Review: Filipino Food Tour in NYC

Today I went on a great food tour in Manhattan’s East Village.

  • Airbnb Experiences: Discover Filipino Food in East Village
  • Cost: $44 as of June 2019. This was a good value.
  • Small group (maximum 6 people + 1 sharp tour guide).
  • Generous portions of food over 2.5 hours.
Group of people standing beneath the Jeepney restaurant

Tour group, L-R: Me, Raf (tour guide), Nicole Ponseca (restaurant owner), Drew, Ryan, Andrea, Jaclyn, and Ciaee

Our Tour Guide: Raf, The Filipino Gastro-Diplomat

Man wearing a polo t-shirt

Raf, our tour guide for Filipino food in New York City, holding a Jeepney

Raf was born and raised in the Philippines. He moved to New York City five years ago and describes himself as a “gastro-diplomat.” His goal is to share his country and culture with new friends.

Filipino Food Tour Stops In NYC

Our walking tour around the East Village had four main stops:

  1. Maharlika (food)
  2. Jeepney
  3. Mama Fina’s (food)
  4. Johnny Air Mart

Maharlika

This was our meeting point and first stop.

White guy (me) wearing long-sleeve white shirt and white pants standing in front of a restaurant facade on street of NYC

Me standing outside of Maharlika at 111 1st Avenue

Here are the foods that we ordered and ate at Maharlika in the East Village:

Arroz Caldo

Bowl of rice, chicken on top, lemon slice in lower left

ARROZ CALDO at Maharlika: rice porridge w/ garlic, ginger, chicken, achuete oil

Arroz caldo. It’s the “chicken soup” of Philippine food: you might get served this if you were sick with a cold. This dish is similar to congee from China. Has rice, chicken, more. Tasty!

Lumpiang Shangai

Wooden bowl with 8 or so spring rolls inside, golden brown in color

SPRING ROLLS: Crispy, tightly rolled rice paper with pork, beef, aromatic vegetables. Tasty!

Pancit Bihon and Tocino

White plate has noodles with sliced eggs on top, smaller plate in back with fried pork

PANCIT BIHON: rice vermicelli noodle, chicken, carrot, celery, water chestnut, and poached egg (with TOCINO in back / top right)

The bihon or pancit bihon was tasty. A little too much carbs for me (it was mostly noodles), but I enjoyed the pieces of chicken inside.

The tocino is a traditional Filipino dish where they marinate pork shoulder in soft drinks, like 7-Up or Coca Cola. This one was with 7-Up. It was a little sweet! I thought it was a little dry, but perhaps that’s how it was supposed to be.

Longsilog w/ Longganisa

Plate has cucumbers, egg / rice, and sausages on it. Looking overhead at the table

Filipino pork sausage, with rice and fried egg on top.

Simple and tasty. Makes for a good appetizer.

We also had a fried milk fish dish, but I’m not including it because it was a little too much work and my photo doesn’t do it justice!

Bonus: Celebrity Sighting

Nicole Ponseca, the restaurant founder of Maharlika, is at the forefront of Philippines cooking. I got to meet her briefly!

Nick Gray and Nicole Ponseca on the street outside of her restaurant Jeepney, both wearing white shirts

Me and Nicole Ponseca, famous Filipino restaurateur in New York City (June 2019)

Her book was nominated for a 2019 James Beard award.

The cookbook "I Am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook" by Nicole and Miguel

Cover of the book “I Am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook” on a table in the restaurant.

Mama Fina’s

The next place that we ate food at was Mama Fina’s located at 167 Avenue A, NY NY 10009 (between 10th/11th St). This restaurant is most famous for the dish called “sisig.”

Fun fact: Raf told us that Anthony Bourdain called sisig the “gateway dish” to Filipino food.

