Cover Photo by Cris Tagupa on Unsplash

From Manila to Siargao, the author of 7000 Islands and new cookbook Under Coconut Skies talks about her favourite places for Filipino food and shares her mission to promote the cuisine more widely

“In my early years as a food writer, it always plagued me that Australians knew so little about Filipino food, while Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese were so loved and deep-set,” says Sydney-based Australian-Filipino author Yasmin Newman. “It became a mission to help change that, first through food and travel pieces in magazines, then through a podcast with a leading broadcaster, and finally in what would be my first book on Filipino food—and the first of its kind in Australia—7000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines.”

Newman’s debut book was published almost ten years ago, while its follow up, Under Coconut Skies, is due out on 29 September. Like its predecessor, her new cookbook is rooted in the history, culinary traditions, folklore and personal stories pertinent to Filipino cuisine. “Where 7000 Islands focused on classic recipes, this one shares more regional dishes, like piyanggang manok [blackened coconut chicken], as well as vegetarian dishes, which are both often under-represented when it comes to conversations about Filipino food. It’s also a snapshot of how I cook at home, with both Australian and Filipino influences, lots of colour and rustic abundance.”

Read more: Where To Get Filipino Food In Melbourne 

Thanks to ambassadors like Newman and a host of new restaurant openings, the awareness and knowledge of Filipino cuisine is on the rise in Australia. However, there remains nothing like the taste of Filipino food from where it hails. Newman was lucky to have spent two months in the Philippines just before the global pandemic hit undertaking research related to Under Coconut Skies––and under ordinary circumstances visits the country regularly. Here, she reminisces about some of her favourite places to go and eat when she’s back.

Read more: Why Is Filipino Food One Of The Richest Food Cultures Around The World?

What do you miss most on the food and drink front when you are away from the Philippines or haven’t been back for a while? 

Lechon. You can replicate the flavours with a rolled pork belly at home, but nothing can replace the experience of true lechon, especially making one yourself—the order placed weeks in advance, the setting of the fire, the arrival of the whole suckling pig by motorbike, the slow and loving turning over coals, then the ceremony of serving up and digging in. Plus, the particular crisp crackle of the skin and the tender, succulent flesh infused with herbs from the belly. It’s the taste of special occasions and time with loved ones.

Read more: Where To Order Lechon 

What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?

Ensaymada. The soft pillowy brioche topped with sweet whipped butter and sharp cheese is so distinctively Filipino for me, and not widespread in Australia. I find myself dreaming of it on the plane ride over and get one as soon as I land from Mary Grace as a quick fix before the rest of the Filipino feasting begins.

Read more: Where To Order Ensaymadas 

Do you have a favourite restaurant in the Philippines? 

On my last trip pre-COVID, a food friend introduced me to Lampara in Manila and I was immediately swept away. It’s the cool location in a laneway in Poblacion, Makati; the intimate and modern setting with Filipino and mid-century design elements; and the big classic flavours in reimagined forms. If you get a chance to meet chefs RJ Ramos and Alphonse Sotero, as I have been lucky to, you also deeply appreciate their passion, talent and generosity.

If you have visitors or guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of the Philippines?

When touring foreign friends for the first time in Manila, I like Bistro Remedios. For one, their crispy pata still brings me to my knees, but the whole menu offers a great snapshot of Filipino fiesta food and the old world setting adds to the experience.

Read more: A Taste Of Home With Food Journalist Cheryl Tiu Snyder

Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food and drinks?

After a few days in Manila, we now spend most of our time on Siargao Island where we’ve made an amazing community of friends. Our favourite haunt is a local bar called Lokal, which not only serves a range of rums infused with everything from mango to santol but proceeds from the bar fund an NGO leading important work in regenerative farming and food security.

Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in the Philippines?

On Siargao [island], we love long cocktail-filled lunches at Bravo in General Luna, with the sea breeze blowing and the palm tree swaying and the sand running through your toes. It doesn’t serve Filipino food, but the experience is the quintessential Philippines and I love the Filipino take on ‘pan’ tinted green with fresh malunggay.

Read more: Where To Eat In Siargao 

Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?

Bayatakan Farm in the north of Siargao. It’s one of my favourite eco-tourism and food experiences and is memorable for everyone I bring there. It’s book-ahead only, but a session sees you learn about heirloom Filipino produce, how to cook it, a blow-your-mind Filipino banquet—which also happens to be all vegetarian—and then replanting what you’ve eaten from the land to take it full circle.

Read more: 9 Places To Order Ready To Eat Vegetarian And Vegan Food In Metro Manila

What do you always take back home with you when you leave the Philippines?

Australia has very strict bio-security laws so it’s hard to bring food back into the country. Instead, I stock up on beautiful native serving ware, ceramics and traditional woven fabrics—plus every new and old Filipino cookbook I don’t have already!

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home in Sydney?

My usual haunt, Rey’s Place, recently closed sadly. It really broadened the audience for Filipino food in Sydney. I also love Sydney Cebu Lechon, as well as Donut Papi. The latter is a doughnut shop run by Filipino Kenneth Rodrigueza and his ube flavour is everything.

Read more: Meet The Food Evangelists Promoting Filipino Cuisine Around The Globe