Posts tagged dessert
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
From the Silver Screen to Sugar & Spun
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“The whole idea for Sugar & Spun came from Shrek. Jason got inspired from watching the first Shrek film, where the character Fiona spins cobwebs onto a twig, and then Shrek adds spiders and flies to it, and that was the “Aha” moment of ‘Hey, let’s do cotton candy with different kinds of toppings.’”

Justin Isip digs into a plate of wings and deviled eggs from Alchemy, and leans his elbows over the bar counter at Trademark on Folsom Street, explaining his history with the cotton candy project that’s now sold in stores nationwide. In the kitchen window, Justin’s partner, Jason Angeles of Frozen Kushterd, talks business with Alchemy Chef Ronnie Taylor, providing a glimpse into the circle of support that Sugar & Spun plays a major role in sustaining.

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“Some people at Sugar & Spun I have known since Kindergarten, and that's kind of my background, is just having the same network of friends I have known for my whole life. And Jason, he has some years on me, but he has always had these crazy entrepreneurial ideas, and the first job I ever had was lining up for Nike SB Dunks, and he would pay us X amount per pair that we would get for him. So that was my first gig, and I've stuck with Jason since then, and now I have something that's in my name, and that's Sugar & Spun.”

While the initial idea of cotton candy with toppings was Jason’s, he credits Justin as the one who turned a strange concept into a product that’s set to be shipped to Asian markets in the coming weeks.

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“I was like, why doesn't cotton candy have shit in it? It was this crazy idea. But to think that cotton candy hasn’t seen innovation in over 200 years of cotton candy until now, that’s kind of remarkable, too. And after Frozen Kushterd started to pop off, I had this urge to launch another business, and the Shrek idea came back into my head in 2013. And Justin started as a manager for my UPS store. I owned a franchise, and he was one of my managers, and he was graduating from school, and I said “Dude, I got this concept I want to launch, but I need someone to help me because I still have to do Frozen Kushterd, and Justin was willing and able to do it.”

Justin’s passion for the delicious flavor combinations at Sugar & Spun comes from a strong personal bond with Jason, as well as his own personal histories with the signature sweet dishes of Filipino cuisine that Sugar & Spun cleverly ports into cotton- candy based desserts.

“Mango Suman, that’s my favorite Filipino dessert, I love how my mom makes it, she does it in the banana leaves and all that, and it’s so delicious, so we thought. ‘How do we take that experience and put it into cotton candy?’ So what we do is we do a sticky rice, with freeze dried mangoes and coconut powder. and it has that same kind of savory taste because of the gluten of the sticky rice.”

Presenting such complex flavors on a canvas of whipped sugar presents several logistical challenges, and many of the flavors at Sugar & Spun employ advanced kitchen techniques to preserve the integrity of specific flavors and textures while transforming ingredients to suit cotton candy.

“For our Ube Silvana -- the Silvana is the Filpino form of the macaron -- we obliterate the silvanas into a powder, and we do a lot of molecular gastronomy to transform the liquids into powders. And for our cookie butter, we are able to turn that actual spread into a powder. And we are doing the same thing for our ube silvana, because it has a little bit of cream in it, so we are able to dry it out, pulverize it, and make it cotton candy friendly to where it doesn’t eat away at the sugar.”

Serving flavors like Ube Silvana and Mango Suman certainly means sharing his Filipino heritage, but for Justin it also presents a stimulating conversation between both Filipino, American, and Filipino-American experiences of comfort through food.

“It's a special feeling to serve Filipino flavors through cotton candy because cotton candy is a food that’s associated with very American spaces, fairs and carnivals and baseball games. And Filipinos will always love our own candies and desserts, but I think what Sugar & Spun does is bridge the two cultures together, where it’s like ‘Oh I have had cotton candy before,’ and it’s very nostalgic and we grab them with that American sense of nostalgia. But then they taste it and it flips their mind like ‘Oh, wait, it tastes like polvoron, it tastes like Mango Suman,’ and that’s where it’s also nostalgic for Filipinos. It’s that idea of Filipino togetherness and a communal thing where it’s like ‘I’ve had that before,’ and literally everyone can say that about our product, even if they haven’t ever tasted Filipino desserts before.”

Get your taste of Sugar & Spun’s wide range of delicious cotton candy concepts, including their famous Filipino-inspired flavors, at the Undiscovered Night Market.

“Undiscovered is the first market of its kind, really, and when I worked at Jason’s UPS Store on Mission Street in Daly City, I met a lot of different people from the Filipino-American community, and this market is a really big opportunity for all of us to come together and really bond together to show people what we’re about.”

FoodAlex Katzendessert
Frozen Kushterd: Out to FK the System

“The first place I sold was Dolores Park. I packed it up in pints, and I was dragging a cooler through the park, going up to groups and selling pints for six bucks and giving samples, and I kept going until I sold out. That told me, one, that people really enjoy frozen custard, and two, that I had the drive to move it.”

