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It’s Philippine Independence Day, but do you really need an excuse to make tangy, sweet barbecue pork?

Addie Broyles

Filipino food isn’t one that many Americans are familiar with, even though Filipino Americans are the second-largest demographic of Asian Americans in the country, according to the U.S. Census.

Nearly 4 million Americans identify as Filipino, which means millions of home cooks throughout the U.S. are making dishes that blend Malaysian, Chinese and Spanish flavors. And because today is Philippine Independence Day, I wanted to share a Filipino recipe from a local restaurant with a little background on the country.

After more than 300 years of Spanish rule, the Philippines started their transition toward independence in 1898, when Spain ceded the islands to the U.S., but after the Philippine-American War in the years that followed, the nation of more than 7,000 islands remained under U.S. rule until 1946, when the Philippines were granted full independence.

That’s one, short version of a long, complicated and often tumultuous history of occupation and colonization, but it helps explain why, since 1964, June 12 has been considered Independence Day in the Philippines. (The original date was July 4 to coincide with the U.S. Independence Day.)

Only Chinese Americans outnumber Filipinos in the U.S., but the Filipino population in Austin isn’t as high as in other areas, such as Houston and California’s Central Valley.

There’s a Filipinos in Austin Facebook group and an Austin Filipino-American Association, but for a taste of Filipino food, you can head to a number of spots, including Tito AdoboMang Dedoy’s and Little Mama’s in Round Rock. For Filipino groceries, you can head to  Gammad Oriental Store & Restaurant, Oriental Grocery & Bakery or Filipino Asian Mart in South Austin.

Be More Pacific started as a food truck in 2011 but now operates a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 7858 Shoal Creek Blvd., and their chef, Buddy Melgarejo, who grew up in the Philippines and moved to Houston in 2015, shared his versatile barbecue pork recipe, which has a lemon-, tomato- and soy-based marinade that showcases the convergence of flavors you’ll find in many Filipino dishes.

Filipino Pork Barbecue

This pork marinade is well-suited for ribs or pork belly, but you could also use it for pork chops. The pork should be marinaded for at least 6 hours and up to overnight, and the cooking time will vary depending on the cut of meat and cooking method. If using wooden skewers to grill the pork belly, pre-soak them for 20 minutes before placing the meat on them. You’ll want to serve this with rice and, if you have time, pickled papaya.

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup brown sugar

2-3 pounds pork ribs or 1 (2-pound) pork belly, sliced in 1-inch cubes

In a bowl, mix the garlic powder, soy sauce, lemon juice, tomato sauce, salt and pepper together. Pour the marinade over the pork, reserving 1/2 cup for glaze. In a bowl or pan, pour the marinade on the pork, cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours.

If using pork belly, skewer the pork on a bamboo stick with up to six pieces per stick. Heat the grill. Mix the brown sugar with the remaining marinade.

Grill the ribs or the skewers, basting with the additional marinade as you cook the meat. The grilling time will vary, depending on the cut of meat, but it should be shiny and moist when finished. Serve with hot rice and pickled papaya.

— Buddy Melgarejo, Be More Pacific

Atchara (Pickled Papaya)

2 cups green papaya, grated

1/4 cup rock salt

1 1/2 cup coconut vinegar

1 small bell pepper, sliced

1 small carrot, sliced

1 big thumb-size ginger, strips

1 onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic

Sugar, salt and pepper

Mix papaya and rock salt then squeeze out the juice. Set aside.

In a pot, place vinegar, bell peppers, carrots, ginger, onions and garlic. Bring to a boil until carrots soften, about 5 minutes. Adjust flavor to suit your taste by adding sugar, salt and pepper.

When done, add papaya and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Let it cool then store overnight in the fridge before serving.

— Buddy Melgarejo, Be More Pacific