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The livery pleasures of Pinoy Stew

Kaldereta is Filipino comfort food

Veya, who runs the much-loved Filipino buffet
Veya, who runs the much-loved Filipino buffet

“Stew,” says Kevin.

Pupusa,” I say.

“Stew,” says Diane.

Pupusa,” I say. “Come on! There’s a Salvadoreno joint just around the corner.”

“Pinoy stew!” says Kevin. “Used to have it off-base at Subic Bay. PI.”

“PI?” says Diane.

“Philippine Islands,” I say. “Kinda military talk.”

“But you’re not military.”

“I know, but you pick it up around guys like Kevin.”

“So yeah, dudes,” Kevin’s saying. “Pinoy stew! You can rely on it. And they have it here. I can see it steaming! Quick, it’s nearly six. Before she packs it up for the night.”

I see it through the window, one of a couple dozen chafing dishes loaded with meats and veggies steaming away inside this deep red and white Filipino joint on Old Schoolhouse Square. I’ve always liked this square, mainly because you can think of all the carriages and knickerbockered school kids running across the dusty road to the schoolhouse they had here among the orchards, back in the, like, 1880s. That 1887 St. Matthew’s church helps with the time warp.

Beef, potato, liver paste and lots of spices make this stew one for the books

Of course, now you might say the square is a Little Manila, with lots of Filipino eateries and businesses. This being Thursday night, we almost stopped in at one of them, Villa Manila, a longtime Filipino eatery, for Kamayan, the eat-with-your-hands meal they lay out on a banana leaf. Only problem: Salo Salo, the most modest feast they do, costs $95. Even with the three of us, Kevin, Diane and me, that’s $40 each, after tax and tip.

That’s when I had the idea of tracking down a Salvadoran place that I know is cheap, and somewhere nearby. It’s also when the other two spotted Fiesta Pinoy, this Filipino place on the square.

“Bedford? You okay with this?”

“With what?”

“Us going to Fiesta Pinoy. Filipino, not Salvadoran.”

“This spud’s for you!” says Kevin. “But ‘If t’were done, when t’were done, t’were well t’were done quickly.’ Your grandma, right?”

Sigh. Ho-kay. I mean, I’m not against the idea. I love that you can mix sweet and savory on the same plate with Filipino foods. And I like that we start off with a free bone broth.

“Bone broth is good for you,” says Veya, the lady behind this huge counter of different bubbling chafing dishes. “Good for digestion, good for calming. But need to eat now. We’ll be closing soon. Been open since 6 o’clock this morning.”

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“Aha!” says Kevin. He has just made a beeline to the steaming dishes on the counter. “Caldereta! My favorite PI food.” Kevin’s talking about a dish the sailors of the Spanish Main took with them to the Philippines, back in the 1520s. He looks at the gloopy mix of stewed meat and potatoes and other stuff.

Kevin with his mango juice and kaldereta, an old Spanish beef stew

“Oh yes,” says Kevin, “there are some important extras in kaldereta — and it’s spelled with a ‘k,’ by the way. That’s how they do in PI.”

So what is it that’s so special about this stew? First and foremost, if you ask Veya, liver paste is the essential. Then peas, tomatoes, peppers, bell peppers, olives, ketchup…

I mean, I think of Kevin as a basic meat and potatoes kind of guy, but he has been a Marine. His experiences took him out of his gastro comfort zone long ago. This kaldereta is literally meat and potatoes plus. And it’s the fixins that make it interesting. Specially the liver paste.

“Ah. Takes me back,” he says, dreamily, as he piles up his plate. “Subic. ’Course, this is beef. It would have been goat back there.”

“Seven thousand, six hundred and forty one,” Diane says.

“Whu?” Kevin and I both ask.

“The Philippines is a collection of 7641 islands,” she says. “I’ve just looked it up. That means a lot of fish. So where are their fish specialties?”

