Team Philippines at the Darden International Food Festival: Take Two

IFF 2014

A more organized, prepared and polished crew this time around. We improved our lumpia, adobo and pancit recipes, along with our clothing and decor, from the prior year and felt much more confident and united this time!

Team Philippines reunited in SY for the Darden International Food Festival to not just attempt to defend our 2013 title, but more so to learn from last year’s (in)experience and embrace our heritage with more confidence.

Perhaps participating in the IFF held more meaning for me this year, as my time in Charlottesville has been the most distance and time away I’ve had from my immediate family in my adult life. With determination, I re-made the dish I vowed never to make again last year after enduring the meticulous process. I ditched the instructions and tried to go more traditional from the filling (no potato this year!) to the wrapper (explicitly labled “lumpia” not “spring roll” paper). After a few batches, I came up with the following tried and true recipe for lumpia (AKA Filipino-style egg rolls).


Lumpia Recipe

(adapted from my mom’s recipe and a few Pinterest suggestions)

For the filling:
1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil – for cooking the filling
1 lb ground pork
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced very finely
1⁄2 cup white onion, chopped
1⁄2 cup carrots, shredded (can buy pre-packaged)
1⁄2 cup green cabbage, shredded (can buy pre-packaged)
1⁄2 cup green onion, chopped (reserve some for garnish)
1 large egg, beaten

For the filling’s seasoning:
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp soy sauce

For wrapping and frying:
~ 30 lumpia wrappers (28 came in the package I found) -> Make sure to go to an oriental market and find “Filipino lumpia” wrappers not “spring roll” or “egg roll” wrappers in order to get the right crisp, papery texture.
2 cup vegetable or canola oil
A couple beaten egg whites with some water

For the dipping sauce:
Lumpia traditionally goes with sweet-chili sauce -> Find a bottle of this in an oriental market as well.

1) Coat a wok on medium-high to high heat with a tablespoon of oil. Break up and brown pork, stirring often and cooking until no pink shows. Remove pork from pan and set aside. Drain the grease from the pan, leaving a thin coating. Cook down the white onions, along with fresh garlic, for a couple minutes until  white onions are soft and translucent. Stir in the carrots and green cabbage and cook for another couple minutes so that they wilt and meld with the onion and garlic. Stir in the green onion. Finally, add back the cooked pork. Season with soy sauce, pepper and garlic salt. Once the mixture is well-combined and the seasoning is distributed, set aside so that it will be cool enough to handle. Stir in the beaten egg to hold the mixture together and maintain consistency.

2) Place about one and half heaping tablespoons of filling onto the edge of the lumpia wrapper. Roll tightly to the thickness of a cigar. Wet the sides with the egg white mixture. Fold in the edges and roll over with the crease side down to seal it all in. Check out this Youtube video that shows you how to wrap it.

3) Cook the lumpia. Select one of the following methods:

  • Frying method: (w/o deep fryer) Heat deep skillet over medium heat, add 1/2 in. oil and let it heat up for five minutes. Put four to six lumpia in the skillet at a time – however much the skillet can hold with some room around each one. Fry one to two minutes, turning when necessary, so all sides are a golden brown.
  • Baking method: (easier for larger quantities, slightly healthier) Grease a baking sheet and place lumpia with the crease down in rows with room around each. Brush oil over the top and sides to ensure crispiness and a golden brown color. Place baking sheet in a pre-heated 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Then, take the sheet out and carefully, using tongs, flip the lumpia over to the other side. Bake again for another five minutes until evenly cooked.

4) Let sit for five minutes to drain on a paper towel and cool slightly. Make sure to cut in half before serving (to let the hot steam out so it doesn’t burn your tongue). Add green onion as garnish and the dipping sauce on the side. This is best served immediately to fully experience the crispiness!

P.S. You can freeze your pre-formed lumpia and cook them later, if you so desire to portion out the servings.


This dish is a little piece of my childhood that my mother still cooks for me when I come home to Michigan. For the ultimate Filipino feast, fit for a special occasion, don’t forget the pancit (noodles are meant to be eaten on your birthday to represent a “long life” you’ll live) and the lechon (whole, roasted pig) as pictured below from my dad’s uncle’s recent birthday party.

Filipino Party

My dad is one of 17 so we have a lot of extended family. Many of them happen to reside in nearby Norfolk and Virginia Beach. I was so grateful to spend time with relatives at this special party in honor of my dad’s uncle’s 89th birthday.


