The Filipino palate has been exhaustingly missing from the Albuquerque culinary scene, but with the opening of the restaurant Filipino Hawaiian Food on Sept. 4, Burqueños can finally look forward to an invigorating change of pace. With the Philippines sitting as a humid hub of diverse cultures within the Pacific, its food can really only be expected to have the kick that it does.
FIlipino food manifests its Spanish influences in the curation of saltiness and the richness of its flavors as it fuses with the spices and tints of East Asia. Elaine Alberto Welch and Basil Welch encapsulated this spirit through the opening of Filipino Hawaiian Food, located in Louisiana Plaza.
After a 20-minute wait due to the lunchtime rush, I ordered adobo chicken with rice, pancit (similar to chow mein but with rice noodles), Hawaiian fried rice and tenola (papaya chicken soup with a side of steamed rice).
The first dish I cracked from its styrofoam plate was the chicken adobo, an absolute staple of Filipino cuisine. Adobo is prepared with chicken and a distinct sauce made from garlic, vinegar and salt, creating explosive levels of soy and tang — all over the great equalizer of steaming white rice (I personally love mine with a few boiled eggs).
The plate looked like teriyaki chicken at first, with the lightish colorings of the sauce, but upon my first bite, the chicken revealed its powerful dimensions of flavor. There’s no better dish to exemplify the Filipino kick than adobo, and Elaine’s version was able to capture its peppery essence with flying colors.
Adobo chicken, especially to foreign tongues, can easily be prepared with too much salt, but Elaine has enough experience and knowledge in her 20 years of cooking in the restaurant industry to know how to delicately balance its mighty but comforting flavors.
The pancit bihon garnered a similar reaction. When I opened the plate, the pancit noodles glowed as they laid under tender pieces of chicken and brittle shreds of carrots and cabbage. The noodles, however, looked clearer than expected, reminding me of the rice noodles prepared for certain Vietnamese dishes.
Yet again, I was surprised by the pancit’s distinguishable familiarity, as my taste buds were not only met with its harmonious flavors but with the perfected texture of the noodles. The noodles were cooked well enough so its flavors shined with the veggies and meat, but remained soft enough to retain their fine consistency, allowing the food to dance and move.
The clear noodles can misguide newcomers to Filipino food. Even I unconsciously expected the pancit to have a more vegetative air — like the aforementioned Vietnamese noodle bowls — despite growing up on Filipino food. But to my relief and comfort, the pancit tasted like it came hot from the pan fried streets of Manila.
Elaine offered us some halo-halo, which I accepted without hesitation. Basil laughed at my eagerness, affirming I knew how good halo-halo can be, and good it absolutely was.
Perhaps I ought to explain first: Halo-halo can be thought of as a Filipino sundae. The dessert will vary from place to place, but the central ingredients of cream, kaong, coconut jelly, sweetened beans, ube ice cream, leche flan and jello remain.
Though the ube ice cream was left out due to low supply, Elaine’s halo-halo still combined into a smooth, caramelized, icy concoction with a satisfying and delectable sweetness.
The food was just as inspiring as Elaine’s culinary journey. Having immigrated from the Philippines in 1998 to California, Elaine decided after several decades of working in advertising to pursue culinary arts in New Mexico, which at the time had not one established Filipino restaurant. It was inspiring to have heard her motivations and accomplishments and to see them persist amidst the pandemic, but it was even better to taste them in her lovingly prepared food.
Gabriel Biadora is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gabrielbiadora