Shop 10/100 Furlong Rd, Cairnlea. Phone: 8390 1346
PLEASE NOTE: More recent review of revamped Kabayan can be found here.
We’ve spied Filipino groceries in Footscray, Braybrook and St Albans, but we’ve never been to the Philippines, and the only Filipino food we’ve seen ready to buy and eat has been that of two stalls in the food hall of the Market That Doesn’t Allow Cameras.
And that food, to cowardly us, has always looked more than a little daunting.
Happily, we had a brief conversation with Adrian of Food Rehab at the Food Bloggers’ Mad Hatter Spring Picnic regarding Filipino food, him telling us that the stuff can sometimes look ugly but taste terrific. He also suggested some dishes for newbies, but I wasn’t on the ball enough to take notes, and gave us the tip on this fascinating eatery out Deer Park way.
We’re happy to have made its acquaintance, and have had some tasty food there, but are still far from convinced we have any sort of handle on Filippino food.
On a weekend lunch, Bennie and I bypass the bain marie and opt for the simple grilled dishes – he ordering the chicken skewers with garlic fried rice ($10.50) and me the pork chop with ditto accompaniment ($9.50).
It’s already been a long day and we’re Very Hungry, so we top up with a couple of segments of Filippino sausage ($1.50 each) and an interesting looking slab of fried eggplant ($5).
Our main dishes are tasty but plain. Bennie’s chicken is beaut – and has a distinct Japanese teriyaki sweetness about it. My two pork chops are a little less tender, but no less toothsome. I suspect the charred rind and fat is meant to be treated as simply part of the meal deal, but I fastidiously set it aside. The rice is OK, but nothing particularly notable.
These two platters are very similar to the meat and rice dishes we find in Viet restaurants, or the Hainan chicken rice and nasi lemak of Malay places, with similar trimmings of cucumber and tomato slices but much less seasoning or spiciness.
Bennie gobbles up the smallish sausage segments, but I find them dull.
In some ways, the eggplant is the star of the day. What I presume is half a large eggplant sliced in half lengthways has been flattened and coated an extremely eggy batter. It all tastes good, and has that delectable smoky tang we associate with eggplant dips of Middle Eastern cuisines. It’s hefty for a side dish – something like a vegetarian steak, in fact – and seems to lend credence to the “ugly but good” theory.
As we amble away quite satisfied, Bennie opines: “That was like Asian food but not really!”
I know what he means.
We would have liked to have known more about the food we were ordering and eating (including the correct Filipino names), but the staff were busy and, perhaps, a little shy or taken aback by our interest. However, whatever our disappointment with our experience here, we are happy to confess it surely has at least as much to do with our ignorance of Filipino food as anything else.
Next time, we’ll revert to bain marie mode. On a previous visit, I’d had a ridiculously oily but otherwise awesome beef stew with spuds and carrot in a sweetish red gravy, and a minced pork concoction with peas and potato. Served with plain rice, the combo cost $9.
On the day of our grilled lunch visit, the bain marie hosts an interesting looking dish of beef tongue with a mushroom sauce, another of beef on the bone in a peanut sauce and a couple of fish dishes.