Place

Pinoy Fiesta

550 East 8th Street, National City

Fishwise, turns out bangus — milkfish — is the most popular. It’s practically the Filipino national fish. Kev warns us that “each fish has 214 bones — but so-o tasty. Specially the belly.” Tilapia comes in second. But the thing I want to try most is Filipino fish stew, with — and this is very filipino — coconut milk and pineapple. There’s your sweet and savory. But on this cold night, we all kind of agree that hot meat stews are the way to go. We’ve sure come to the right spot for that. Veya points to some of the chafing dishes, bubbling like orange mud pools. The idea is you pick your dish, then you pick your pasta - rice or pancit (noodles), how many entrees you want scooped onto them (with rice it’s $10.50 for one entree, $12.50 with two; on pancit, the scoops go for $12.50 (one entree) and $14 (two entrees). Additional scoops go from $5.95 (for a small vegetable order) to $18.95 (for an extra-large portion of lechon — whole roast suckling pig).

Pork? Pork! I almost go for blood pork, but go for pork binagoongan instead That’s pork cooked in shrimp paste, and it’s an interesting combination. La Belle Diane changes from her stew-plan when she sees a chafing dish full of giant golden patties. “Ooh, I want that!” she says. And because Veya wants to move things along, she straightway picks it up. “Crab omelets,” she says. We pay out $32 and sit at a table for the meal. Already around us, Veya has a mop and bucket out, and is swabbing the floors. “Tonight, close six o’clock,” she says.

“There’s one hard-working woman,” says Kevin. Been here since six this morning.”

Long and short is, Diane and I like our omelet and binagoongan, but find ourselves raiding Kevin’s beef kaldereta. It’s just so…addictively savory. The potato-beef-liver paste, plus some hot sauce, is a totally umami combination.

Pupusas next time darling,” says Diane.

“Well actually,” I say, “I think we want to come back and explore those two dozen other chafing dishes right here.” 

The Place: Fiesta Pinoy, 550 E 8th Street #849, Old Schoolhouse Square, 619-434-6255

Hours: 6am - 8pm daily (till 7pm Saturday, 3:30 pm Sunday)

Prices: Pick your dish, from among dozens, decide on rice or pancit noodles (with rice it’s $10.50 for one entree, $12.50 with two; or pancit, $12.50 (one entree) and $14 (two entrees); additional scoops from $5.95 (for a small vegetable order) to $18.95 (for an extra-large portion of lechon - whole roast suckling pig)

Buses: 929, 955

Nearest Bus Stop: 8th and E

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Veya, who runs the much-loved Filipino buffet
Veya, who runs the much-loved Filipino buffet

“Stew,” says Kevin.

Pupusa,” I say.

“Stew,” says Diane.

Pupusa,” I say. “Come on! There’s a Salvadoreno joint just around the corner.”

“Pinoy stew!” says Kevin. “Used to have it off-base at Subic Bay. PI.”

“PI?” says Diane.

“Philippine Islands,” I say. “Kinda military talk.”

“But you’re not military.”

“I know, but you pick it up around guys like Kevin.”

“So yeah, dudes,” Kevin’s saying. “Pinoy stew! You can rely on it. And they have it here. I can see it steaming! Quick, it’s nearly six. Before she packs it up for the night.”

I see it through the window, one of a couple dozen chafing dishes loaded with meats and veggies steaming away inside this deep red and white Filipino joint on Old Schoolhouse Square. I’ve always liked this square, mainly because you can think of all the carriages and knickerbockered school kids running across the dusty road to the schoolhouse they had here among the orchards, back in the, like, 1880s. That 1887 St. Matthew’s church helps with the time warp.

Beef, potato, liver paste and lots of spices make this stew one for the books

Of course, now you might say the square is a Little Manila, with lots of Filipino eateries and businesses. This being Thursday night, we almost stopped in at one of them, Villa Manila, a longtime Filipino eatery, for Kamayan, the eat-with-your-hands meal they lay out on a banana leaf. Only problem: Salo Salo, the most modest feast they do, costs $95. Even with the three of us, Kevin, Diane and me, that’s $40 each, after tax and tip.

That’s when I had the idea of tracking down a Salvadoran place that I know is cheap, and somewhere nearby. It’s also when the other two spotted Fiesta Pinoy, this Filipino place on the square.

“Bedford? You okay with this?”

“With what?”

“Us going to Fiesta Pinoy. Filipino, not Salvadoran.”

“This spud’s for you!” says Kevin. “But ‘If t’were done, when t’were done, t’were well t’were done quickly.’ Your grandma, right?”

