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.

Photos by Melissa De Mata

Photos by Melissa De Mata

“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.

Photos by Melissa De Mata

Photos by Melissa De Mata

“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.

Photos by Melissa De Mata

Photos by Melissa De Mata

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.”

Photos by Melissa De Mata

Photos by Melissa De Mata

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.”

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