At Jeepney, familiar dishes come with a side of ‘bomba’

Porn or pop art? Diners debate  70s mural over bowls of arroz caldo

Porn or pop art? Diners debate 70s mural over bowls of arroz caldo

“Excuse me, do you have patis?”

After raving about the brunch at Jeepney Filipino Gastropub a few weeks ago, it should come as no surprise that we returned — this time for dinner — with another friend in tow.

We were led farther inside the restaurant, past the kitchen, in a rather cramped room where one wall held murals of two naked Filipinas who had graced the pages of Playboy magazine — Tetchie Agbayani (Filipinos of a certain age definitely know her) and one Gwen Wong, who according to Wikipedia appeared in the April 1967 issue.

We started off with chicharon bulaklak (crispy ruffled fat). That’s where the request for fish sauce came in. We were given a small bowl of vinegar infused with chillies; it was rather…tame. My idea of a great dip for chicharon bulaklak is vinegar with lots of crushed garlic, maybe some raw onions, a little patis and ground pepper. But then again, this is a Filipino restaurant also catering to non-Filipinos. So we made do. The actual chicharon was rather disappointing. It was like biting into lard. I think the problem is that it wasn’t completely cooked. If it were, then the chicaron would be a lot smaller. Also, they would need to serve more pieces. (My uncle, Ateng E’s dad, makes terrific chicharon bulaklak: crispy, tender with a subtle hint of salt and anise.)

Pancit malabok negra

Pancit malabok negra

Chicharon bulaklak

Chicharon bulaklak

We had much better luck with our entrees. Ateng E ordered pancit malabok negra, which according to the menu features “palabok rice noodles, squid ink and shrimp romesco with hard-boiled egg, calamari, oysters, shrimp, scallop, baby octopus, tinapa, smoked tofu and chicharon.” At first I thought Jeepney misspelled palabok until I realized it’s a portmanteau of Malabon and palabok. I really enjoyed this dish; it really is, at heart, a palabok, but the squid ink added an extra dimension. It’s quite rich, but it didn’t overwhelm.

Our friend N went with the Bicol express. It lived up to expectations. I ordered the defeated chicken. It’s half a chicken and half of a pig’s foot in “Mindanao-style adobo sauce.” Now, I poked around the Internet and most of the descriptions of Mindanao-style adobo say it’s similar to the Capampangan version, except for the coconut milk. This defeated chicken doesn’t really taste like adobo; I’m reminded more of pata tim.

The defeated chicken needed a lot of rice to sop up the rich, dark sauce. And the coconut rice — the yummy, fragrant coconut rice — made it very difficult to stop with just half a cup.

Now, I mentioned dining with Ms. Wong’s ample assets looming before me. The murals themselves didn’t bother me too much at that time; I guess my brain was too focused on the food to come. I was more disturbed by the framed image of Jesus Christ facing the murals; I briefly wondered if I was gonna get struck by lightning.

I get what Jeepney is trying to do with the bomba images. To borrow a writer friend’s description, it was being “cheeky.” I’d go with subversive, which is also how I would describe the restaurant’s dishes. But the more I think about it the more I wonder if other folks would see it the same way or if it would just add to the continued eroticization of Filipino women.

What about the restaurant’s non-Filipino customers who may not be as familiar with the protest part of the history of bomba? Would they get it as a social commentary? I mean, c’mon, do a Google search for “Filipina” and the second result is for the urban dictionary. This is how it describes the word: “female Filipina. Filipinos\Filipinas are a good race to mix with other races to make beautiful\pretty kids.”

Seriously! Most of the results on the first page have something to do with dating and marriage. We’re more than just wives and girlfriends. We’re doctors, nurses, lawyers, soldiers, journalists, office managers, fashion designers, dancers, activists, Broadway stars. We’re mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces.

The murals didn’t affect my appetite nor my appreciation for Jeepney’s take on the familiar. But they definitely provided more food for thought.

This review originally appeared in Friendship Over Fries, a food blog or rather a gastronomic jousting between Betis Boy and Guagua Girl. They were high school writing contest nemeses in Pampanga, and ended up as best friends in college and though their professional years. Guagua Girl is a journalist in New York while Betis Boy retired at the ripe old age of 35. He works part time as an environmental/urban planner and H.R. consultant.

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  1. M. Matthews wrote:

    After reading the said article about this Pinoy restaurant I would like to state the following: Based on this food review or write-up about the food I would have taken a chance to visit the place and try a few of their dishes.

    But I will not do so. Why? Because I don’t approve a nude “Bomba” mural on the wall at this joint.
    The “Bomba” mural belong in a night club or sex club, but not in a restaurant.

    Indeed, I defiantly will not take a child or kids to the Filipino restaurant, period.

  2. M. Matthews wrote:

    Dear Editor,

    Yes, its called Jeepney Filipino Gastripub. But in the article the word restaurant does appear in the review a few times. For sure I shall not take any children under the age of 17.

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