Nearly every week for Mary Panaligan has ended with a large Filipino feast. She and her husband, Rolly, have spent numerous Sundays with their friends cooking up large meals, loudly chatting about their lives and eating a variety of freshly made dishes.
That’s commonplace for many Filipinos; there’s almost a sense of passion when it comes to gatherings and food. For the Panaligans, one of those many weekend feasts spurred the creation of a Filipino-Canadian fusion eatery called Barrio’s.
“I think the passion has always been there,” Mary Pangalan says. “Since we moved to Canada, it’s always been, ‘Oh I want to open a restaurant; I want people to taste the food that I cook.’ … There’s always passion.”
Barrio’s is a venture between the Panaligans and two of their Filipino friends. It’s currently running out of the kitchen at Bearly’s House of Blues and Ribs (1269 Barrington Street), and its grand official opening is this Sunday, September 5.
Its name comes from the Spanish word “barrios” which means neighbourhoods. The four of them chose the name because it represents the fact that they each come from—and represent—different areas and islands in the Philippines.
The Southeast Asian country is an archipelago made up of around 7,640 islands but it’s often geographically divided into three areas: Luzon, the largest island, which sits in the north; Mindanao in the south, the Panaligans’ home; and the Visayas in the central part of the country. “It’s more of like us representing the Philippines itself,” Panaligan says about Barrio’s.
The eatery isn’t Halifax’s first taste of Filipino cuisine: Fairview’s Silong Express, La Rozzi Bistro in Bedford, downtown’s ASAP Mabuhay Bar & Grill and Allano’s Catering Services in Herring Cove are all serving up plates of delicious Filipino fare. Past spots such as Hot Plate: The Sizzling House and food truck Mr. Bern’s BBQ on the Run—the latter of which was the Panaligans’ previous venture—also brought Filipino flavours to Halifax.
But the owners of Barrio’s want to bring a fresh take on Filipino food to the city and help locals taste dishes that aren’t as readily accessible. Those include a chori—or chorizo—burger that’s famous in the resort island of Boracay, the spicy coconut milk pork dish called bicol express and bam-i noodles from the central province of Cebu.
“It’s more like different dishes from around the Philippines,” co-owner and chef Nino Rodel Sevilla says. “It isn’t just focusing on one delicacy.”
Panaligan says that at the moment, running Barrio’s out of Bearly’s is the best way to test the menu and certain Filipino foods in Halifax. Moreover, she says being situated inside a bar does have its pros—and it isn’t going to limit the eatery’s menu. Classic bar dishes will still be offered at Bearly’s, including plates of nachos, bowls of shellfish and the pub’s popular ribs.
“Even if we are situated in a bar, we’re slowly injecting the Filipino culture into the food that we offer,” she says. “If you build up a Filipino restaurant, chances are people will come to you and think you’re only offering Filipino food.… For us, it’s a pub. I think you have more area to play with.”
Barrio’s will be incorporating more Filipino and Asian fusion dishes into the offerings at Bearly's, including a rich peanut-based stew with crispy pork belly called kare-kare, a mouth-watering burger with flavours of Philippine adobo and BBQ pork skewers.
“One good thing about the Halifax people, in general, is that they’re not afraid of tasting new food—that we know for sure here,” Mary says. “I remember we have one customer—a long-time customer—from the [Annapolis] Valley who’d order crispy pata, the pork hocks.”
Sevilla remembers another experience where one table ordered a sizzling hot plate of sisig—a seasoned mix of pork cheeks, pork belly and chicken liver—and the table beside them immediately ordered the same dish.
“I think we’re just proud of the food that we offer because even if there are no signs outside of where we are, it’s more of the experience [that’ll entice] people to come back,” says Panaligan.