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In an orange-billed Giants cap and a black tee, Frozen Kushterd founder Jason Angeles dominates a window table at the newly-opened Trademark Sports Bar on Folsom Street, motioning me to an expensive-looking stool as I squeeze past a flirting couple. Jason’s at Trademark tonight to check up on his latest Frozen Kushterd project, FK Reserve: a line of boozy desserts served exclusively at the South of Market bar. It’s barely rush hour, but already the spot’s buzzing with fresh-faced guests, plastic badges hanging from their hip pockets. With one of the most recognizable and popular food truck brands in a competitive market, Jason’s proven his ability to tap into the collective sweettooth of a health-conscious Bay Area population -- a determined hustle that was borne out of the economic downturn earlier this decade.

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“My job got moved to Austin and I had the choice to move to Austin and keep my job -- so I stayed, and took the layoff package. I wanted to get into the food scene because I wanted to use my creative juices that I couldn't really use in my tech job. And at the time my homie was traveling and he said, 'Yo, I just went through St. Louis, you gotta try frozen custard!' So I said, 'Fuck it!' and bought a plane ticket, and I found a one-week class, checked out St. Louis, tried like nine different frozen custard places, you know, Ted Drewes, and I was like, ‘Alright, I'm going to do it.’”

Jason’s decisive drive to bring the midwest American delicacy to a West Coast audience is a product of his dogged business acumen as well as his visionary understanding of what makes people happy.

“I walked in [to Trademark] today and I saw this lady who got one of our [FK Reserve] milkshakes, and she had this big smile. And man, I started when I bought this almost a $20,000 custard machine, and set it up in my garage, and I was doing it straight gangster, doing the underground markets, making frozen custard at my house, doing shit pretty illegal until I got a food truck. And we were blessed -- I think we still are the highest-rated dessert food truck in the Bay, and now we've got [the FK Reserve] concept here [at Trademark], we have our scoop shop opening on Haight Street, and we have our Frozen Kushterd bar concept that we’ll be showcasing at Undiscovered.”

With FK and associated projects blossoming, Jason’s taken care to butter the bread of his own community, offering open-door mentorship through Frozen Kushterd as well as sister brands Hookt Donuts and Sugar & Spun.

“If people feel like [business ownership] is a path they want to take, I am going to help as many Filipinos as I can along the way, and I have been mentoring people, and showing these young cats you can make money doing the food hustle. You are blessed when you get to a certain point in your life, and the best way to give back is to bring your people up with you.”

Of course, Jason also sees the scope of his menus as a critical part of bringing honor to the community, proudly promoting the flavors of his Filipino heritage through inviting iterations of island classics -- like the Champorado Sundae.

“Straight up, it's not traditional Champorado with sticky rice, and I use actual semi-sweet chocolate, so it's an elevated Champorado, but it's elevated and I get to share my background in a way that a lot of people don't expect to learn about Filipino culture, and they come up just thinking they are going to get dessert, so when people come up on a cold night, they want something warm, we have Champorado for you, and people ask what does it mean, and it gives me that opportunity to tell them that Champorado is a traditional filipino dessert, but that we’ve kind of remixed it by putting a scoop on top, using all natural ingredients, using an organic condensed milk to finish it off. Frozen Kushterd is a canvas. We can paint and do whatever we like.”

For Jason, this blank-canvas mentality comes out of a more conservative initial approach to the project -- and now, with FK in full bloom, it also means a strong insistence on the presence of Filipino flavors in a kind of ‘Phase Two.’

“For Frozen Kushterd, it was already a struggle to sell something that was a traditionally midwestern dessert, so we wanted the masses to try it and give it the opportunity -- but that all changed once we started to get a decent following. It’s time for us to show who we are and showcase things as Filipino-Americans. And I never try to dumb it down. I might try to modernize it a little, but if it’s called the Bibingka sundae, I'm not going to say it’s a ‘rice flour muffin.’ I’m going to say it’s a Bibingka sundae, and I’ll have my cashier or my employee explain it for you.”

This interplay of curiosity about Filipino culture being met with delicious food is traffic that Jason sees as traveling in two directions, engaging Filipino-Americans in the act of stewarding and understanding their own identity while also providing a space of learning and exploration for those outside the community.

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“If you think about the food landscape now, it’s a lot different than it was before. People are looking for different, right? Instead of before, where they were avoiding things, they are actually looking to challenge their palates. And, by the same token, I would say us second- and third-generation Filipino-Americans, we are trying to reach for who we are, whether we are learning about our culture through school, or through family and relatives -- it’s so important as a Filipino to eat, because you actually learn a lot about who we are through the food, the preparation, the traditions, the flavors.”

Those anxious to explore FK's take on those traditions can find a special experience at UNDISCOVERED, where Jason and his team will be serving Frozen Kushterd bars alongside their take the classic Filipino turon -- in partnership with another Bay Area food truck favorite, The Lumpia Company.

