While Mike Mendiola was growing up in Portland, Filipino food was hard to find. Until fairly recently, the city was home to very few designated Pinoy restaurants, other than places like Tambayan; occasionally, someone could spot a one-off dish hidden on a Hawaiian restaurant menu, a stray adobo or pancit among shoyu chicken and loco moco. So most of the Filipino food Mendolia ate was at home, the things his mother made for his family. Vegan Filipino food was absolutely unheard of.
To some, vegan Filipino food may seem like an oxymoron, considering the meat-heavy nature of so many dishes, but to Mendiola — the co-owner of the celebrated vegan cheese shop Cultured Kindness and the new vegan Filipino pop-up, Anak — the range of mock meats available on the market offers many opportunities to share his culture. “It’s not difficult to make Filipino food vegan,” he says, but it all comes down to working with the right ingredients in a creative way.
Anak — which means “child” in Tagalog —is both a celebration of his family and Mendiola’s way of claiming a space for himself as a vegan Filipino chef within the Portland food community. The name of the pop-up is a tribute to the chef’s late father: Mendiola remembers often hearing him talk about “anak” among friends, happily sharing he and his brother’s successes with pride. Many Anak dishes, on the other hand, are based on his mother’s cooking, with Mendiola’s personal vegan twist.
The landscape of Filipino dining in Portland has shifted since Mendolia was a kid. Beyond nationally lauded Pinoy destination Magna Kusina (and its newer sibling, Magna Kubo), a new crop of Filipino restaurants, carts, and bakeries have emerged around the city and its surrounding suburbs — from Makulít, the Filipino American fast food cart at the Lil America food pod, to Botanical Bakeshop, the combination bakery and flower shop from Pinoy pastry pop-up Shop Halo Halo and Daphne’s Botanicals. Some of the city’s Filipino restaurants have begun to add vegan options, including Magna; conversely, other vegan restaurants have added Filipino dishes or flavors to their menu, like Jade Rabbit within Aimsir Distilling. Still, the city’s vegan Filipino options remain limited.
As Cultured Kindness — the cashew cheese business he runs with his husband Justin Miller — grew, Mendiola saw an opportunity to cook Filipino dishes from his childhood out of the production kitchen. Back in June, Mendiola hosted two lumpia rolling parties, assembling a total of 2,000 vegan lumpia — half were filled with Shanghai-style ground “meat” filling, while the other half were filled with Cultured Kindness ube cheesecake. Along with other Filipino snacks like adobo wings and arroz valenciana, the savory and sweet lumpia were part of Anak’s launch at the Vegan Night Market. And so, Anak was born.
At Anak, customers will find vegan interpretations of familiar Filipino dishes, like pancit bihon fried rice noodles and chicken adobo as soy protein sugarcane drumsticks. Smaller than egg rolls, Mendiola’s Shanghai-style lumpia are filled with a meat-like mixture of vegan ground beef, mushrooms, carrots, and water chestnuts. A Filipino staple, garlic fried rice is one of the chef’s favorite breakfast foods growing up; he makes his gluten-free fried rice with tamari and crispy-savory Thrilling Foods bacon bits. For dessert, Mendiola serves halo halo shaved ice with Cultured Kindness New York style cheesecake (in place of flan), sweetened jackfruit, sweet beans, coconut jellies, and house-made ube jam.
The most nontraditional dish on the menu is the sweet lumpia — a hybrid of Anak’s Filipino cooking and Cultured Kindness ube cheesecake. Mendiola’s husband and Cultured Kindness co-owner Miller came up with the idea of wrapping ube cheesecake in lumpia, which allowed them to repurpose their vegan cheesecake. The pair knew they had created something special when they brought the ube cheesecake lumpia to a party with a non-vegan crowd, who happily devoured the lumpia with cream cheese frosting dip.
As the pop-up gains momentum, Mendiola will venture into Filipino dishes that are less common in Portland, especially in vegan form. For example, he plans to offer a Filipino noodle soup known as batchoy, which was one of his father’s favorites. Traditionally made with pork and egg noodles, Filipino batchoy is ubiquitous in the Philippines, and the chef is excited to introduce Portland to his vegan version. The chef will also serve lechon made with vegan pork belly and estofada stew of potatoes, carrots, and plantains. Biko sweet rice cake will join the dessert menu.
When it comes to transforming Filipino standards into vegan-friendly dishes, understanding the nature of the faux meat is crucial. While Butler Foods soy curls are great for Filipino barbecue skewers, Mendolia says, they absorb too much marinade and become overly vinegary when used for chicken adobo; All Vegetarian Inc soy-gluten chicken is better suited for that dish. While you’ll find jackfruit in both savory and sweet applications in Filipino cuisine, like ginataang langka coconut milk stew or halo halo shaved ice, Mendiola hasn’t come across jackfruit treated like shredded pork in siopao steamed buns — another item he plans to offer down the road.