Three-panel menu on the wall which lists many restaurant items written on black boards in colored marker or chalk

The menu at Mama Fina’s in the East Village

  • Pork sisig is the most famous type of sisig.
  • The way to eat sisig is with rice. Our excellent tour guide Raf said, “You can eat sisig with as little or as much rice as you want. Rice acts as a natural flavor adjuster. If the taste is too strong, just eat the protein with more rice.”

Pork Sisig

Cast iron plate with pork inside, spoon sticking to the side, rice up top

Pork sisig, served at Mama Fina’s for lunch

This was a crowd favorite! I loved how tasty and crunchy this dish was. I would definitely order this again.

You can also order sisig at Mama Fina’s restaurant with tuna, Bangus, tofu, chicken, shrimp, or squid (very popular).

Turon

Egg roll-looking things on a white plate

Turon: plantains fried inside of wrappers at Mama Fina’s in NYC

Dessert of banana (plantain) in a crunchy wrapper, maybe with honey drizzled on top. I really liked this one. Very sweet so I only ate one.

Halo-Halo

Black bowl and white sweets inside

Shaved ice, or Halo-Halo, served at Mama Fina’s in the East Village of Manhattan with flan cake on top

A famous Filipino shaved ice and ice cream dessert. The restaurant was running low on ice cream, so we had flan on top instead.

This dessert had mixed reviews: some liked it, others did not (myself included).

Other: Jeepney’s and Johnny Air Mart

Jeepney

Jeepney yellow storefront and sign of restaurant in New York City, with people taking pictures and standing underneath the awning

If you look closely, you can see Nicole Ponseca and Raf, our tour guide in the bright Polo shirt!

Jeepney’s: We didn’t eat food here, but we did stop by to take a look.

Johnny Air Mart

This is a convenience store that primarily sells Filipino goods.

Racks of different packaged foods and snacks and some candies

Assorted snacks from the Philippines, as shown during our Filipino Food Tour in NYC

Three rows of different bags inside a shop

Bags and bags of pork rinds for sale at Johnny Air Mart in the East Village

I was happy to see many pork rinds here, one of my favorite snacks.

Fun Facts

  • Filipinos love the Miss Universe pageant! Their country has won the competition several times. Many people watch this on television.
  • There are lots of Philippine restaurants in the East Village because there are five hospitals nearby. And there are many nurses who are from the Philippines.
  • Filipinos don’t use knives when they eat their food. Only forks and spoons. Most of the food is pre-cut.
  • Anthony Bourdain called sisig the “gateway dish” to Filipino food.
  • “Boodle fight” is when you have a big feast on the dinner table, always laid out on a banana leaf. More info here.

More About Raf, the Host and Tour Guide

The host says the tour is very personal to him, and it is like bringing people to his own home. There are many traditional elements of the tour, like giving gifts to visitors. He also gave us some information about geo-politics and the colonial history of the Philippines.

Raf works as a government consultant who helps businesses understand different regulations in different countries. He does these food tours for fun and to teach people about Philippine culture.

Interview With Raf, The Filipino Food Tour Guide

What made you want to start these tours?

Raf: I have been living in New York City for four years, but I was missing food from my home. I invited my friends to join me in exploring restaurants from the Philippines – mainly because I didn’t want to eat alone. So that’s how I started doing Filipino food tours for my friends.

What’s the best piece of advice for someone who is coming on your tour?

Raf: Come curious and hungry! (Editor’s Note: I can confirm, we had a lot to eat! It was a great tour.)

Have you done any other Airbnb Experiences in NYC that you would suggest?

Raf: Yes. Some of us are becoming a tight community now. I particularly like these two:

Conclusion

This was a great tour. We ate a lot of delicious meat. I would recommend it to everyone EXCEPT for vegetarians or those with a peanut or gluten allergy, because it might be hard to customize the tour for you.

If you like food and you’re in NYC, check out my favorite spot for dumplings: The Best Cheap Dumplings in NYC: Shu Jiao Fu Zhou

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2019-06-07T18:00:22-04:00 June 7th, 2019|General, NYC|