Where to Explore Filipino Culture in NYC

Alexandra Lim-Chua Wee

Home to the largest community of Filipinos on the East Coast—and, including its metro area, the third largest in the country—New York City is an excellent place to explore a taste of the Philippines (literally). Strongly bonded by food and family, many Filipinos would agree that to learn about their culture is to eat your way through it. Thankfully, the City has no shortage of mouthwatering dining options. Start in Woodside, Queens, nicknamed “Little Manila”—more than half the City’s Filipino community resides in the borough, with a heavy concentration in this neighborhood. Or venture along the east side of Manhattan and into Brooklyn for a mix of trendier cafés and eateries.

Courtesy, Ihawan

Share a kamayan feast at Ihawan

40-06 70th St., Woodside, Queens

In the Philippines, kamayan means to eat with your hands; it also refers to a communal meal served on large, fragrant banana leaves. At Ihawan, you can take part in this tradition with groups as small as two or as large as eight. Chow down on favorites like barbecue skewers of chicken or pork, pinakbet (vegetables sauteed in fish or shrimp sauce) and lechon kawali (crispy fried pork belly).

Philippine Independence Day Parade. Photo: Joros Razon

Enjoy dance, costumes and music at the Philippine Independence Day Parade

Madison Avenue, from 37th to 25th Streets, Nomad, Manhattan

Celebrate the country’s independence from 300 years of Spanish rule at this joyous annual event, held on the first Sunday in June. Since the 1990s, the parade has brought together community members to share traditional Filipino culture through live entertainment, festive performances, food vendors and plenty of family-friendly activities.

Courtesy, Kabisera

Sip an ube latte at Kabisera

151 Allen St., Lower East Side, Manhattan

Foodie or not, chances are you’ve spotted ube making the rounds in the dessert world. This sweet yam, native to the Philippines and known for its purple hue, has popped up in everything from shakes to cheesecakes. Talk to any Filipino and they’ll probably tell you they grew up eating ube-flavored items—and still crave it when looking for a snack. At Kabisera, you can get your ube fix in slushies, lattes and affogato or in seasonal treats like halo-halo (a popular crushed-ice dessert with ice cream), fruits and jellies. This hip café also hosts pop-up shops, art exhibits and community events.

Dine, sing karaoke and be treated like family at Papa’s Kitchen

37-07 83rd St., Jackson Heights, Queens

Buffet tables and karaoke machines are staples of any Filipino party—and every day is a party at Papa’s Kitchen. This no-frills neighborhood go-to not only welcomes you to dig into Filipino favorites, but also invites diners to take the mic and belt out a tune. Start with a plate of lumpia Shanghai (fried pork spring rolls), then try the kare-kare (beef cooked in a peanut sauce with string beans) or lechon kawali. Wash it down with a mango smoothie and you’ll be singing in no time. [Note: at publication time, the restaurant was temporarily closed for renovations; make sure to check on its status before going.]

Fill up on pantry essentials at Phil-Am Foods

527 Tompkins Ave., Rosebank, Staten Island

There’s nothing like learning more about a culture through its supermarkets. At Phil-Am, you’ll find a wide range of Filipino spice mixes and sauces, as well as prepared foods, fresh baked goods and some household items. Pick up everything you need to make pancit bihon, a popular noodle dish, or tocino, sweet and tender pork that’s been cured; popular snacks like dried mango, banana chips and ensaymada, a soft buttery cake, are also available.

Courtesy, Philippine Center

Admire holiday parols at the Philippine Center

556 Fifth Ave., Midtown, Manhattan

While some may adorn their homes with mini Santas and inflatable snowmen for Christmas, many Filipinos herald the season by hanging parols. These star-shaped lanterns represent the star that guided the three wise men to the manger. Traditionally, the hangings are made with bamboo and colorful crepe paper and vary in ornateness. Visit the Philippine Center from mid-November through December to see the lobby’s festive display of the craft.

Courtesy, FOB

Try a modern take on Filipino brunch at FOB

271 Smith St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

At this modern eatery, you’ll find classic silogs, which are breakfast entrees that include some type of meat, garlicky rice and a fried egg. Go for one with longganisa (a sweet pork sausage) or bangus (milkfish, which is the country’s national fish). For a sweeter option, try a brunch favorite with a Filipino spin, like coconut pancakes or halo-halo waffles topped with ube ice cream and jackfruit.

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Share a bucket of Chickenjoy at Jollibee

609 Eighth Ave., Times Square, Manhattan; 62-29 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, Queens

Soon after its debut in the late 1970s, Jollibee became a household name for Filipinos needing a quick and tasty meal. Initially an ice cream shop, the restaurant pivoted to a savory menu when its founder noticed patrons craving burgers and fried chicken. Today the chain has hundreds of locations worldwide, including more than 50 in the US. Order fast food staples like Chickenjoy (fried chicken) and Yumburgers (self-explanatory), or try flagship favorites like the Filipino-style spaghetti (served with a sweet tomato sauce and hot dog slices).


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