Granny Cart Gangstas x The Lola Project Celebrate Pinay Power!

“I feel like everyone played dress-up at home as a child, and as an adult I still have fun imagining what I am going to be like as an old lady. I think we often overlook the stories of our grandmothers and our moms and the women in our lives as just, ‘Well, that’s just what they’re supposed to do: they’re supposed to care, they’re supposed to nurture, they’re supposed to be strong and powerful.’ But for me, that ‘understated women’s work’ is where all my resilience has been drawn from.”

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Kim Arteche, the artist behind The Lola Project, and Aureen Almario of Bindlestiff Studio’s Granny Cart Gangstas comedy troupe, sit comfortably in computer chairs behind the reception desk in the Bindlestiff foyer, surrounded by memorabilia of past performances. The two camps will be collaborating on a special performance experience for attendees at this month’s Undiscovered SF Creative Night Market, focusing on the narratives of the womxn elders that were instrumental in building places and movements like SOMA Pilipinas.

“With Granny Cart Gangstas, because there is a huge group of us, it allows for a wide variety of humor. There are certain folks who write specifically from a satirical or political angle, and there are also some parodies as well. It was really borne out of the need to have a female voice in comedy in general. There really isn’t a space for us to talk about things that are funny to us specifically, and so a big part of our work is just kind of carving out that space for ourselves,” Aureen says.

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By working to document and communicate generational Pinay experiences, endeavors like The Lola Project and Granny Cart Gangstas are not so much breaking new ground as they are helping to hold down a long, rich tradition of Filipina leadership in the South of Market.

“It’s important to normalize the Pinay narrative as the Filipino narrative. I feel like, lately, especially in memoriam of Manang Dawn Mabalon, we are staring to re-frame what our history looks like for Pinays; like, you think about someone like Deanna Sison at Mestiza Taqueria, all of the entrepreneurs that I feel like I look up to are all Pinays,” Kim says.

“In SOMA Pilipinas specifically, there are a lot of women in leadership positions in our community that are taking on those roles, and taking care of the community – nurturing all of us,” Aureen says.

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Both Aureen and Kim are careful to point out the magnitude of what womxn do and have done to steward Filipino life in San Francisco. But, importantly, they also understand the mechanisms controlling how and why those stories been unfairly taken for granted, diminished, or ignored altogether. And, by the same token, they see their work with The Lola Project and Granny Cart Gangstas as designed to disrupt those mechanisms and direct the community’s attention toward significant, sustaining narratives that are almost universal to the Filipino-American experience.

“With The Lola Project, there is certainly the fun and playful aspect of it, but then also it's about engaging community in storytelling – so being able to think about people’s memories with the women in their lives is something that I think that, as our community kind of grows and moves in different ways, maybe a lot of us might not experience as often anymore: thinking about Lolas, and the special care that you can get from your grandmother or grandparents that you can't get from anyone else,” Kim says.

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“When I think about the roles that the women played in my life, it's so underappreciated. And we keep on going too. Like, the fact that the women in SOMA Pilipinas are in such leadership positions, it shows how much they have committed to still nurturing and giving service to their community, and that is hard work – that is work that often we don’t recognize, all that extra time, extra care, extra worry that we put in to building and giving life to people,” Aureen says.

So during Pinay Power month at Undiscovered SF, if you’re lucky enough to spot some curious, familiar-looking characters moving through the crowd, don’t be afraid to reach out and introduce yourself.

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“Reflect on the strength it takes to immigrate and live in a new country, that kind of resilience. Even taking five minutes to spend remembering that will remind you of the powerful lineage that you come from,” Kim says.

Written by Paul Barrera.

Binka Bites: A Tradition of Pinay Entrepreneurship

For many Filipino families, the holiday season is a special time of year that means massive family gatherings accompanied by a special year-end delicacy: bibingka, a cake made from rice flour and coconut cream, flavored with slices of salted duck egg and cheese. Traditionally, it’s only enjoyed during the holidays, but Jasmin Ongsiako and her South City-based team at Binka Bites have miniaturized and modernized this classic dessert. By widening its existing appeal through a bevy of tempting flavor creations, Binka Bites is introducing and re-introducing a Filipino favorite to a region filled with curious palates. Appropriately, it’s a story that begins with family.

