A PINOY PRIMER

Where to find Filipino food in Victoria.

A Pinoy Primer - YAM Magazine Mar/Apr 2024
Benjamin’s Café halo halo royale dessert. Photo By: Jeffrey Bosdet.

By Cinda Chavich

According to global restaurant industry watchers, Filipino food is “the next big thing” — and there are several spots right here in Victoria where you can explore the flavours of this archipelago in Southeast Asia. They range from simple street food to exciting new restaurants, traditional family fare and local grocers offering imported Filipino products and takeaway specialities.

The Bayanihan Community Centre downtown, run by the non-profit Victoria Filipino Canadian Association, is a social and cultural hub for the Filipino community. Look for their food cart at outdoor events and occasional homestyle takeout meals, especially during Filipino Heritage Month events in June.

Local Dining Spots

Downtown diners can take a seat at the small bar at Ate (AH-tay) *A Restaurant to learn about Filipino food from chefs Jonna Deutscher and Keem Herrera, who serve up a modern fusion of Filipino flavours — think nose-to-tail street food with a local twist. 

Beyond the purple ube buns for sandwiches and lumpia (spring roll) burgers, there’s kinilaw, a Filipino ceviche made with smoked sablefish, and pancit ramen, homemade alkaline noodles tossed with sidestripe shrimp, summer squash and chives. Ate also celebrates the Filipino love of all-day dining with breakfast and brunch dishes featuring ube pancakes and eggs with pork patties, longanisa sausage, fried rice and atchara, the pickled green papaya served with many meals. 

For authentic, all-day Filipino fare, friendly Benjamin’s Café in Esquimalt is the place to go. Chef Ervin Maliwanag and his wife Lorian opened Benjamin’s (named for their son) in 2023, building on a business catering to the local Filipino community and Maliwanag’s experience as a chef in Singapore. Now it’s the largest Filipino restaurant on the Island and attracts diners from as far away as the Prairies, he says. 

Benjamin’s serves silog breakfasts featuring garlic rice with eggs and beef, pork or chicken, and purple ube pancakes topped with their own rich purple yam jam and strings of tender coconut macapuno. Don’t miss their perfectly crispy pork lechon, served on its own or in their kare kare peanut curry sauce, with bok choy, green beans and eggplant, and their signature dish, chopped pork or tuna sisig with onions and spicy aioli. Chicken adobo and beef kaldereta stew are other traditional faves and, as Lorian reminds me, their crispy lumpia appetizer goes with everything. 

To finish your meal, there are airy Brazo de Mercedes meringues, filled with plain or ube-infused custard, and sweet halo-halo royale dessert — a kind of OTT Filipino sundae — made with layers of purple ube ice cream, banana, jackfruit, tapioca pearls, jellies and crispy cereal. Maliwanag is a baker of lovely Filipino cakes, egg custard pies and leche flan, too, and you’ll find their freezers filled with housemade atchara, lumpia ready to fry at home, Pinoy lasagna, soups and other family-style takeaway dishes.

Groceries, Bakeries and More

Several Filipino food stores combine groceries with takeout food, so a tour of these small shops is a great way to try some imported Filipino products and homestyle specialties.

The ABR Store downtown on Blanshard Street offers an array of groceries from fresh fruits and vegetables to breads, frozen meats, canned goods, sweets and snack foods. You might find fresh malunggay (moringa) and taro leaves, fresh purple yam tubers (ube) or powdered ube and artificial ube extract for baking vivid purple pastries. The aisles are packed with other imports, too, whether jars of sweet purple yam jam (halaya), boxes of ube polovrón (a Filipino shortbread cookie) or the rather addictive vegetarian “chichcaron” chips made from dehydrated green peas and flavoured, Filipino style, with palm vinegar.

On Douglas Street at Pandora, you’ll find Casa Philippine Cuisine and Grocery, a tiny takeaway and convenience store with a few tables among the grocery shelves offering a menu that ranges from bopis of minced beef heart and BBQ pork skewers to fried smelt with calamari.

A little farther north on Douglas, Filipino Mart is another popular grocer for dry and frozen goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other Filipino fare. Or try Inasal House, a small grocery and takeout spot in Saanich, for char-grilled chicken inasal with yellow rice, beef caldereta stew or rice noodle pancit to go.

There’s a small selection of imported Filipino products at Jempoy’s Lechon on Quadra Street, but the real draw here is the tender Cebu-style pork belly, marinated, rolled with lemongrass and roasted with crispy crackling, sold by the piece or the pound to take away with traditional gravy, vinegar sauce and green papaya pickle on the side. 

Tinapay Atbp. bakery café is right next door, offering Spanish bread, tender pandesal bread rolls (some made with the addition of ube or cheese filling), ensaymada (sweet buns topped with cheese), purple egg custard pies or nutty Sans Rival cakes.

You’ll find a similar selection of Filipino pastries and desserts at Friends & Family Bake in Chinatown, including kababayan muffins, twisted bicho doughnuts, brioche-like ube ensaymada buns frosted with purple ube cream and leche flan.

And for an exotic treat from the freezer, look for Keem Herrera’s Ice Keem, a line of Filipino ice cream flavours (purple ube, durian, Madagascar vanilla). Find tubs at city grocers or meet Herrera, pedalling her Ice Keem cart, at summer festivals.