A pair of large, black wooden tables are in the center of the modestly decorated, 30-seat dining room at Hapag, typically filled at peak meal hours with Filipino families. (Hapag translates as “long table” in Tagalog.) “People from the Philippines tend to have big families,” says Jenelyn Berbano, who opened the county’s first Filipino restaurant in early November with three partners. “They eat together, and there’s always lots of sharing.”
Berbano, who grew up on Negros Island, the fourth-largest of some 7,000 islands that constitute the Philippines, says her sizable family would cook and eat meals together, often with vegetables (okra, Japanese pumpkin, string beans, eggplant) grown in their backyard. “The Philippines is a poor country, so most can’t afford to dine out,” says the Yonkers resident, who also managed Dumpling + Noodle in Bronxville. “Filling comfort food and family-style plates are very much a part of Filipino cuisine.”
It is these sorts of dishes that she offers at Hapag. “Many cuisines have come to the US and have been altered with a little bit of a twist — nontraditional ingredients are added, or heat is modified or the like. My partners and I discussed this, and we didn’t want to Americanize what we served. From the preparation to the ingredients to the way we present the dishes, it’s traditional cooking like you would have back home.”
So what is Filipino food? “There’s lots of ingredients in most Filipino dishes,” says Berbano.
Fish sauce, shrimp paste, peppercorns, eggplant, okra, shrimp, chicken, and pork are frequently used. Lumpia (fried spring rolls), adobo (chicken or pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil and soy sauce), pinkabet (a vegetable stir-fry of sorts), liempo (grilled pork belly), ukoy (shrimp fritters), and kare-kare (a stew of oxtail in peanut sauce) are signature dishes to sample. Calamansi, a lemonade-limeade cross, is a popular beverage and for dessert, halo-halo is a fun shaved-ice sundae with myriad colorful ingredients. The menu is well priced, with most dishes less than $15.
One significant difference between Filipino fare and other major Asian cuisines: no chopsticks. “People are surprised, but a fork and spoon are what we use,” says Berbano.
The customer base is 80 percent Filipino, according to Berbano. “When someone comes in and they say they never tried the cuisine, I tell them it’s like a Chinese and Spanish hybrid. After their meal, I get good feedback.”
Berbano travels to the Philippines annually. “I always go back to treat my parents with a meal out at a restaurant. I can afford it now,” she says.
Hapag Filipino Cuisine
1789 Central Ave, Yonkers