First Friendsgiving


These are a couple highlights of the various dishes and drinks Michal and I made over the week. I also included photos of a recipe and meal I got via FedEx courtesy of a friend back in the Detroit area. The bottom photos are of me and another friend who helped me set up our apartment in Cville for our get-together. I’m especially proud of the table setting ideas I found on Pinterest!

We couldn’t wait to go … nowhere.

Michal and I typically return to the Detroit area for Thanksgiving to celebrate with our families because we have always been close to them – both in proximity and relationship. When we were away in undergrad at Michigan State, our drive was only about an hour and a half. And, later, when we lived in the Chicago area, our drive lengthened to about four and a half hours, but still manageable after leaving work.

However, this year, being a five-hour plane ride away and having just been in Michigan for a wedding last month and with plans to visit for Christmas next month, the trip didn’t seem cost-effective. Not to mention, Michal was coming down with a cold and he had a lot of case interview prep and cover letters to do over break.

So, for the first time, we stayed right where we were and had a Friendsgiving.

It was a bit difficult anticipating Thanksgiving without our usual routine. We have always looked forward to the endless amount of Filipino, Polish and American dishes that we couldn’t emulate on our own based on traditions and expertise we have yet to learn. And we love reuniting with our high school and college buddies who are all usually scattered across the nation except on the holidays.

But as I ended my two-day workweek and Michal came home from class on Tuesday, we were relishing the ability to breathe a sigh of relief: We didn’t have to rush into the balmy weather, nor did we need to face the traffic resembling a parking lot out on Emmett Street. And we quickly discovered that we would not be as lonely (or as hungry) as we thought we would be.

In fact, we had around five different feasts within the week of Thanksgiving that brought our new friends together.

A Darden professor, native of the Philippines, invited us and other Filipino students and partners for a potluck dinner with homemade classics like the noodle dish pancit and chicken adobo. Michal’s SY-matched Learning Team hosted a brunch buffet for his group and partners. International students put out an open-invite on Facebook to hang out at the Pavilion apartment complex club house. Another FY couple with parents who live nearby organized a tailgate for the final home football game of the season. And, lastly, Michal and I invited friends from our church, my UVA co-workers and some Darden FY students and partners for appetizers and desserts at our apartment.

We discovered that we had absolutely nothing to worry about when it came to celebrating our First Friendsgiving. In the end, we were right where we needed to be – in our new home in Charlottesville.

Tales of an Americanized Filipino

When my husband texted me and my fellow Filipino group members simultaneously Facebook messaged me this week about how we won the title of “Best Tasting” dishes at Darden’s International Food Festival, the only word to describe my reaction would be … shocked. I honestly chalked up that night as just one more of my failed attempts at being Filipino. (See documentation below of my prior attempts from an article I wrote about my high school days.)

I only joined this group after SY students and partners reached out to me. And even then, I had other stipulations (some unsaid, but definitely felt):

1)      I would cook and serve with a friend.  By successfully roping in a fellow Darden Partner and Americanized Filipino, the activity was more bearable and we even bonded while sharing anecdotes of our upbringing.

2)      I would cook something easy – like rice. However, I couldn’t get away with just that, so I Googled “easy Filipino food recipes” and found lumpia (AKA egg rolls). Because it was our first time frying egg rolls and neither of us owned a deep fryer, we improvised with a fry pan and baking sheets…It took an hour longer to cook than anticipated.

3)      I would be able to take frequent breaks to try more authentic food. Thank goodness for our understanding husbands who grabbed us drinks and filled our plates, and then eventually took over our serving duties for a bit so we could walk around. Note to anyone who visited our table when there were two white guys serving food: I apologize for any confusion when they didn’t know how to pronounce or fully describe what we made.

The most entertaining – borderline embarrassing – moments of the night was whenever true Filipinos (anyone actually born there) publicly noted the “unique” traits of our lumpia. Uneven crispness in the wrapper (never again without a deep fryer), potato chunks (my parents put them in our egg rolls as children – maybe, that was paying homage to the traditional American combo of meat and potatoes?), and the thickness (with being an hour late, we needed to rush the process). It was difficult to defend our choices with a straight face. Not to mention the fact, that I was wearing a borrowed traditional Filipino dress while serving our version of traditional Filipino food.

But then, surprisingly enough, one person came back for seconds of our egg roll. And others came up to us, mentioning how they heard good feedback about the table as whole. And then, by the end of the night, we ran out of our tray of egg rolls.

