Filipinos boast the 4th highest foreign-born population in the Seattle area but oddly few Filipino restaurants exist.
That’s probably why Hershell Taghap, line cook at Tom Douglas’ Cuoco, threw a one night only Thrilla in Manila Pop Up Dinner. It showcased Filipino classics such as Kare-kare (Peanut butter and oxtail stew), Sinigang na hipon (sour soup with whole shrimp), Lumpia (Filipino eggrolls), Pancit canton (noodles), a whole roasted pig and much more.
Not only did Hershell cook, host and organize the one night event, he was also the DJ, storyteller and entertainer. He was a hospitable host who seemed to be everywhere at once, whether it was in the kitchen, at the DJ stand, or mingling and talking with people in the dining room. He told stories and gave credit to the family and friends behind each dish such as “dad’s secret everything sauce” or “Uncle June’s Ordonez Family Fried Rice”. Hershell was even a bit of stand up comedian joking how he never had a girlfriend because he was always working at his family’s Filipino grocery store while growing up.
There's a joke on how all Filipinos know each other and in this case, it's true. It turns out that Hershell and I went to college together back at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois!
As for me, I ate two full plates of Hershell’s outstanding Filipino meal while mingling with people at my community table. I was the only Filipino seated around me and I spent a lot of time happily answering questions about Filipino cuisine. I even showed a couple how to rip the heads off of the shrimp and suck all the flavorful juices down. I was quite proud of the couple, for they were brave and mirrored my eagerness to suck out that shrimp head goodness.
I also shared some of my eating experiences while traveling the Philippines. As people pigged out on their platefuls of sisig (crispy bits of pig head, red bell pepper, lime, and sugar cane vinegar) I explained how sisig is a very popular ‘pulutan’ or bar food that Filipinos often eat while drinking San Miguel beer.
From someone who doesn’t eat and cook nearly as much Filipino food as I should, I’m glad I was able to buy tickets to this great event. Over the last few years, I’ve favored French, Italian, and Vietnamese cooking while more or less abandoning my Filipino foodie upbringing. Wednesday night’s dinner was just what I needed to jump start my appetite for Filipino cooking. You can take that as a hint for things to come.
Maraming Salamat, Hershell!
Hershell himself wrote about the great event from his perspective.