Delicious Filipino fast food can be found at Kainan Sa Kanto in Lakewood – Press Telegram
I recently asked a friend if he wanted to go out for some tasty Filipino food. He said to me, “Of course I like chicken at Jollibee.”
The expression on my face was one of infinite sadness when he said that. For although Jollibee comes from the Philippines, it’s not specifically Filipino cuisine. Not even close. So, forgive me if I put on my culinary academic robe and give a little lecture:
For a very long time, the remarkably flavorful cuisine of the Philippines has been something of an outlier among the ethnic cuisines represented here in SoCal. Despite a large Filipino community — and an area just outside of downtown Los Angeles designated “Historic Filipinotown” — the food hasn’t had the culinary impact of the cuisine of, say, Thailand or Vietnam. . It has remained an exotic taste enjoyed by those who crave something… different. But he remained somewhat removed from the mainstream.
It is an education in world geography and colonial expansion to chew the foods of the Philippines. Filipino lumpia goes directly back to the Chinese spring roll, a dish brought to the Philippines by the many Chinese travelers who established trading posts in this chain of more than 7,000 islands. Pansit is a fried noodle dish much the same as the fried noodles found in any low-end Chinese restaurant.
From Spain there is asada, escabeche and torta – which is a type of sandwich in Spain and an omelet in the Philippines. There is more Spanish in the dishes than Chinese, and more Chinese than native Filipino. The most recent American influence on food comes down to the introduction of Coca-Cola to the islands, a boon of questionable value.
But Filipino cuisine is still…Filipino cuisine, notable for the taste of salt and umami in the pungent fish/shrimp paste called bagoong, and liquid fish seasoning patis. There is also a sourness due to the addition of vinegar, tamarind or lime-like calamansi. You will find plenty of garlic in Filipino dishes and added spices from a variety of dipping sauces – sawsawan.
We mainly eat the food from the northern Roman Catholic islands, rather than the pork-free Muslim south. But San Miguel Beer represents all the islands. What hasn’t traveled is a regional liquor called tuba, which is made from the fermented sap of the palm tree. One sip would be enough to bring the inexperienced snorkel drinker to their knees.
A great taste of the islands can be found at Kainan Sa Kanto, which is in a mini mall that is otherwise notable for a branch of Boot World next door. It’s a combination of a casual cafe, with a handful of tables and a deli, with staff that seem intrigued when a non-Filipino takes an interest in one of the many dishes on the steam table. Ask questions and they will offer you suggestions. That’s how I ended up happily chewing on pork crackers, while considering a selection of dishes – as far as I can tell, based on the deli menu (half dishes and full platters).
Daily combos are, of course, a great way to go, with a choice of chicken, pork, beef, seafood, soups, pansit, vegetables and ‘specialties’ as main courses, with sides ranging from simpler rice dishes (including fried rice), and even more noodle dishes (including “Filipino-style” spaghetti).
The spring rolls are perfectly crispy, the empanadas and lumpia are almost essential. I have a passion for barbecue pork. And I dream of one day ordering the lechon, a whole roast pig, which you have to ask for a week in advance. I would love to have it for Thanksgiving. Turkey is doing well. But a whole roast Filipino pig – pure heaven!
Until then, there’s the lumpia, filled with ground pork, carrots, celery, onions and garlic, served with a sweet and sour dip that could pass for a drink; along with the taste of pork, sweetness is an essential part of the diet. If available, I always get the kinilaw, in which the tuna is served in large cubes, tossed with lemon, rice vinegar, onions, ginger, and jalapeños, with rice balls. Inihaw may rhyme, but otherwise it’s barbecue chicken or pork skewers – basically satay, Filipino style.
Sinigang soup is a cold weather delight, a hot pot of pork or seafood (fish, mussels and prawns), flavored with tamarind, tossed with eggplant, green beans, tomatoes and mushrooms — a hearty soup ! Chicken or pork adobo is a staple dish cooked long and slow in vinegar, soy, garlic, and bay leaves. Sisig is minced pork belly, flavored with lemon, onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeño, cilantro – and topped with a fried egg, for all the goodness in it. There’s the kare kare beef stew, the fried fish escabeche (which I’ve always considered a poke that changed my mind and chose to be crispy!), and much more.
If they have it (buffet items tend to vary), try the pinoghetti – sweet Filipino-style spaghetti in banana sauce (!), with pork, cheese and (yes!) hot dogs. Fried chicken is… fried chicken. And very good fried chicken. (Take that, Jollibee!)
Do not miss the flan de leche for dessert. Or maybe the turon – a deep-fried wrapped banana roll glazed in caramel and chocolate, with vanilla ice cream. At this point in the meal, vanilla seems so…vanilla. But then it’s a tasty transition to the less interesting outside world. A lunch in the Philippines can leave you wondering where exactly you are, as you back down the street.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance food critic based in Los Angeles. Email [email protected]
Kainan Sa Kanto
- Evaluation: 2.5 stars
- Address: 5521 Del Amo Blvd, Lakewood
- Information: 562-804-7627
- Kitchen: Laid-back Filipino market and cafe; it’s kind of like you got out of Lakewood and into Manila.
- When: Breakfast, lunch and early dinner, daily
- Prices: About $12 per person; no reservations
- On the menu: 2 Combinations ($9.99-$11.99, with dozens of dishes to choose from), BBQ Sticks ($2.99), Empanadas ($2.39), Macaroni Salad ($7.25), Pates Veggie Imperials ($1.49), Many Items $1.09-$7.25
- Credit card: CM, V
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, if not outstanding. Worth the trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to go for a meal. Worth the trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly not worth it describe.)