Ask New Yorkers their favorite Thai food in the city, and they’ll rattle off a list. Ditto for dumplings, ramen, sushi and even Korean barbecue.
But Filipino? Radio silence.
This isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of Filipino (or “Pinoy”) food in and near the city. Little Manila (a small stretch of Roosevelt Avenue off the 7 in Woodside) and enclaves of New Jersey (and increasingly, Jersey City) have thriving Filipino communities and neighborhood spots flying under the radar.
But until the past few years, the cooks making Filipino food “weren’t really professional chefs,” Pig and Khao chef/owner and Top Chef vet Leah Cohen says. And that meant neighborhood spots remained just that. Thanks to more high-profile and centrally located spots opening in the past few years—Maharlika, Jeepney and Cohen’s own Pig and Khao in particular—that’s starting to change.
For the uninitiated, the options can be intimidating. Take dinuguan, for example: Traditionally, it’s offal cooked in pig blood and vinegar. Nowadays, most chefs sub in pork shoulder or more traditional pork cuts, but the sauce—which tastes like a tangy version of brown gravy—remains the same.
And then there’s the infamous balut, a fertilized duck egg Maharlika/Jeepney owner Nicole Ponseca jokingly describes as “a hard-boiled egg on steroids.” It’s become something of a badge of honor (thanks in part to “Bizarre Bites“), so much that both Maharlika and Jeepney see loads of daredevils popping in for the fear factor, and Jeepney has even instituted a balut-eating contest for the bravest. (Should you crack yours open and find it empty, know that it’s a sign of good luck.)