This New Filipino-American Food Cart Is “Not Your Tita’s Kitchen”


In 2019, Ethan Leung was one of Seattle’s “next hot chefs” a sub to sizzling Ben Paris in a sleek new downtown hotel. A few years earlier, he had escaped the financially secure world of his family’s dreams: engineering. Monotonous, he said. Empty the soul. In the kitchen, he found things that drew him to breakdance: creativity, self-expression, camaraderie. He learned the basics on YouTube and on the job. At Ben Paris, he was a rising talent heading down the path of the normative food world.

But Ethan, a physics graduate, and his wife Geri, a digital marketer in the tech world, had other ideas. During the pandemic, the Leungs tried out a Seattle pop-up called Baon Kainan, blending their mothers’ Filipino cuisine, breakdancing philosophy, some chef skills, and love of American fast food. Customer reviews ranged from ‘amazing’ to ‘why doesn’t this taste traditional? In a city like Seattle, with a large, well-established Filipino community, they wondered where their personal style fit.

One dinner changed everything: Richard Le, Vietnamese-American food explorer and Portland Matta Food Basket chef. Le, a b-boy like Ethan, visited Baon Kainan last summer on the recommendation of mutual friends on their demolition crews.

As Le recounts, “Filipino cuisine is one of my top five cuisines. I’ve eaten all of these dishes before, but not like this. I was blown away by his presentations, but it was the little things. Like the tomato and cucumber salad with little lime jellies. I said, ‘Yo, what is this? Brother, what are you doing? You have to open your own business.

The did the case: Portland, with its supportive food cart community and burgeoning Filipino food scene, was the perfect place to Baon Kainan (pronounced BAH-ohn cah-e-nahn). “Baon” translates to food that you would take on a trip, for lunch or to work; “Kainan” means restaurant. After a few well-received pop-ups at Matta’s, the couple moved to Portland in April. Baon Kainan plans to open on August 7, just steps from Matta at Metalwood Salvage, 4311 NE Prescott St. Hours of operation will be Thursday through Monday, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The slogan of the basket? “Not the kitchen of your tita” – no disrespect to the aunts expected.

“We want to tell our story through food,” says Geri. Ethan was born in the Philippines before moving to Washington. Geri grew up eating Italian food in Italy. Southern food is also part of her story, after her family moved to the South. And both are influenced by their mother’s traditional cuisine. “What you ate at the tita party, you won’t find it here, ”says Geri. “But it will call you back.”

My first taste of Baon Kainan was a kare kare dish at a spring pop-up. Instead of the traditional oxtails simmered in a peanut sauce, to eat with bites of rice, Ethan conjured up a kind of Filipino poutine, stacking braised ribs in peanut sauce on fries accompanied by bagoong balls. (shrimp paste) and marinated. chili peppers. I swallowed it up in my car with abandon.

Kare kare seems to be a menu highlight alongside chicken (or mushroom) adobo and dinuguan (pork belly in a pork blood stew). I can’t wait to try the homemade Filipino spaghetti ketchup, a condiment usually bottled. Meanwhile, I pray that the tomato and cucumber salad – an essential Filipino side dish – still has those lime green jellies that pierced Le. “It’s a chef’s touch,” says Ethan.

Desserts might be the perfect place for the cart. The couple’s karioka are a treat – delicately fried and delicately deep-fried coconut rice balls that come to life when dipped in the thick coconut caramel frosting. Also in preparation: turon, a banana burro and jackfruit lumpia glazed with a banana caramel sauce, and bibingka, a coconut rice cake baked in banana leaves and topped with a touch of nut crumble coconut from Baon Kainan.

And once settled in, Baon Kainan hopes to pull out a brunch menu: from cookies and longganisa sausage sauce to breakfast sandwiches on Geri’s pandesal buns, accompanied by mayo, American cheese and an egg. on the plate. The plan also includes a classic Filipino breakfast and champorado, a full chocolate rice porridge.

Ultimately, they hope Baon Kainan will be more than food, as the restaurant world seeks new models of thinking and being and a way forward.

“Unfortunately,” said Ethan, “terrible truths [in the industry and beyond] have happened and will continue. I have faced not being paid the same amount as cooks with the same experience, dealing with racist comments and discrimination. My personality is very reserved; it’s difficult for me to speak. Now with Baon Kainan we have a voice.

Follow Baon Kainan on Instagram @baonkainan

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