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Tables next to windows in a plant-filled bakery. Carter Hiyama/Eater Portland

Botanical Bakeshop Explores Filipino Culture Through Pastries and House Plants

The owners of Shop Halo Halo and Daphne’s Botanicals sell calamansi shortbread and ube crinkle cookies alongside moth orchids and pitcher plants. Here, baker Geleen Abenoja and florist Daphne Peters pair desserts and plants to showcase facets of Pinoy culture.

Janey Wong is Eater Portland's reporter.

In nature-obsessed Portland, plant-filled cafes are ubiquitous, found in most neighborhoods. But in Woodstock, the pastries and plants at Botanical Bakeshop have a cultural connection. Geleen Abenoja, the baker behind Shop Halo Halo, and Daphne Peters, the proprietress of Daphne’s Botanicals, met vending side-by-side at the Golden Evening market in 2021. The duo opened their businesses in a shared space in July, where folks can leisurely shop for plants while sipping on a sampaguita milk tea lattes and nibbling on calamansi shortbread cookies.

Joining forces has created space — both conceptually and physically — for Abenoja and Peters to explore their shared Filipino heritage. “I think of our concept as the full spectrum of the Filipino identity,” Peters says. “Geleen is first generation, [she] serves the community and knows it really well, whereas I’m learning about my identity as an adoptee from the Philippines.” Peters has appreciated learning about traditional foods and the broader culture from Abenoja. Symbiotically, Abenoja has felt a deeper connection to her roots as Peters has taught her about plants native to the Philippines. “My family’s background back in the Philippines was in farming,” Abenoja says. “So I’ve been learning about the culture through the plants and ‘land.’”

Since opening, Botanical Bakeshop has become a hub for the Filipino community. The shop hosts events like workshops, BIPOC vendor markets, and Tagalog storytime. Here, Abenoja and Peters have paired five traditional Filipino desserts with five plants native to the Philippines as a quick dive into the culture:

A plated mooncake on a table with a purple orchid. Carter Hiyama/Eater Portland

Ube mooncake & moth orchid

Shop Halo Halo’s vegan mooncake contains an ube filling — specifically, Abenoja’s grandmother’s recipe for ube halaya, which is a jam made from the purple yam. Abenoja stamps mooncakes with an intricate floral design, but insists that they’re much easier to make than they appear. Similarly, Peters says there’s a misconception that orchids are high maintenance but actually fairly simple to maintain; lots of light and added humidity replicates the climate of the Philippines and helps them thrive.

A layered meringue dessert sits next to a potted plant. Carter Hiyama/Eater Portland

Sans Rival & “Cebu Blue” pothos

This dessert, meaning “unrivaled” in French, is based on the dacquoise. Hazelnuts are traditionally used in its original iteration, but when the meringue cake was brought to the Philippines, cashews were substituted in since they were locally available. Shop Halo Halo’s version uses a Swiss meringue buttercream and salted roasted cashews, and the dessert hits the satisfying juxtaposition of crunchy and creamy, sweet and salty. The Cebu Blue pothos is named after the Cebu region; pothos is a misnomer, as the plant is actually a cultivar of Epipremnum pinnatum. Both the dessert and plant are a rare find in Portland; Abenoja says that the Sans Rival is a popular dessert during the holidays while Peters explains that the pothos is often only found in shops around the holiday season.

A hoya rope plant and a steamed rice cake in a cup sit together on a table. Carter Hiyama/Eater Portland

Biko & hoya rope

Hailing from a class of rice cake desserts called kakanin (a portmanteau of rice “kain” and “kanin,” or “to eat”), biko is a traditional pre-colonial Filipino dessert. At Shop Halo Halo, diners pluck the sticky confection, which is steamed in coconut milk with brown sugar, out of its banana leaf cradle and enjoy it topped with toasted coconut. “There’s many types of them,” Abenoja says. “Each one has the same three ingredients, but they all taste and look different. I think that kakanin in general showcase the vastness and ways that different regions of the Philippines prepare the same three ingredients—it highlights the ingenuity of Indigenous peoples to create such [variety].” Just as biko comes in many varieties, the hoya plant has hundreds of species, many of which originate from the Philippines.

A plate of cassava cake is held up next to a hanging potted pitcher plant. Carter Hiyama/Eater Portland

Cassava cake & pitcher plant

The cassava cake may be an unassuming dessert, but the cassava root that it is made from is a staple ingredient in Filipino cuisine, as a tuber that can survive the typhoons that the Southeast Asian country often experiences. The root is grated and baked with coconut milk and eggs to make the cake, which has a custardy flavor and mochi-like texture. Like cassava, carnivorous pitcher plants are also prolific in the Philippines, and have adapted to the rainforest and surviving in nutrient-deficient soil.

A plant with two big leaves in a white pot next to a plate of ube crinkle cookies. Carter Hiyama/Eater Portland

Ube crinkle cookies & Alocasia

Abenoja’s twist on the standard crinkle cookie also incorporates ube halaya, resulting in a soft, cakey texture and a stunning royal purple-and-white crackle effect. The Alocasia watsoniana belongs to a family of jewel Alocasia — it bears a resemblance to the crinkle cookie as its leaves have prominent white veins that are reddish to purple on the underside and visually striking.

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