Cairnlea Town Centre, 100 Furlong Rd, Cairnlea. Phone 8390 1346
Yet because of the nifty, superb blogging platform provided by wordpress.com, and some additional data from StatCounter, I know for a fact that the entries on both those Filipino western suburbs joints, along with Filipino food and restaurants in general, generates more interest and search engine terms than just about anything else.
The interest comes from all over the world, but mostly from the Philippines – of course! – and Melbourne.
And each time we’ve been to Kabayan, one or more of the Filipino customers has made inquiries:
“Do you like Filipino food?”
“Are you enjoying your meal?”
That interest and intrigue mirrors my own as I set off to check out the newly revamped and reopened Kabayan.
It’s been moved around the corner to larger premises that allow the incorporation of a modest grocery section.
Other than that, much seems the same as on our previous visit.
This time, though, I give the grilled-to-order meals a miss and try my luck with the pot food arrayed in the bain marie.
And this time, thanks to a young Filipino man who talks me through the dishes available, I have a good idea of what I’m eating.
Here’s the deal – two dishes with rice for $9.50.
I settle on afritada and paksiw.
The chicken afritada is a braise/stew affair, with chook pieces on the bone and vegetables in a reddish sauce/gravy. It’s a sweet dish with a dash of the piquant about it – thus making it a little like your old-school Cantonese sweet-and-sour concoction, but much wetter.
It’s OK, but the chicken pieces are of negligible flavour.
The paksiw is something else entirely.
From what I’ve since learnt, paksiw is apparently a vinegar-based stew, in my case of pork. The various recipes and info I find online make it sound interesting.
I wish what’s on my plate was half so appealing.
The dish has some tasty gravy that nevertheless seems bereft of vinegar zing, some fine and tender pork – but, oh my, there’s soooooo much fat.
In at least a couple of different contexts – traditional roast pork crackling and Chinese roast meats – I am usually easily swayed into enjoying such decadence.
But in this dish, there is nothing at all crackly or crunchy or alluring about the fat and skin – it’s all flabby, revolting, and mixed in with the sauce/gravy
After eating what meat there is, I leave more than half the dish on my plate.
And so I depart Kabayan once more feeling that I am missing something, that I am simply not “getting it”.
Ah well, maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be – still, I find it surprising.
I am far from the most courageous diner around, but I like or love a wide range of cooking that ranges from the Mediterranean and the Middle East to the farthest reaches of East and South Asia.
Given that, I’ve been thinking Filipino food should be a natural fit.
But based on my very limited experience, the textures and flavours – not to mention the fat content! – are just too rich and unappealing for my palate.
Kabayan does fine grilled-to-order meals, of course, but at $12+ even those seem a stretch, given I can easily grab some Viet dishes that are similar, have more vegie contrasts and trimmings, and are cheaper and tastier.
And maybe that’s the rub right there …
Perhaps not so incoincidentally, as I am writing this Ms Baklover – reviewing First Taste at Footscray Food Blog – has opined:
My palate is heavily skewed towards fresh, light Vietnamese, Malaysian and South Indian flavours.
And, I suspect, the very reason I am struggling with Filipino food.