The Philippines may not be far from Australia geographically, but it hasn’t always been easy to score authentic Filipino food here. Thankfully, that’s been changing in a major way, with eateries of all stripes putting their own spin on the cuisine, which tends to balance sweet, sour and salty flavours in dishes like adobo and sisig.
Below are five destinations across Melbourne to get your fix, whether you’re after the most traditional dishes possible or Filipino-inspired riffs on gelato, sorbet and breakfast sandwiches. Whatever path you choose, you’ll find bright dishes with a wide range of flavours.
Both daughters of immigrants, Melodee Malazarte and Stacey Earsman dedicate West Footscray’s aptly titled Migrant Coffee to their mums. Besides offering all the hallmarks of a great cafe – namely, community and coffee – the pair spike New York-style bagels with Filipino and wider Southeast Asian flavours, as well as Polynesian influences. The menu changes regularly, but you might see a Samoan bagel featuring corn beef, coconut cream and sauteed cabbage, or one with brisket pastrami and atsara (Filipino pickled green papaya). If you’re just after a schmear, the house-made spreads include coconut jam, vegan cashew cream and a cream cheese made with honey, raisins and walnuts. There’s also a courtyard and the added enticement of all-day Mimosas and Bloody Marys, setting the stage for a long group brunch hang.
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You’ve never had gelato like this. Kariton makes contrast-happy small-batch treats that incorporate robust Asian flavours. That might mean everything from purple yam fudge to durian to caramelised spring roll pastry, mixed with gelato made from Victorian milk. On the vegan front, the sorbets include a coconut and pandan variety and a calamansi (a citrus hybrid) and gin one. A dozen different options are on offer at any given time, with two of those slots reserved for an adventurous limited-time flavour. With locations in Footscray and Chinatown – and a third coming soon to Glen Waverley – Kariton prides itself on standing out. And if your kids are intimidated by all the unusual combinations, point them toward the silken tofu soft serve, complete with tapioca beads and boba pearls.
Serai was co-founded by Ross Magnaye and Shane Stafford, who both recently starred in a Filipino-themed cooking challenge on Masterchef. Fire is the centrepiece at their CBD eatery, with a woodfired grill the setting for a line-up of roasted pig’s heads, Gippsland lamb ribs, Mooloolaba prawns and much more. It all makes for a bold revision of classic Filipino dishes mixed with traditional components such as bone sauce and sisig (a pork-driven dish used here for tacos). Calamansi again plays a key role in several dishes, and in a house-made spin on limoncello that opens the bravura cocktail list. The wine list focuses on natural drops, while an open kitchen means you can watch the chefs at work. Just save room for dessert, including cheeky riffs on Paddle Pops and Golden Gaytimes.
This low-key Franklin Street destination is a long-time favourite for ultra-accessible Filipino food. Start with a grilled half or quarter chicken with rice (or a whole chicken to share). From there, explore the marinated beef tapa and work your way toward lechon, the spit-roasted pig that’s often considered the national dish of the Philippines. It’s served here in sisig style, with rice and chillis. There are also traditional Filipino soups and stews, as well as boneless milkfish. GJ’s doesn’t have a huge social media presence, preferring to let its family-style cooking speak for itself. And that has certainly worked over the years, providing newcomers with a budget-friendly entry point to the cuisine.
Nana Rosa’s Kitchen
An app-friendly eatery in Sunshine, Nana Rosa’s specialises in authentic Filipino dishes like pancit bihon, a fried version of rice noodles topped with either chicken, pork or veggies. Rice noodles also appear with shrimp sauce in palabok, and mingle with egg noodles in a handful of stir-fries. There’s even Filipino-style spaghetti. If rice is more your thing, go for the sisig pork, chicken or tofu, or sample the lechon kawali (crispy pork) with rice and egg. The traditional chicken or pork soups make for ideal winter warmers, and spring rolls and seafood often appear on the menu too. Plus, you can continue your Filipino food journey with time-honoured desserts like turon (deep-fried banana rolls) and halo halo (a shaved ice sundae).
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