Jeepney: Filipino Classics Dressed as American Food
I discovered the new Filipino gastro pub Jeepney through Instagram during one of those late nights when hunger struck but I didn't feel like getting up to browse the fridge. I was particularly craving Filipino food, so I just looked for images with the hashtag #filipinofood or #pinoy (what we, Filipinos call ourselves). The results were mouthwatering pictures of food I really miss, one of them being balut or a boiled developing duck embryo egg. The mentioned image had the hashtag #jeepneynyc. Don't you just love the good side of social media- the part where strangers take pictures of good food they eat and tell others where it's accessible? When I found out that this place is in NYC, I just had to check it out. I rarely dine at Filipino restaurants because that's what I eat at home. Why go out to eat the same food right? But I feel that, as someone from the Philippines, there was this obligation to try it (the same reason why I tried Kuma Inn, Maharlika and Ihawan).
I was not the only person intrigued about this new spot. It was a Saturday night and the place was packed with people of various ethnicities. The space is relatively small- at least the bar area, but everyone did not seem to mind. The exterior yellow theme continues inside where random Filipino knick knacks are displayed as decor, along a colossal wall vintage pictures of topless Filipinas. At first one would wonder the relation of the flashy images, but then when you think about the restaurant's slogan "Filipino food makes you sexier"- it makes sense.
The vibe is hip, hole in the wall trendy and surprisingly very New York (I've been to a few Filipino restaurants in NYC and didn't get that feeling)- something that I appreciated (perhaps because of its prime east village location?). As evident of it being a NYC eatery, one will not forget that this is a pinoy restaurant. Little things like the C.R sign (aka comfort room or bathroom) and old school R&B music reminded me of the Philippines.
Another thing I like about Jeepney is the unapologetic naming of its menu items. The menu is in Tagalog (the Philippines' national language) and it encourages first time Filipino cuisine eaters to ask questions about the food. This allows the staff to interact with guests, which I think is mandatory for someone who isn't familiar with our food. Our culture is so vast and it reflects on the food we eat. Filipino food cannot be categorized like Mexican food or Italian food or Chinese food. Our cuisine doesn't have that definitive ingredient- we use curry, we use soy sauce, we don't just use one kind of cheese and our dishes aren't cooked in the same style all the time.
One of the dishes that isn't seen often at any Filipino party (at least in the states) is 'Fish-balls'- fish meat, shaped into balls, deep fried, served in a skewer and dipped into a sauce (sweet and sour or spicy). This is the quintessential street food in the Philippines.
Hence why I was really excited to try theirs but I was a bit let down because it was nothing like the fish-balls in the Philippines. I was even more disappointed at the price- at $6 for 4 pieces is a bit much. I can get the same thing in Flushing for $1. But I appreciate that it's included in the menu and it should stay there.
Making up for my slight disappointment was the 'Longga Dog' aka longganisa (Filipino sausage) hotdog. This is one of the menu items at Jeepney that is a Filipino classic presented in an American way- well, a New Yorker way really.
The longganisa replaces the traditional frankfurter and is topped with cole slaw (pickled cucumbers and carrots). Filipino longganisa is sweet, thus making this a sweet and sour dish so it works. Not too shabby for $8.
The star of the savory items was the 'Chori Burger'- longganisa dressed as a burger, what's more American than that? But in the genius of Jeepney, you have the option of topping your burger with a fried egg which could not be more Filipino. Once again, the east-west thing is harmonious and once again, it works. The burger also comes with 'sweet potato' fries but it's not the sweet potato fries one is used to. The 'sweet potato' is more like cassava or tree camote which is sweet but doesn't have the creamy consistency of a sweet potato. Another very Filipino thing about this very American burger is the Jufran glaze- it's the Filipino ketchup brand which is not tomato based but banana. Either way, this $16 burger is ridiculously amazing. It's no wonder that GoogaMooga attendees went gaga for it.
Another thing to learn about Filipino food: avocado is mostly used in desserts, not in savory dishes. The fruit is a very popular choice for milkshakes- just like Jeepney's. To really enjoy avocado like a pinoy: peel the fruit, slice or cut it, add sugar and evaporated milk and stick it in the freezer (just like you would when making a frozen banana). It solidifies but it has a bit of a creamy texture. But the Jeepney way is not bad at all.
But the reason why I was so eager to go to Jeepney were the Instagram pictures of their halo-halo. Halo-halo literally translates to English as 'mix-mix' and it is: the main component of halo-halo is shaved ice and evaporated milk. From there, you add toppings that you want. Jeepney's halo-halo has sweet corn, jackfruit, grass jelly, kidney beans, coconut jelly, red mung beans, leche flan (Filipino version of flan), ube or purple yam ice cream and the unconventional choice of Rice Krispies. Once again, the American element works flawlessly (is it really American? I mean, we eat rice with everything). I would say that the 'halo-halo' came in at a very close second to the Chori Burger. I will come back to devour the halo-halo again. The $10 was worth every bite of it.
The traditional Filipino way to eat is by using your hands, without utensils. Jeepney honors this by hosting 'kamayan Thursdays' or 'hand-eat Thursdays'. To really experience Filipino food, try to partake in this event. In addition, the restaurant dares those who are adventurous enough to eat the infamous balut. If you are successful, you get your picture immortalized on their wall.