“What we are doing special for Undiscovered is we are going to do an ube-white chocolate dip, so you can choose any bar, and that's going going to be a specialty dip. And we are also collaborating with The Lumpia Company, and we are doing a turon bar: a Frozen Kushterd bar dipped in butterscotch, with turon fused on, and finished with white chocolate.”

Foodmarky enriquezdessert
Fresh, Hot Filipino-Americana Is Served at Hookt Mini Doughnuts

Philip Sison’s smile is audible through my smartphone's speaker. The volume spikes and crackles as he excitedly describes the experience of serving ube to people who’ve never encountered its mild, refreshing sweetness -- in the form of an otherwise classical American glazed donut. He and his wife Judy Sison operate Hookt Mini Doughnuts, which serves piping hot donuts in both traditional American and Filipino flavors at Bay Area markets -- most often at Spark on Friday nights and Off The Grid: Presidio on Sunday afternoons.

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“It's cool when I see someone of non-Filipino heritage come up to our booth and say, ‘Oh what is ube?'’ And they can't pronounce it right, and I hit 'em with a little bit of background about it, and I get them to try it, and they come back and they say, ‘Oh my gosh that ube is so good.’ So as far as bringing the culture out to everyone, it's a really great feeling to have people try something that they kind of scratch their head, like, "Purple yam? I don't know." But once they try that thing, and they come back, it's an awesome feeling, dude! You know, ube is so Filipino, so I am glad that what I am doing right now, through donuts, I am spreading that little taste of the Filipino culture,” Philip says. 

It’s important to Judy and Philip that the offerings at Hookt Mini Doughnuts reflect both the Filipino flavors and American traditions that characterized their experiences of food growing up as Filipino-Americans.

 

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“First and foremost, with donuts, everybody loves donuts, right? And you know, I'd never seen anyone take a 'cultural' side to it, you know what I mean? Which was probably something missing with donuts -- donuts have always been seen as an American tradition, and you know, why not sprinkle a little bit of Filipino flavor, Filipino culture, to identify us [as Filipino-Americans], and also to separate us from other donut places, too. And it tastes damn good. Especially with our ube donuts. It makes us different, while at the same time pushing our flavors and our Filipino tradition into the American donut,” Philip says.

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Philip sees the blending of an American staple food like donuts with flavors that represent traditional Filipino dessert flavors -- the Hookt menu regularly features donuts in Ube Coconut, Guava Cheese, and Champorado Samoa -- as an important step in the the continued establishment of a uniquely Filipino-American identity in Bay Area communities.

“We are putting in our own flavor as Filipino-Americans, and it's OK to start our own culture, our own tradition, because us being Filipino-Americans, a lot of us embrace [Filipino] culture, but our upbringing is totally different from the way it might be in the motherland. And we are starting our own tradition and our own culture, over here in America, but we are still Filipino. So that's what's kind of cool! It’s something to say that we are starting our own traditions and our own cultures -- a lot of our friends, now, have kids, and they are second- or third-generation Filipino-Americans, so it's crazy to see things evolve, you know?”

Like most Filipino-Americans, Philip holds a deep fondness for his Filipino upbringing -- especially the flavors of traditional favorites -- which allows him to see Hookt not just as a business venture but a vehicle for honoring his individual family history as well as the culture of the Philippines.

“I am born in San Francisco, raised in Daly City. Being what Daly City is, I would say that it's like Little Manila, so that tells you a lot about how much Filipino culture has enriched me. Growing up, from kindergarten through high school was nothing but growing up with other Filipino-Americans. Growing up eating Filipino food every day. [With Hookt], I took it and just kind of ran with it, and kind of tried to do our best and do it for the culture -- do it for us.”

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The Hookt team’s proud dedication to Filipino-American flavors is something they’re excited to share at UNDSCVRD, and something Philip says is a process that’s constantly influenced by their exploration of the recent influx of Filipino food experiences across the American dining landscape -- especially here in California.

“I am so proud of the Filipino food movement right now. I am so happy to see it at the forefront. Like, you know, growing up you never heard people talk about going to Filipino restaurants, other than Filipinos. Now, it's almost become a standard where they people talk about Filipino restaurants, Filipino dishes, and it's great to hear that. I am so proud to be Filipino! We have to embrace it -- us Filipino-Americans, we have to embrace it. We have to know where we came from. So a lot of it is just getting ideas from things we eat on a normal day-to-day basis, and things we like, and we try to grab those and put it into our donuts, and it's definitely been trial-and-error ever since we started, but everything has been working well, and the feedback is tremendous [...] We have some special stuff for UNDSCVRD that me and Judy are discussing -- she is the real brains of the operation, man. So I am excited, and we are going to bring some good stuff.”

Fooddesi danganandessert