It’s taken me a long time to write this post primarily because I didn’t want to ramble and wanted to be concise in my thoughts about this post (but I’m finding out that concise isn’t my strong suit but I sure can ramble). I also wanted some distance to how I wanted to write this post because both Ida B’s Table and Calasag Pop UP are close to my heart. I’m also writing this because it’s a good bookend piece to my post about Calasag’s Kamayan last summer and a good prologue to my post about Ekiben’s 2nd Year Anniversary coming on the weekend.
If you didn’t know, this past January 24th, Ida B’s Table hosted a Soul Food x Filipino Food Pop Up in collaboration with Calasag Pop Up. Ida B’s Table is a newly opened (last August/September) modern soul food restaurant that has captured Baltimore’s imagination about how you think about restaurants and soul food in a city that is predominantly African American. Calasag Pop Up is a group of enterprising creatives led by Dylan Ubaldo that periodically hosts Filipino food pop ups in Baltimore. As a Filipino, they have certainly captured my imagination of the possibilities of introducing the ideas of Filipino culture and community through Filipino food to Baltimore.
The idea of the meal was to try to bring the best of both worlds to the table together. The courses were rooted in Filipino dishes but Chef David Thomas would add ingredients and flavors that reflected his vision of modern soul food. Dylan was assisted by another talented Filipina cook, Maryrose Runk. Alex Dang also created some cocktails with Filipino flavors to add to the night (I thought I already loved ube as much as I could but adding alcohol to ube may be too much loving).
Dinner was a melding of some classic Filipino comfort food dishes (though I could argue that all Filipino food is comfort food to me). It started with little shot glass filled with Arroz Caldo or Lugaw or you may know it was a congee. There was roasted chicken in the porridge and a piece of braised octopus (brushed with a banana ketchup, ginger ale & calamansi BBQ sauce) balanced across the rim of the glass. It was served under glass after a quick smoke.
The first course was a Catfish Ukoy which used sweet potatoes and collard greens instead of the traditional shrimp and bean sprouts. Ukoy is the Filipino version of a vegetable fritter and Ida B’s Chef David Thomas added a head on grilled shrimp for good measure. Second course was an elevated version of the Philippines go to drunk/hangover food, Sisig. This version included crispy fried pig ears, smoked pig cheek and belly mixed together with coconut vinegar, calamansi, liver spread and chilis. It was served over rice (nice way to sop up all that goodness) and some of Ida B’s signature sweet curry sauce. Dessert was Ida B's beignets with coconut sugar and an ube filling.
I am still not ready to say Calasag’s food was better than my mother’s but I’m sure Dylan and Maryrose will understand that. I will say that it was a great representation of two cultures feeding (pardon the pun) off of each other to make a cohesive meal. While I enjoyed each dish in the meal, the highlight for me was the ukoy. It took traditional soul food ingredients and made it into a classic Filipino dish without missing any of the flavors, textures or distinctiveness of the dish. The shrimp on top was a good touch and added yet another element that Filipinos would look for in ukoy.
The best part of the night, though, was the community just like Calasag’s kamayan. Roughly half of the gathering was made up of some of Ida B’s clientele which are primarily African American. It was great to see these loyal customers show up for a different kind event because it shows trust in Ida B’s ability to deliver great food and meaningful experiences. The other half was made of young Asian Americans who came out to support some of their own. It was a veritable Chinatown Collective (see what I did there?). Also, it was great to meet LieAnne from Dear Globe Coffee Roasters. She’s a fellow Filipina and more importantly, she’s working towards opening her own artisanal small batch coffee shop in Baltimore.
It makes me smile that Ida B’s has grown such a great customer base that they would try something as different as a Filipino Food x Modern Soul Food collaboration. However, my heart warms when I saw how many Asian Americans (and Asian adjacent friends & family) came out to support other Asian Americans regardless if they were Filipinos or not. Whether they came out because they were friends with Dylan, Maryrose or Alex or they were curious about Filipino food, there was a palpable sense of community throughout the night. I’d like to believe that there was a shared joy in the experience of an event that highlighted a culture’s cuisine. A joy that comes from growing up Asian in North America where celebrations of our cultures were rarely found outside our communities.
That joy is a fine line though. In this case, there was a Filipino at the helm of the dinner working with another minority chef who has also worked hard to highlight cuisine that may not have gotten enough recognition for its origins. In the case of Filipino cuisine, it’s been pegged as the new breakthrough Asian cuisine (which is even problematic for the millions of Filipinos who have been eating Filipino cuisine for generations) so it’s only natural for restauranteurs, regardless of their race, to see that as an opportunity. The issue, which applies to most “popular” ethnic cuisines, is how that opportunity is treated. Will the culture behind the cuisine be treated with respect and honored? Will it be unfairly be appropriated for some sort of gain? Even if it is treated with respect and honor, will it matter to the affected communities if it isn’t one of them leading the effort? These are all incredibly difficult questions. Stay tuned. But, for at least one night, Filipino food was highlighted and honored in a way showed Baltimore how great the community and culture could be and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Ida B's Table, 231 Holliday Street, Baltimore, MD 21202, 410.844.0444