If you're down for a family affair where you can just point at what you want to eat, then Pinoy Foodtrip – the new Filipino restaurant on Marine Corps Drive – might just be for you.
If you're feeling especially adventurous and are with a decent-sized party, they'll even serve it all up for you on banana leaves and you can have what Filipinos call a "boodle fight."
For those unfamiliar, according to the online Filipino Journal, a boodle fight is a symbol of equality that came from a Philippine Military Academy tradition, in which cadets would gather around a table full of food and rice is spread over banana leaves and eaten with bare hands. It's a free-for-all until it's all gone and symbolized equality by sharing the same food without regard to military rank. Today, it's a common way to eat at big parties or a family get-together.
As Pinoy Foodtrip owner and head chef Anne Elenzano says, with a smile: "Filipinos don't care about plates."
What they do care about, though, is resourcefulness, and that was something Elenzano says is unique about Filipino food and cooking it.
"They don't waste any part of the animal. They'll use the feet, the brains, the heart, the lungs – everything – and it makes me think of how I can use every part of the animal," she says. "They have this tendency to be very resourceful with how they use the animal and I think that's why I fell in love with Filipino cooking."
One of the dishes she prepared for The Guam Daily Post was grilled pork intestines, or "isaw." While that may not sound particularly appetizing to a more Western palate, it went down as easy and was as tasty as the barbecue chicken served on bamboo sticks.
"I told you, we use every part. We don't leave anything uncooked," she says as I, the weary Westerner, prepared for a food trip I'd never taken. "We clean it, flip it inside out, clean it again, then boil it, then adobo it, then add some sauce, then grill it. It's a long process."
'Everyone loves it'
Speaking of adobo, which also has origins in Mexican cooking, it's quite popular in Filipino cooking, too, often with chicken and pork. Adobo means to cook the meat in vinegar, salt, garlic, pepper, soy sauce and other spices as a practical way to preserve the meat without refrigeration.
Elenzano says she loves cooking adobo "because everyone loves it." She prepared the deep-fried pork belly, or lechon, for the Post, adobo-style.
She promised I'd enjoy it, adding again with that smile, "We don't care about health. We do have some healthy dishes – all cultures do – but if Filipinos want oil in their food they will not stop."
I couldn't stop at just one piece of lechon, either.
Also on the menu when the Post came in were two types of lumpia; kare-kare, "a savory yet sweet" peanut stew served with oxtail; Filipino hot dogs, which are sweeter than their American counterpart (not to mention the red casings); and pancit.
Learning at home and at school
Elenzano says she learned to cook by watching her parents and just doing it on her own when they were gone. Then, after high school, where she said everyone always wanted some of her barbecue chicken she'd bring on field trips, she eventually enrolled in Guam Community College's culinary program, graduating in May.
"It prepared me on so many levels because I grew up in Saipan and didn't know a lot about knife styles and different types of cooking, and all the techniques that can make things easier," she says. "They welcomed every one of us with open arms and answered all my questions and made me feel confident in the kitchen."
She says that confidence allowed her to open Pinoy Foodtrip, as well as the bakery she owns upstairs that opened last spring, Gelicious.
"They (GCC) brought me to a point where I'm confident enough to feed people my food and not be scared about it," she says.
Elenzano has no desire to stop anytime soon.
"I feel a sense of comfort in cooking, in that I can put all of my stress into it and turn it to something positive," she says.
A family kitchen
Come on in any day and you can try dishes from all over the country – which is whatever her employees, who are 100 percent her family, are cooking that particular day.
On working with her two aunties, brother and parents, Elenzano said again with that honest smile, "Oh, and that is more of an adventure than cooking. ... It's funny working with them because I never thought I would."
To cool off after the meal – because the Philippines' two seasons, like Guam's, seem to be "hot" and "hotter" – I sampled the halo-halo, which was a delectable rainbow of colors disguised as finely shaved ice, leche flan, gulaman, ube, banana, kaong, beans and garbanzos, milk and a scoop of ube ice cream.
Happiness is a warm plate
Having never tried it before, my belly grew fuller with my eyes and smile widening with each unique bite, a perfect example of why Elenzano says she loves everything about cooking at the restaurant she conceived in a GCC classroom two years ago.
"I feel like food brings happiness to everyone out there," she says. "I love when I cook for someone and it brings a smile and lets them forget their problems. I just like the feeling after I feed someone."