The State Folklorist’s Notebook is a regular column written by state folklorist Emily Hilliard for Goldenseal Magazine. This article appears in the Summer 2017 issue.
I’m sitting in the back booth of a Parkersburg restaurant on an unseasonably warm February afternoon. A red, white, and blue Filipino flag hangs on the wall, and Michael Jackson blasts from the speakers above my head as the waitress sets a Fiestaware plate in front of me. The bright green plate is stacked high with meat and potatoes and noodles with vegetables, topped with what looks like miniature egg rolls.
The chef, Daniel Lubuguin, and his wife, Ellenita Lubuguin, are the owners and operators of the restaurant, Philippines Best Food. They sit across from me, pointing out different dishes and their ingredients. When he gets to the pork adobo, Daniel tells me,“The Spanish have been [in the Philippines] for 400 years. This is basically how they preserved the meat—they only used salt and vinegar back then. Then the Chinese came, and they introduced soy sauce. That’s how the Filipinos started mixing it up, and they got this blend.”
While in traditional Filipino cuisine, adobo is generally served with bananas or pineapple, at Philippines Best Food, Daniel serves his with potatoes, “for West Virginia tastes,” Ellen says. “You know, meat and potatoes.”
The noodle dish is pansit (also spelled pancit), which Ellen tells me is traditionally served at all Filipino birthdays and special events. The long, thin rice noodles symbolize long life. The lumpia shanghai—meat and vegetables rolled in spring roll wrappers—are also common offerings at celebrations. “It’s finger food,” Ellen adds.
The foodways of Spain, China, Japan, Indonesia, and the United States were brought to the Philippines through trade and colonization. These foods blended with the indigenous foods of the island nation, resulting in the Filipino cuisine of today.
Here in West Virginia, Daniel and Ellen’s Filipino offerings are influenced by local tastes and cultural preferences. They recently added a burrito to the menu, upon a suggestion from their son. The fillings offered are classic Filipino dishes like adobo, sweet and sour chicken, or teriyaki chicken, all rolled in a Mexican flour tortilla. It’s been very popular. While Ellen and Daniel often alter their dishes to suit customer predilections, they are committed to using fresh ingredients and preparing everything from scratch. Daniel travels to Maryland once a month to source spices, herbs, and other ingredients from a Filipino market.
Ellenita came to West Virginia in 1985 with her first husband, an American, who is now deceased. Daniel moved to the United States in 1994, settling first in Marietta, Ohio. The two met through their church in Marietta, but are both from Luzon—the Philippines’ largest and most populated island—and even worked at the same military base there. Daniel learned to cook at a restaurant on the base, where he prepared both American and Filipino cuisine. He’s never used written recipes but cooks by taste. “It’s like home cooking,” Ellen says.
Four years ago, the couple opened Philippines Best Food on Parkersburg’s East End. Though it was initially just a carry-out, last year, they expanded into a neighboring empty lot and added a dining room and outdoor porch seating.
Ellen and Daniel would like to offer more traditional Filipino fare but are concerned about customer response. Since my visit, however, they’ve added an “Adventures Menu,” which includes adobo pucit (squid cooked in adobo sauce), marinated milkfish, and sinigang shrimp, described on the menu as “Tamarind sour broth with vegetables and shrimp with head.”
When I called to ask how the new more traditional items have been received, Daniel said it’s been a slow process, but they’ve been fairly popular. He told me that recently when a customer ordered diniguan—a pork stew cooked in pig’s blood—his only complaint was that it wasn’t traditional enough, specifically because it didn’t include the offal that authentic diniguan usually contains. “That’s just not gonna fly in West Virginia,” Daniel said.
Gradually, though, the restaurant is building a local following and introducing more traditional Filipino cuisine to Parkersburg. “We have a customer who always comes in asking for the squid. We don’t always have it, but he loves it. He’s an Italian guy, so he’s used to squid,” says Daniel, noting the prevalence of calamari in traditional Italian cuisine. Because Filipino food is so multicultural, it’s not that difficult to find common ground with the foodways of other ethnicities and traditions.
“The community is supporting us for being a small business,” Ellen comments. “And they’re supporting Filipino food, actually. Some people will say, once you taste Filipino food, then you’ll get it.”
Philippines Best Food is located at 1757c Seventh Street in Parkersburg and is open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
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