Can I just say: I am so happy that Jeepney has been a success in New York City!!! For those who don’t know me personally: I am Filipino. I’m a first generation Filipino-American; both of my parents moved here in the early 1980′s before I was born. I grew up in traditional Filipino home – as traditional as it can get in America. Outside of pizza and fast food, I grew up eating a lot of Filipino food. And now that I live on my own, I too try to attempt to cook Filipino food. So when Filipino restaurants popup in the tri-state area, or in any area where Filipinos don’t make up a heaping bulk of the geographic population, I, like any Filipino am curious to see as how they market Filipino Food to a large city. A lot of my curiosity with Filipino restaurants and stores for that matter is just a list of issues, these being major ones:
1. Filipino food is not vegetarian friendly. There is no such thing as a traditional vegetarian dish, everything has meat in it, like Chop Suey and Pinkabet. It’s primarily vegetables, but the flavor comes from meat. You lose a lot of business by not have vegetarian options.
2. Filipino food has no real origin. Everything is either influenced by Spanish or Chinese , just like the country’s history. You would think would be an advantage to market to respective ethnicities, but why eat our version of Afritada when Spanish/ Hispanic people have similar dishes that taste better? (Just my personal opinion).
3. Filipino food is a little scary. If you’re familiar with traditional British style cooking and how every part of the animal is used in meat dishes, its the same way for Filipino food. Stomach lining, intestines, blood, ears, liver, tongue, feet, you name it, we’ll cook it!
It’s been quite some time since I’ve tried Filipino outside the typical “Turo-Turo” or point-and-take at local Filipino stores. My past experiences with formal restaurants have been that they’ve never really lasted that long, the management sucked, or that the restaurant itself didn’t just serve strictly Filipino food, but Chinese or Asian food too. But since the opening of Marharlika in the East Village and it’s sister restaurant, Jeepney, I feel our society today has gotten so much more diverse, more informed, more cultured than it ever was when I was growing up, that’s it’s just about time that the big city get some proper representation of our food, without trying to sacrifice identity. And both restaurants I feel are doing just that.
So here’s the skinny on Jeepney. Every Wednesday and Thursday nights they do “Kamayan” or eat with your hands night. Your dinner table is completely cover in banana leaves, and all your food is laid out in the middle of the table. No plates or utensils are given; you simply eat on the bananas leaves like a plate, and put food in your mouth with your hands. It sounds a little barbaric and messy to some, but it’s actually the best way to eat food ( especially seafood for all the little bones and shells). For the kamayan pros, technique involved requires clumping the food between your fingers and shoveling into your mouth with kick of your thumb using your dominant hand. Kamayan has been the way for hundreds of years, before utensils were introduced, and still used on the regular today. And contrary to our neighbors, we are one of the few countries out of Asia/Southeast Asia who don’t use chopsticks.
I was finally able to score reservations at Jeepney for last Thursday night. I was here with a few friends and in short, we had an awesome experience! I had made reservations exactly one month in advanced (that’s how busy they are). Reservation via email are a must! And if you try calling, they’ll tell you to email them. Two weeks before your actual reservation, management emails you an order menu for your kamayan spread. If you don’t return the order sheet by a certain date, your reservation is cancelled. This is what you get for $45/person:
One choice of rice.
Two choices of appetizers.
Three main entrees/dishes.
The entire spread includes Longanisa (Sweet pork sausage), Insalada (Tomato/Cucumber salad), and Halo Halo (in English known as “Mix Mix”) a shaved ice dessert with condensed and coconut milk topped with rice crispies, purple yam ice cream, Leche Flan, some jelly cococtions, and mung beans.
And this is what it looked like:
ADOBO HIPON – or head-on prawns (shrimp) in a vinegar and soy sauce reduction – It was probably the best thing on the table last night. The shrimp heads were sooooo flavorful. And the rice underneath the hipon??! Soaking up all that greasy sauce goodness – it was SLAMMIN!
SILI CRAB – whole crab cooked in a pepper white wine sauce then chopped in half for presentational purposes.- My second favorite item on the spread that night. Sili crab is not always available so you do have to pick an alternative when you place in your order. Thank goodness we were able to get it!
DINUGUAN & PUTO – this is Tagalog “Puto,” not Spanish for a bitch: it’s rice flour, coconut milk cake cut into wedges so that you can eat it with your Dinuguan aka “Chocolate Meat” aka Pork cooked in vinegar with beef blood. I love the fact that they pork pieces are chunky and so tender , but I did however miss the traditional pig ear that’s commonly made in Dinuguan and the chopped pieces liver. (Crap, I hope I’m not scaring people).
PINAKBET – longs bean, bittermelon, squash, eggplant dish with pork belly – I love the fact that the bittermelon wasn’t contaminating the other vegetables, but i disliked how there was no strong fermented shrimp paste or bagaoong taste.
LUMPIA SHANGHAI – meat egg rolls – which surprisingly were crunchy and soft on the inside – definitely one of the better lumpia shanghai’s I’ve had. Filipino catering stores tend to butcher this appetizer all the time.
For drinks I had the HILDA KORONEL (made with sparkling wine) and the AYALA AVENUE. Both were awesome!! Below is a picture of the Ayala Avenue and Makati Avenue drinks.
Jeepney was accommodating, friendly, and informative. I could not have asked for better service. The place is trendy and quickly attracts the younger demographics with it’s urban and pop culture edge. And what really hit home for me was that it smelled like a Filipino home when walked into Jeepney. The fact that they offer Kamayan was probably the most brilliant way to approach Filipino food. Eating with your hands is done in Indian and Ethopian cultures too, so it’s not completely estrange, but definitely more fun when no plates are involved. The fact that they were playing 90′s early 2000′s R&B and Hip-Hop doesn’t get any better unless you’re a real Filipino house.
When has anyone presented Filipino food in such a way where both Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike can get delicious Filipino food without deterring from traditional roots and without it looking like a hideous turo-turo suburb store? When has Filipino food been marketed trendy, hip, and fresh? Jeepney and Maharlika in my opinion are on the money and it’s working, and you can’t be mad at that.
My fellow Filipinos may not agree with how certain things are made, (I personally thought that the Halo Halo dessert was a second thought and not really constructed as well as the Kamayan spread) but it’s damn good food, and people are dying to try it. Look, a lot Indian people disagreed when Slumdog Millionaire came out and it too was hit and was heck, it was nominated for like 10 Oscars! I’m sure it’s the same with their food or French people eating french food outside of France or Hawaiians eating Hawaiian food outside of Hawaii. So don’t take your “Oh my mom can make that dish better than they can” attitude with you to this place and just appreciate the fact that it’s here, it’s teaching the city about our culture, and it’s successful.
Jeepney is located 201 1st Ave (1st Avenue and 13th Street), New York, NY 10003
For reservations, email: firstname.lastname@example.org