“Binka Bites started in 2012 when my brother Jo Ongsiako, who is a chef, came up with this amazing bibingka recipe. I was his food taster and critic. We tweaked the recipe a few times until we created the ultimate one. I thought: ‘Why limit the bibingka to just the holiday season and just the salted duck egg and cheese flavor? It’s so delicious, it should be enjoyed all year round!’ That’s when we decided to come up with our own twist of cupcake-sized bibingka in different, fun and adventurous flavors. They became an immediate hit to family and friends, and then we started selling them at the San Mateo and Burlingame farmer’s markets,” says Jasmin Ongsiako.

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If Jasmin sounds matter-of-fact about following her entrepreneurial spirit, it’s because business ownership runs in her blood. A second-generation Filipina entrepreneur, Jasmin is proud to be part of the roster of vendors, performers, and artists for this month’s Pinay Power celebration at Undiscovered SF.

“Being a Pinay entrepreneur means a great deal to me. Growing up, my mom, Elizabeth Seim, was a successful entrepreneur, my role model and inspiration. I know she's watching over me from heaven and happy with I have achieved so far. I hope that a female-owned company like Binka Bites will encourage other Pinays who would like to start their own business and pursue their dreams, and find role models whom they identify with. It is so important that Pinays help and support each other to create a powerful force through our community, and I believe that’s something that’s happening at Undiscovered,” Jasmin says.

And despite their rapid rate of growth — Binka Bites will soon be available nationwide — the team and project are intent on staying humble, with a firm focus on their roots and their surrounding land and communities.

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“Growing up, I would always look forward to Sunday: we would have a big get-together at our home with our relatives, and everyone would bring scrumptious food they lovingly prepared to share with the whole family. My mom made the best ginisang mongo hands down! But honestly, I didn't do much cooking and baking until Binka Bites came along. Now, I am very much involved in preparing and creating exciting new flavors at our bakery in South San Francisco. We are constantly coming up with new and exciting flavors, using seasonal, fresh, local and organic ingredients wherever possible,” Jasmin says.

In this way, the story of Binka Bites is, like their delicious bite-sized pastries, a harmonious blend of tradition and experimentation. By staying true to what they know and implementing new ideas borne out of their experience as Filipino-Americans, Jasmin and her team have turned a Filipino holiday staple into a snackable treat that’s designed to remind customers of home.

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“What's wonderful about Binka Bites is that it’s a bibingka with a twist, so it makes it both traditional and modern, and caters to Filipinos, Filipino-Americans and non-Filipinos as well. Bibingka has always been my best-loved dessert ever since I was a kid. Even after having traveled and tried different kinds of pastries all over the world, bibingka is still my favorite. Binka Bites is meant to evoke happy childhood memories; our mission is to brighten people’s day, and spreading happiness — bite-sized and no-frills, wherever you are.”

Written by Paul Barrera. Photos by Albert Law.

FoodCat Jimenezfood, dessert
Nick's Kitchen On Going Vegan And Never Turning Back

“My main worry in the beginning was: vegan and Filipino food, is this an abomination to my culture? But we didn’t really have a choice: it was either go out of business, or switch to the vegan menu. So we did it. The next thing you know, we’re running out of food and there are lines out the door! That first week we were open as a vegan place, I was in the corner crying because I couldn’t believe the support. We were at the point of closing down; now, even Colin Kaepernick comes by to eat, because he’s a vegan. Going vegan literally saved our business.”

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Reina Montenegro relaxes on a mellow weekday afternoon at a window-side two-top inside Nick’s, her Filipino vegan eatery on the border of Daly City and The Excelsior that, in just nine months, has built a loyal and rapidly-expanding following for its tasty, meat- and animal-free interpretations of Filipino classics like silog, caldereta, lumpia, adobo, and lechon kawali. Alternating her gaze between the restaurant’s view of the Cow Palace and the play of her preschool-aged daughter, Reina recounts how she develops the completely vegan Filipno menu by closely studying Filipino culinaria’s most treasured ingredients: meat and animal products.