Despite the comedy of errors, I am ultimately grateful to have been a part of the International Food Festival at Darden. This experience reminded me of the importance to understand – better yet, embrace – my long lost heritage. Beyond this fest, I consistently stumble upon learning opportunities to see another side of the world within the Darden community: I often either find myself eating ethnic cuisine, sharing cultural traditions, and discussing varying religious beliefs.

I am truly thankful for such a diverse and accepting environment at Darden that showcases significant events, such as the IFF, as well as allows for those smaller moments of conversations in passing about differences in lifestyle with international students and partners.


I’m in the middle with the traditional Filipino style of butterfly sleeves. Our group served chicken adobo, pancit, egg rolls and rice. The food won the title of “Best Tasting” at the festival.


My flashback: An article I wrote for The State News, my college newspaper, shortly after I graduated from high school in June 2003

“Understanding hyphenated identity comes with time, learning”

At 6 years old, I had already denied my Filipino heritage.

“I’m not Filipino, I’m an American!” I yelled at the top of my lungs whenever my relatives would try to converse with me in a language I didn’t understand or feed me food that I didn’t know how to eat.

My parents recorded this proclamation one time on video during the first Thanksgiving I shared with my newly emigrated younger cousins. They looked at me with confusion, because, despite being related to them, I refused to believe I was a part of their minority group.

Thus began my parents’ attempt to infuse my life with the culture they grew up with in the Philippines.

My parents were born and bred in the Pangasinan province, living on the farms and were raised strict Catholics. They moved to America in search of the dream life everyone talks about.

Every other year, my family and I would revisit the home country for two to three weeks. No matter how much I tried to memorize all of my cousins’ names, I would always forget one. My mom is the oldest of nine children, and my father is in the middle of a family of 17 children.

It was a joke that, for my paternal grandmother, giving birth was like going to the bathroom. Each of my parents’ siblings married and had at least four kids. My parents were the oddballs, though, because they decided to go with the normal set of two children: One boy and one girl.

When I was younger, I found living in the provincial farms an adventure. I would wake up early in the morning to hear the rooster’s call or see caribou roaming aimlessly through the fields. I stayed in a house my grandfather built from the ground up. I would stroll through the tiny village of Basista and wave to each passer-by.

Then, as I grew older, I felt almost out of place when I visited. In the souvenir open-air markets, my mother and aunts would tell me to be quiet because if the vendors heard me speak, they’d know I was American. With the American dollar equaling 50 to 60 pesos, it would be typical for an unknowing tourist to be ripped off. At home with my relatives, I would be scolded for showing disrespect to my elders because I would forget to “mano-po”(kiss or lift their hands to my forehead when I see them).

Thus began my personal search of discovering my identity as a second-generation Filipino.

By the encouragement of my parents, I joined the Little Miss Philippines Pageant in the fourth grade. I met many other little Filipino girls vying for the trophy and grand prizes.

Unfortunately, I’m not the beauty pageant type. I spent more time goofing off and trying to make friends than I did practicing my talent routine and perfecting my makeup. Needless to say, I didn’t win the pageant, but I did meet people who taught me the importance of knowing about my background.

In my high school, Asians were the minority majority. Some of my friends would even go as far as to say it was an “Asian Invasion.” Every year, the International Club would hold an Ethnic Fair, complete with an array of exotic foods and traditional performances by various ethnic groups represented in my high school. By the encouragement of my friends, I joined the Filipino group.

I learned how to cook “pancit,” a noodle dish with chicken, vegetables and shrimp. I learned how to do “tinikling” – quick rhythmic dancing that required me to jump over bamboo sticks – and also how to candle dance, which required me to balance candles while gracefully twirling my arms. Despite thinking I had the routine down, in front of more than a hundred people, I tripped in the middle of the performance.

This ended my stage attempts at Filipino pride.

High school had ended, and I still didn’t entirely feel like a true Filipino. But at my high school graduation party, among all the catered American food, sat this huge piece of pork, “lechon.” It is a Filipino staple at every benchmark holiday or celebration.

This gigantic roasted pig, head and all, sat next to the sub sandwiches and fruit trays. I had to explain the tradition to a lot of surprised people who had never been to any of my family’s parties.

Right then, I realized that being a true Filipino didn’t mean having to show off on stage. That Filipino dish, mingled among the American food, represented that I am Filipino and American.