Sigh. Ho-kay. I mean, I’m not against the idea. I love that you can mix sweet and savory on the same plate with Filipino foods. And I like that we start off with a free bone broth.

“Bone broth is good for you,” says Veya, the lady behind this huge counter of different bubbling chafing dishes. “Good for digestion, good for calming. But need to eat now. We’ll be closing soon. Been open since 6 o’clock this morning.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

“Aha!” says Kevin. He has just made a beeline to the steaming dishes on the counter. “Caldereta! My favorite PI food.” Kevin’s talking about a dish the sailors of the Spanish Main took with them to the Philippines, back in the 1520s. He looks at the gloopy mix of stewed meat and potatoes and other stuff.

Kevin with his mango juice and kaldereta, an old Spanish beef stew

“Oh yes,” says Kevin, “there are some important extras in kaldereta — and it’s spelled with a ‘k,’ by the way. That’s how they do in PI.”

So what is it that’s so special about this stew? First and foremost, if you ask Veya, liver paste is the essential. Then peas, tomatoes, peppers, bell peppers, olives, ketchup…

I mean, I think of Kevin as a basic meat and potatoes kind of guy, but he has been a Marine. His experiences took him out of his gastro comfort zone long ago. This kaldereta is literally meat and potatoes plus. And it’s the fixins that make it interesting. Specially the liver paste.

“Ah. Takes me back,” he says, dreamily, as he piles up his plate. “Subic. ’Course, this is beef. It would have been goat back there.”

“Seven thousand, six hundred and forty one,” Diane says.

“Whu?” Kevin and I both ask.

“The Philippines is a collection of 7641 islands,” she says. “I’ve just looked it up. That means a lot of fish. So where are their fish specialties?”

Place

Pinoy Fiesta

550 East 8th Street, National City

Fishwise, turns out bangus — milkfish — is the most popular. It’s practically the Filipino national fish. Kev warns us that “each fish has 214 bones — but so-o tasty. Specially the belly.” Tilapia comes in second. But the thing I want to try most is Filipino fish stew, with — and this is very filipino — coconut milk and pineapple. There’s your sweet and savory. But on this cold night, we all kind of agree that hot meat stews are the way to go. We’ve sure come to the right spot for that. Veya points to some of the chafing dishes, bubbling like orange mud pools. The idea is you pick your dish, then you pick your pasta - rice or pancit (noodles), how many entrees you want scooped onto them (with rice it’s $10.50 for one entree, $12.50 with two; on pancit, the scoops go for $12.50 (one entree) and $14 (two entrees). Additional scoops go from $5.95 (for a small vegetable order) to $18.95 (for an extra-large portion of lechon — whole roast suckling pig).

Pork? Pork! I almost go for blood pork, but go for pork binagoongan instead That’s pork cooked in shrimp paste, and it’s an interesting combination. La Belle Diane changes from her stew-plan when she sees a chafing dish full of giant golden patties. “Ooh, I want that!” she says. And because Veya wants to move things along, she straightway picks it up. “Crab omelets,” she says. We pay out $32 and sit at a table for the meal. Already around us, Veya has a mop and bucket out, and is swabbing the floors. “Tonight, close six o’clock,” she says.

“There’s one hard-working woman,” says Kevin. Been here since six this morning.”

Long and short is, Diane and I like our omelet and binagoongan, but find ourselves raiding Kevin’s beef kaldereta. It’s just so…addictively savory. The potato-beef-liver paste, plus some hot sauce, is a totally umami combination.

Pupusas next time darling,” says Diane.

“Well actually,” I say, “I think we want to come back and explore those two dozen other chafing dishes right here.” 

The Place: Fiesta Pinoy, 550 E 8th Street #849, Old Schoolhouse Square, 619-434-6255

Hours: 6am - 8pm daily (till 7pm Saturday, 3:30 pm Sunday)

Prices: Pick your dish, from among dozens, decide on rice or pancit noodles (with rice it’s $10.50 for one entree, $12.50 with two; or pancit, $12.50 (one entree) and $14 (two entrees); additional scoops from $5.95 (for a small vegetable order) to $18.95 (for an extra-large portion of lechon - whole roast suckling pig)

Buses: 929, 955

Nearest Bus Stop: 8th and E

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Comic-Con stymied by San Diego hotel room prices

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In-Seine, But Not Crazy
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