“I haven’t been vegan for too long, but I’ve been eating pork my entire life. So for vegan versions of Filipino dishes, the taste I can pretty much nail down right away. Every single Filipino dish that I miss as a vegan, I just keep trying and trying until we get the taste and texture down. Of course, the main ones are the vegan sisig, the lumpia, the kare-kare, the pancit. But the leche flan, for me, was the proudest moment, because it took me six months to do! Lots of trial and error and frustrated moments. So I guard that recipe with my life!” Reina says.

For Reina and her partner Kenny, ensuring that Nick’s offerings appeal to a wide range of palates — not just vegans, or those familiar with Filipino cuisine — is central to their mission. Just like any restaurant that’s a mainstay in people’s rotations, Nick’s strives first and foremost to make delicious, filling food that delivers value and satisfaction to the community — and a major part of that mission includes respecting the health of the customer by presenting a menu of tempting yet wholesome options.

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“If a vegan comes here and they say, ‘Oh my god, the food is so good,’ I’m like, ‘OK, thank you, I appreciate that.’ But when a meat-eater comes here and says, ‘My GOD! I’m blown away by this!’ — then I’m crying, you know? Because to me, that’s the goal: to really tell people you don’t have to eat here and think you’re going to starve, or that you’re not getting an authentic dish because you’re eating vegan. And in the beginning, there were hardly any Filipinos. But now, we’re seeing lots of young, health-conscious Filipnos taking their families here — and sometimes they don’t tell them that we’re vegan! And when they find out, most of them say ‘My god, this is so close! I wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t told us it was vegan,’” Reina says.

By providing such a thorough concept and forward-thinking culinary experience, Nick’s is uniquely positioned to nourish an entire generation of diners who are looking for much more in restaurant options than mere affordability and flavor — whether they’re Filipinx, vegan, both, or neither. In fact, for its healthy and authentic fare, Nick’s has earned a special place in the hearts of the organizers, artists, activists, and families who live and work in the SOMA Pilipinas Filipino Cultural Heritage District — championed most directly by Carla Laurel, a practicing vegan and the Executive Director of West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center.

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“Sometimes being Filipino and vegan can seem like the biggest contradiction. That is why Nick's is so important to me, because I fully identify with both. It is almost impossible without cooking food on your own to have access to Filipino food as a vegan, and that is where Nick's comes in. They make Filipino food that is true soul food and loved by many non-vegans. Trust: I know, because I take almost everyone I know there and they cannot believe its vegan. Nick's is important because food is cultural, especially Filipino food, it brings you home and lets you into someone's heart and soul and childhood. As a Filipina and a vegan, Nick's makes me feel proud that I can enjoy my favorite foods without promoting harm or injustice to anyone or any living thing. Nick's helps FIlipinos know that you can still eat amazing soul home-cooked heart warming food, while still loving yourself - mind, body, and soul,” Carla says.

 

The food at Nick’s represents something much more than simple healthy eating; it delivers a sense of caring and home, and that is not by mistake. Because although the root of the vegan menu at Nick’s is indeed the result of Reina and Kenny’s business acumen, their lifestyle as vegans originates from a much more personal practice of self-care.

 

“Kenny had a skin condition for 30 years and nobody could figure out what it was. It was this flowering thing that would come out raised and itchy, and he was suffering for so long. He went to doctors, took a bunch of pills, but no one ever said anything about food. So one day I said, ’Hey, you know what? You’re already vegetarian, why don’t you become vegan? Just see what it is, see if it’s dairy, because I read a lot about dairy.’ Sure enough, just two days after cutting out dairy, the suffering of 30 years ended. So we really believe in this stuff, you know. It’s not some gimmick. It’s who we are,” Reina says.

By simply staying true to themselves, Reina and Kenny have seen Nick’s grow exponentially since their full-time switch to their vegan menu, and are now planning to open a second location in another Filipino enclave: South San Francisco. Reina promises that the menu at this location will emphasize salads and smoothies alongside the classics from the original Nick’s on Geneva — and she’s looking forward to sharing all of this positivity with the community gathering at Undiscovered SF in August.

