Filipino food is finally having its moment in Regina
Local foodie eats his way through Regina to share his take on what’s good
I've been asked my whole life, "What is Filipino food like?" My quick answer is it's savoury, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, and always delicious.
It also tends to come with a backstory. Take "sweet spaghetti" as an example, which caught the attention of Regina foodies when Filipino fast food chain Jollibee opened a location in the Queen City in 2019. The sauce has a tomato base but also lots of sugar and banana ketchup. It contains ground beef, but can also include ground pork and slices of vibrant red Filipino hot dogs.
That hodgepodge of flavours is what makes Filipino cuisine unique: it's born of the Philippines' colonial history, which is unlike that of any other Asian country. The nation was first colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, and later by the U.S. in 1898 (following the Spanish-American War). Filipino cuisine is also distinguished by regional Malay and Chinese influences.
Despite Regina's prominent Filipino population — the country is the largest source of recent immigrants to the city — it wasn't until fairly recently (2009) that people could go to a Filipino restaurant in town to try the cuisine for themselves.
- Recovering Filipino Pass the pancit: An illustrated guide to Filipino cuisine
Before then, you could only get your fill of pancit, lumpia and Filipino BBQ pork skewers (called inihaw na baboy) at the Mosaic multicultural festival, at a community event, or in a Filipino friend's home. Today you can choose from four local Filipino restaurants, plus Jollibee.
I was born and raised in Regina, and I take great pride in my Filipino heritage, so come with me on a tour of three of the city's Filipino restaurants, exploring dishes — and their origin stories — appealing to everyone from the uninitiated to the adventurous.
SA Favorito Foods
363 Broad St.
Featured dish: Beef kaldereta
Recommended as: Easy
Celebrating their fifth anniversary this year, SA Favorito Foods is a bakery, restaurant and catered event space run by married couple Melanie and Nelson San Andres (hence "SA").
The couple are from Batangas in Southern Luzon, but they met working in the food industry at RFM Corporation in the nation's capital, Manila. Nelson is a master baker with 20 years of experience ( pandesal, a Filipino sweet dinner roll, is one of SA's specialties); Melanie started working at Jollibee at age 15 and eventually studied to become a food chemist.
The best dish I tried from SA Favorito Foods was their beef kaldereta, which is a stew. It features a rich peppery gravy with cooked vegetables (carrot, green pepper and potato). Served on a bed of rice, no one can resist it.
2926 13th Ave.
Featured dish: Pinakbet
Recommended as: Moderately adventurous
Fiesta Filipino was the first of the active Filipino restaurants on the scene in Regina, opened in 2009 by three partners, who sold the business to Millet Yumul 10 years later. Yumul is a proud Kapampangan: she hails from the Filipino province of Pampanga, which is known for its delicious regional cuisine.
She told me her most popular dishes are sisig (a kapampangan delicacy — more on that below), pinakbet and dinuguan (pork blood stew).
The pinakbet is a pork and shrimp stir fry with lots of fresh vegetables (okra, green beans, squash, eggplant and bitter melon) whose characteristic flavour comes from bagoong alamang, or fermented shrimp paste.
My friend in high school was willing to try my mom's pinakbet and admitted it tasted "a little fishy"... so this one is for the moderately adventurous.
Savory Food Trip
1419 11th Ave.
Featured dish: Sisig
Recommended as: Very adventurous
Monday Ilarde, who hails from the Bicol province of Southeastern Luzon, opened Savory Food Trip in October 2015. His aunt ran a restaurant in Bicol, which is where he learned how to prepare pulutan: Filipino foods that accompany alcoholic drinks.
Sisig, sizzling pork face and ears, is one of these foods, and Savory offers the best in Regina, in my opinion. There is a gelatinous texture to the porky bits, so it's not for everyone. It's served in a hot cast iron dish and has a delicious roasted garlic flavour. It's topped with a fried egg, adding a richness to it.
Fans of the late Anthony Bourdain may recognize s isig from his visit to the Philippines, and Angeles City in particular. Sisig traces its origins to the U.S. occupation. The Clark Air Base in Angeles slaughtered thousands of pigs to feed the U.S. troops. The heads of these pigs went uneaten until local Angeleños found a use for them.
The rest, as they say, is history.