Inside New Jersey’s Filipino Food Paradise

When Imelda Luga left her native Philippines in 2004 to visit family in New Jersey, she thought she could only stay for a few months. She has been here ever since.

Like thousands of Filipino immigrants, Luga has found a home away from home in Jersey City, especially its Little Manila neighborhood. It’s a vibrant Southeast Asian cultural enclave made up of over 16,000 Filipinos, making him the second most populous area in New Jersey (after Bergenfield).

“When I first came to Jersey City, it felt like a small Filipino town,” said Luga, a professional nanny from New York City. “My English wasn’t the best at the time, but almost everywhere I went, there was someone who spoke my native language and understood what I was saying.”

For more than half a century, Filipinos have flocked to the city’s West Side and flocked to bustling Newark Avenue as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 removed the cap on the number of immigrants allowed into the United States. I was. New York and New Jersey are short of nurses, one of Filipinos’ main occupations, and Jersey City’s proximity to multiple hospitals, including one across the river, means low rent and It also served as a prime relocation destination because train fares are cheap.

As Filipino families settled, their culture began to mingle with existing Hispanic and South Asian communities, injecting new flavors into an already diverse city. , part of Grove Street, renamed the nation’s capital in 1980, along with Philippine Plaza, a park with a statue of national hero Jose P. Rizal and a memorial honoring the Filipino soldiers who fought . Vietnam War.

And, of course, the city is brimming with authentic Filipino food to sample, and Jersey City is a dining destination for immigrant families around New Jersey (myself included) for a fleeting sense of belonging in any other town. known as the earth.

Growing up as a first-generation Filipino-American (my parents are from Manila and Pampanga) in a more uniform Central Jersey town, much of my childhood was spent noticing differences. Virtually no one looked like me on TV, and very few kids at school looked like me. I remember

So when my parents — my mother was a nurse and my father an engineer, neither of whom spoke much English — and I drove to Jersey City to visit friends and relatives, it was It was an escape to a small part of the Philippines hidden along the Hudson River. .

But back to the food: Our go-to place was Little Quiapo on Newark Avenue. Owned by Filipino-American Elizabeth Attendedo, this addictive and authentic restaurant has been serving the Jersey City community since 1992.

Little Quiapo Restaurant

Jeremy Attended puts the finishing touches on an order of tapsilogs at Little Quiapo Restaurant in Jersey City on Saturday, July 9, 2022.Jon Jones | For NJ Advanced Media

If you can only order one dish at Little Quiapo (named after a neighborhood in Manila), make sure it’s Tapsilog. A tapsilog is a traditional breakfast plate of thinly sliced ​​salted or dried beef, a fried egg and garlic rice. Tapsilog is hard to find in New Jersey, but Little Quiapo makes it taste the same as when I had it in the Philippines. It creates a chewy texture.

Little Quiapo Restaurant

BBQ Pork at Little Quiapo Restaurant in Jersey City Saturday July 9, 2022Jon Jones | For NJ Advanced Media

The spot also serves highly addictive Filipino BBQ marinated in a variety of spices, sauces and banana ketchup. — before grilling to perfect char. My family also orders pancit, a delicious noodle dish we always serve at birthday parties, and lumpian shanghai (Filipino spring rolls) with sweet chili sauce for dipping, as they symbolize longevity.

Little Quiapo Restaurant

Shanghai Cuisine at Little Quiapo Restaurant in Jersey City Saturday 9 July 2022Jon Jones | For NJ Advanced Media

“Our kitchen is purely traditional, homemade Filipino food, nothing fusion or flashy,” says Atendido. “What our customers remember in the Philippines is what they got.”

Philippine bread house pastries

Pastries from Philippine Bread House in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Lauren Musni | New Jersey Advance Media)

Philippine Bread House is a local favourite, especially for its freshly baked, fluffy pandesal (Filipino rolls). Even when my parents weren’t in Jersey City, they drove on their way to get at least 5 bags of Pandesal. I also had their ensaimada (a spiral sweet yeast dough stuffed with ube and topped with sugar and grated cheese). This long-established baker also bakes my favorite cake, his moist Mocha he cake with dulce de leche layered on every slice.

The region’s commitment to fostering and celebrating Filipino culture has inspired a new generation of Filipino-Americans to open businesses here as well.

Lloyd Ortuoste, owner of Baonanas in Jersey City, New Jersey

said Lloyd Ortuoste, owner of Baonanas in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photography: Lloyd Ortuoste)

Lloyd Ortuoste, owner of Baonanas (a dessert shop that specializes in banana pudding), grew up in Jersey City as a first-generation Filipino-American.

“I found a local Filipino community here, especially attending two very diverse schools in more diverse communities,” said Ortuoste. “It’s a nice place to eat food that looks a little weird and might smell a little weird to other people.”

His shop began as a fundraiser to fix his car, but after overwhelming support from the community, Ortuoste and his fiancée Trisha were able to open a store on their hometown of Monticello Avenue. rice field. It eventually expanded to the Harborside Financial Center in Jersey City and East He Village in New York.

“I wanted to remember not only my Filipino roots, but also my Jersey City roots,” says Ortuoste. “It’s very difficult for Filipino-Americans to be grounded in their identity, so the chance we get is a privilege and we want to make sure we don’t take it for granted.”

Baonanas offers several Filipino-inspired flavors, including ubenana (a combination of ube flavors and banana pudding) and buko pandan (a mix of young coconut, pandan leaves and sago pearls) flavored banana pudding.

Jollibee Journal Square

Jollibee Restaurant at Journal Square PATH Station, Jersey City, Friday, February 12, 2021. (Reena Rose Sibayan | The Jersey Journal)

Even Filipino restaurant chains have made inroads into Jersey City. Jollibee is the Philippines’ most popular fast food chain, known for its famous “juicy and delicious” fried chicken and Filipino spaghetti (traditional spaghetti with sliced ​​hot dogs and cheese). ); Max’s Restaurant serves classic Pork Sisig (sizzling vinegar pork) and Max’s Crispy Pata (pork hock marinated before frying). Red Ribbon serves the best Filipino pastries. Buy butter mammon (a small, light chiffon cake) or my beloved halo-halo (a shaved ice dessert that means “mixed” in Tagalog).

Halo Halo at Red Ribbon Bakery

Halo Halo at Red Ribbon Bakery in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Lauren Musni | New Jersey Advance Media)

Beyond Jersey City, Filipino representation has become more prominent in pop culture. Singer Olivia Rodrigo, actor Vanessa Hudgens and Dave Bautista are one of her biggest stars and more and more non-Filipinos are becoming interested in our cuisine and culture. Featured in huge media and magazines such as Food and Wine and The New York Times. There has been a huge boom in Filipino chefs opening their own restaurants across the country, with coffee shops incorporating Filipino flavors such as ube and bukohi pandan into their drinks.

But if you want an authentic Filipino experience within the Garden State, Jersey City is for you. It was an important part of my upbringing and a beautiful example of New Jersey’s diverse landscape.

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To contact Lauren Musni: [email protected]Follow her on Twitter @Laurengmusni. seek on Facebook.

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