“I have wanted to be a part of Undiscovered since before we were vegan. It’s just so important to support the SOMA Pilipinas community, I always want to be a part of that. And when we finally became vegan, somebody was like, “Hey, you should be part of Undiscovered,” and at the meeting, everyone on the team was so enthusiastic. It’s an honor to be the only vegan food vendor on the roster, and we’re really excited about it!”

Written and edited by Paul Barerra and Cat Jimenez. Photography by Albert Law 

Q-Bert & Shortkut: Pioneers of Turntablism Keeping DJ Culture Alive
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Undiscovered SF opens for its 2018 season featuring two of Filipino America’s most enduring and well-known acts: DJ QBert and DJ Shortkut. Alone, QBert and Shortkut’s appearances would certainly qualify as headline-worthy. But in the context of the SOMA Pilipinas Cultural Heritage District, these performances by Bay Area heroes mark a reinforcement of the considerable momentum that’s seeing Filipino projects and Filipino culture gain real visibility and recognition in the current zeitgeist.

 

“Growing up around here, every time I went to Natoma Street there would just be hella Filipinos there. And my great-grandfather, he owned a record company in The Philippines, and sometimes I feel like I’m his reincarnation. So in that way, I feel blessed to be a part of something like this that’s in the SOMA and that’s so focused on our people,” QBert says.

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DJ culture is certainly one of the most recent examples of Filipinos making their mark in American society, and both QBert and Shortkut are established veterans of the game. In many ways, the early days of Hip-Hop in the Bay Area — and the influence that Filipinos enjoyed in that burgeoning scene — mirror what’s happening with Filipino and Filipino-American cultural output in the present day, especially with food.

 

“I grew up in the DJ culture, the mobile sound system era. And it being predominantly Filipino, I just thought it was a Filipino thing to become a DJ. I never thought it would become my job. So I think it’s beautiful that Filipinos are getting a lot of notoriety in lots of different industries, doing what they love — the arts scene, the food scene, cats are just taking it upon themselves to open their own spots. And we know that it’s nothing new, that our people have been doing it for years, but it’s good that we’re finally getting that recognition. That’s why someone like Q is so important — he’s like that big brother that helps people along, and it’s good to see that community building happening in other areas too,” Shortkut says.

 

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QBert is especially excited about Undiscovered SF’s gathering of wholesome, consciously-minded Filipino eateries that emphasize quality ingredients. In this way, Undiscovered SF isn’t just another festival gig for QBert, but a space for generational learning and healing about who Filipinos are as a people — a space where diverse communities can unite around music, food, and a spirit of togetherness that aims to help everyone feel healthier and happier with who they are.

 

“The food situation is getting more advanced, getting more futuristic. People are becoming more conscious of organic food and free-range meats, and sustainable food, and all the bad oils and processed foods that our people have been using for years. But now our people are waking up and we’re re-learning that our coconut oil that we have in The Philippines are healthy for us. And all these new folks opening Filipino spots can say ‘Yes, we’re doing things all natural, we’re using good ingredients,’ so it’s really exciting to see,” QBert says.

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In the same way, Shortkut — so named for not being tall enough to operate the decks when he first started DJing — appreciates the significance of an event like Undiscovered SF within the special boundaries of the SOMA PIlipinas Cultural Heritage District. A regular visitor to The Philippines, he’s experiencing firsthand the truly global movement that’s seeing Filipinx people engage in creative output across all forms of expression.

 

“I’m honored to do this, being from the Bay and being Filipino. For people to be able see other Filipinos, people who look like them, it’s huge inspiration. So I’m proud to be a part of that. And I go to The Philippines almost every other month, and seeing how that scene growing in parallel with how we’re growing in the states, it’s refreshing to see that entrepreneurship is becoming almost a norm now, for our people. Really dope,” Shortkut says.

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It might be easy to get caught in the hype of household names like QBert and Shortcut — and no doubt that’s part of the appeal for Undiscovered SF’s bill of performers for its August debut. But to do that would be to miss the point entirely of the Undiscovered SF Night Market: it’s certainly a party, but it’s a party that celebrates a people who are growing together into their full power as a community. And as a community that’s diverse in countless ways, sharing gifts of music, food, and culture with one another are the surest ways to strengthen the bonds of family and friendship that will sustain long-term growth and security as Filipinos in America.

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