I am half Filipino. My mother immigrated to the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s, and it was always a special treat when her extended family members visited us and she, my grandmother and aunts and uncles would cook prepare things like lumpia(kind of like an eggroll,but CRUNCHIER) and pancit (a vegetable and meat noodle dish). The flavors of the Philippine islands are part of my heritage and I was thrilled to find a restaurant in the South Sound that specializes in that cuisine. It’s very nostalgic for me whenever I eat there, and I’m happy to introduce some of my culture with you.
Cebu – A Taste of Traditional Philippine Cuisine
By Rachel Thomson
Angel Vano wants to take diners on a culinary tour of the Philippines. His passion is introducing locals to a culture rich with history and international influence, which they may not be familiar.
Vano is the owner and cook at Cebu (pronounced SAY-boo), a restaurant offering Filipino cuisine. Named after one of the more than 7,100 islands in the Philippines, Cebu has been offering traditional Filipino dishes to diners since 2001.
“I enjoy promoting culture and heritage through food,” Vano says. “Filipino food transports you to another place.”
The Philippines’ history and influences borrowed from other countries are evident in the culinary offerings found on Cebu’s menu.
An example of this is Cebu’s adobo, a meat dish slowly marinated and stewed with vinegar originating from Spain. In 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines and claimed the islands for Spain, thus marking the beginning of a 300-year rule by Spain. The Spanish version of adobo is made with oregano, salt, vinegar and paprika, which gives it a spicy flavor. However, paprika was not a spice common in the Philippines, so the Filipino version features ingredients such as soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves and black pepper, which allows the tanginess of the vinegar to come through.
Another example of Asian fusion on Cebu’s menu can be found in the restaurant’s take on pancit (PAN-set). In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Chinese established colonies in the Philippines. With them, the Chinese brought noodle dishes and bean curds. The Cebu version of pancit starts with your choice of three different types of sautéed noodles: sotanghon (bean thread), bihon (rice), or canton (egg), which are then mixed with your choice of chicken, pork, prawns or tofu and vegetables like carrots, yellow peppers and red cabbage.
Cebu also offers appetizers such as lumpia (pronounced Loomp-YA), which are similar to Chinese egg rolls. However, lumpia are stuffed with mainly pork and shredded carrots and their wrappers are thinner, which gives the lumpia a pronounced crunch. Cebu’s dessert items allude to the Philippines’ Polynesian roots, featuring a Halo Halo (pronounced HALL-oh, HALL-oh) shaved ice that is mixed with tropical fruits and topped with ice cream.
Vano opened Cebu in Olympia with his wife, Kim, in 2001. He met his wife in Cebu and they immigrated to the United States more than two decades ago. Van attended Pacific Lutheran University, earned a degree in business, and worked in the banking industry for 11 years. However, he says opening his own restaurant has “always been a dream” of his. One day, he decided to leave the banking world, but put his knowledge of business to work into his restaurant.
“It was kind of a now or never kind of dream,” Vano says.
Cebu’s menu is created from family recipes that have been passed down for generations. Vano considers himself the sous chef and says most of the recipes come from his wife’s family. Prior to immigrating to the United States, Kim worked as a dietician and nutritionist and prepared meals for nuns at a hospital.
Since opening the restaurant on Marvin Road, Vano says he’s been able to educate the community about Filipino culture and heritage. He is the president of theFilipino American Community of South Puget Sound (FACSPS). The organization, which started in 1982, is a non-profit committed to promoting and preserving Filipino American heritage in the United States. The organization runs a “Visiting Artists” program, which hosts performing artists such as The Philippine Ballet Troupe and choral singers. The group also runs a humanitarian relief program called “Uhaw,” derived from a tagalong word meaning “thirst.” The organization also sends basic aid to victims of mass disasters and crises in the Philippines and the United States. Recently, FACSPS held a benefit dinner to send aid to victims of the category 5 typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands of people in 2013. The group also provides a limited number of scholarships to local graduating seniors in Thurston County schools and regularly participates at the annual Ethnic Celebration at Saint Martin’s University.
Vano says the best thing about running Cebu is the opportunity he gets to educate the community about the cultural diversity of the Philippines. He remembers a group of students from an Asian and International Studies course at South Puget Sound Community College who came in for lunch one day for an assignment. They had to try an international type of food and discuss it in class. Vano says none of the students had tried Filipino food before and they began taking pictures and writing notes.
“I’m glad to be here to represent that cuisine,” Vano says. “I didn’t think that educating people would be such a big effect of opening a restaurant, but it bloomed into that. Food is culture and I like being able to bridge culture through food.”
9408 Martin Way
Olympia, WA 98516
Hours: Monday – Friday: 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday: noon – 9:00 p.m.
Price Range for entree: $8-12
Cebu also hosts special Filipino buffets on holidays such as Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, which features a wider variety of Filipino food not on the regular menu, and Cebu also offers a full-service catering menu. For more information call
Cebu at 360-455-9128.