People line up for hours just to dine in this Filipino restaurant in Washington D.C.
Bad Saint now holds the No. 2 spot in Bon Appetit magazine’s annual America’s Best New Restaurants list.
The restaurant’s name is inspired by St. Malo, Louisiana, the site of the first permanent settlement of Filipinos in the U.S.
In command of the kitchen is Chef Tom Cunanan who was born in Olongapo City in the Philippines but grew up in Maryland in the U.S.
He sits down with Eater’s Francesca Manto to explain three of Bad Saint’s popular dishes.
1. Piniritong Alimasag
The soft shell crab dish was inspired by his trip to his dad’s hometown Pampanga.
“Soft shell crabs are seasonal like around this time and being from Maryland, I love crabs. I eat it every year, so I wanted to do something besides crab cakes,” Cunanan says.
He made this dish because he told himself, “I need to find a way to make these back at home. I want to show the whole world that this is, this is what regional Filipino food is.”
2. Piaparan na Manok
This dish is braised chicken with coconut, turmeric, ginger and chilies.
According to Cunanan, the most important ingredient here is the palapa.
“Palapa is this native condiment that they use in Maranao cooking,” explains Cunanan. “It’s just toasted coconuts with a lot of chilies. The Mindanao palapa has sukaro, which is their native garlic, and here we have spring garlic which is in season right now actually. So we use that.”
3. Labanos at Pinaitum
The main ingredient is radish with coconut and pistachio cream.
Cunanan got the idea of making this dish while watching people from Mindanao burning coconuts on the streets.
“They would just blend it and then they would use it as a marinade for chicken, lamb,” Cunanan tells Eater. “It would just give off this really dark, soup-looking nilaga, beef nilaga, and I thought that was just pretty awesome because I’ve never seen anything like that before. And so we tried it here and it was amazing.”
According to the New York Times, one admirable feature of Bad Saint is their refusal to translate Filipino food into European-derived idioms of fine dining.
Cunanan shares the restaurant’s co-owner Genevieve Villamora pushes him to make new dishes.
“It’s got be Filipino. It’s got to have ingredients, it’s gotta be somewhere regional, it’s gotta have a Filipino name,” he says.
Cunanan reveals his mother was his chef because she trained him in the Filipino palate.
Seeing people lining up for Bad Saint’s Filipino food makes him remember his mother.
“I’m sure my mom would be proud of me. You know, it’s all because of her,” he shares. “She passed away four years ago, before the restaurant opened, and if she would’ve seen this today, she’d be so proud of me. I want Filipino food to always be the best version of itself.”
Soft-shell crabs, palapa, and labanos best define the most popular Filipino restaurant in America
Posted by Eater on Wednesday, 29 August 2018