 to make ube a thing. It’s that one ingredient that opens up to other Filipino cooking styles and dishes,” Dela Cruz said.

One of the pioneers of the Filipino Restaurant Week project is Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney and Maharlika, along with Purple Yam and Kuma Inn.

“It is exciting to see how it has evolved,” Ponseca told us, excitedly adding that she is working on opening a third restaurant – this time in Williamsburg.

“We’re calling it Tita Baby’s and it is going to be a panciteria,” she teased. “It is an homage to all the women in our lives that took care of us, cooked for us and fed us.”

If plans don’t miscarry, the place will open next month. She is also coming out with a cookbook under Artisan Press, which is coming out this November.

Anton Dayrit, executive chef of Mighty Bowl restaurants, talked about their restaurant which now has three locations in the city – MacDougal in the Greenwich Village, Midtown East and a third one in the Upper East Side (on 77th and Lexington).

“It’s spicy and really good hang-over food,” he said, describing their offerings. Among their more popular bowls is the Manila Bowl and for FRW, they are offering Sisig Bowl as well.

Miguel de Leon, one of the owners of Tama, a small neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn talked about their place being mostly a take-home spot.

“We want to invite our flavors, our history into your homes,” he said. “We look back at our history in order for us to progress and that’s how we at Tama flavor our food with, we look back and respect the Spanish flavors, Mexican flavors from the Galleon Trade to the American Occupation and bring them to you in a package that’s delicious, affordable and exciting.”

Tama opened in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn a year ago.

Just recently, they became viral on social media with their “sisig burger” creation, using homemade ube bun, slathered in chili-garlic hot sauce and chili aioli, then topped with a fried egg, local greens and a patty made of sisig.

This year, the Philippine Consulate General in New York partnered with the Philippine Department of Tourism New York, Philippine Airlines, and Tanduay Asian Rum for FRW 2018.

Speaking at the launch, Deputy Consul General Kerwin Tate emphasized that Filipinos’ love for food extends to their humanity – the desire to share, and the wisdom to always make sure to leave something for those who will need it.

Tourism Attache Susan Del Mundo shared with the audience the various gastronomic tours available in the Philippines. The Department of Tourism is working on exciting new farm to table programs in partnership with organic farms and agricultural organizations.

In order to entice more participants to join, the Department of Tourism is sponsoring a social media campaign allowing diners to win terrific prizes. Lucky diners have a chance to win a round trip ticket to Manila courtesy of Philippine Airlines, three nights’ hotel accommodations, a bespoke culinary tour, Barclay Centre concert tickets courtesy of Tanduay Asian Rum and other travel items during the promotional period.



The participating restaurants of Filipino Restaurant Week 2018 are:


FlipSigi (1752 2nd Ave., New York, NY 10128, 833-FLIPSIGI)

Grill 21 (346 E 21st St., New York, NY 10010, 212-473-5950)

Ibis Eats (663 Franklin Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11238, 718-676-4150)

Jappy Afzelius Pop-Up at Ugly Kitchen (103 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003, 212-777-6677)

Jeepney (201 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003, 212-533-4221)

Kabisera Kape (151 Allen St., New York, NY 10002; 929-920-8250)

Kuma Inn (113 Ludlow St., New York, NY 10002, 212-353-8866)

Maharlika (111 1st Ave., New York 10003, 646-392-7880)

Mighty Bowl  (817 2nd Ave, New  York, NY 10017, 646-649-5603)

Mountain Province (9 Meserole St., Brooklyn, NY 11206, 718-387-7030)

Sisig City Food Truck (;

Philam Kusina (556 Tompkins Ave., Staten Island, NY 10305, 718-727-3663)

Purple Yam (1314 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn, NY 11226, 718-940-8188)

Swell Dive (1013 Bedford Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11205, 917-652-4779)

Tama (147 Lewis Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11221, 347-533-4750)

Talde (369 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215, 718-205-7299)

Tito Rad’s Grill & Restaurant (49-10 Queens Blvd., Woodside, NY, 11377, 718-205-7299)

Ugly Kitchen (103 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003, 212-777-6677)


La Parilla de Manilla (1159 St. Georges Ave., Colonia, NJ 07067, 732-510-7033)

Max’s (687 Newark Ave., Jersey City, NJ 07306, 201-798-2700)

Noodle Fan (2814 JFK Blvd., Jersey City, NJ 07306, 201-626-4443)

Pinoy Filipino Restaurant (18 Division St., Somerville, NJ 08876, 908-450-9878)

Talde (8 Erie St., Jersey City, NJ 07302, 201-630-0077)


Perla (1525 S 11th St., Philadelphia, PA 19147, 267-273-0008)