Evelyn Bunoan: Fervent for Filipino Food

In the local Filipino community, chef Evelyn Bunoan has a devoted following. People recognize her as a compassionate servant to the ill. The Filipina Women’s Network named her one of the most influential Filipina women in the United States in 2009. Her writings appear regularly in the local Manila Mail newspaper.

Evelyn Bunoan

Crowds have sampled her meals at various folk life festivals. But her real local impact comes at the Philippine Oriental Market and Deli in Arlington, a tiny store where, as its owner, Bunoan cooks her famous Filipino dishes — stews, noodles, pastries, rice sweets, lentils — for the savvy who stop by at noon. At that hour her market can be jammed as customers buy out her freshly cooked fare, leaving the steam tables almost empty.

Bunoan acquired the market 33 years ago. “I bought the store during Holy Week,” she explains. “Most Filipinos don’t work then, in observance of the last week of Lent, so we opened after Easter Sunday.” After two years in operation she envisioned that “food to go” would be the next trend, so she invested in a commercial kitchen for the store and started offering delicious and healthy Filipino dishes with a homemade touch. These became instant hits. The store was subsequently featured in Best Bites column of Washingtonian magazine. While Bunoan was working for the World Bank as an executive assistant, she successfully managed her store and cooked for her customers on weekends.

Initially just a grocery store stocked with Filipino goods and ingredients, the market gradually evolved into a mini-restaurant, carry-out and market. “I cooked Filipino foods,” she says, “and I had plans to go more mainstream. So I created regional Philippine recipes to appeal to all palates.”

Philippine Oriental Market and Deli
» Where: 3610 Lee Highway, Arlington
» Info: 703-528-0300
» Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday

Driven by her passion for cooking, however, Bunoan took a major leap forward — she applied to and was accepted by Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in London.

With a degree as a master French chef, Bunoan remembers her intensive several months in London. “I studied patisserie, food safety, French cuisine,” she says. “We worked all day, and it was like studying for four years. Every day we had an exam. I always volunteered for the hardest project. If they wanted to stuff the largest salmon and suckling pig, I said I would do it.”

Considering her present fame as a chef, Bunoan might secretly wish she had begun her culinary career even in childhood. As it turns out, both her parents influenced her right from the beginning. “My mom was the best cook,” she says. “She cooked very healthful foods, and she seldom served red meat, always seafood. … I just watched her cook.”

Bunoan also remembers the day as a second grader when her father, a professional baker, came home with a very special Filipino bread, pan de sal, which she now creates from memory. “It’s made with wheat flour, salt and yeast,” she says. “You can just play around with the dough by adding eggs and other healthful ingredients.” Bunoan now bakes and sells this special bread by request at her market.

In her quiet manner, Bunoan has found an important way to make a difference through her cooking. Inspired by the death of her best friend to cancer, Bunoan and her husband established a foundation called CHEW (Cancer Help Eat Well) Foundation, through which she cooks and delivers healthful meals — her dishes are all trimmed of excess fats, salt and sugar — to cancer patients in need. “I have known these customers for 30 years,” she says. “They are just like family. They say to me, ‘You cook just like my mom. You cook like you care for us.’ ” She does.


What is your comfort food?

I am a simple person, so an avocado or a sweet potato. Mushrooms, I never run out of them at my house.

What’s in your fridge?

You cannot see any junk food. There’s celery, parsley, bok choy, Shanghai cabbage, and spinach.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

“The Barefoot Contessa” and Bob Kinkead’s “Kinkead’s Cookbook: Recipes from Washington D.C.’s Premier Seafood Restaurant”

Where is your favorite place in the world?

I haven’t traveled much, but I would like to go back to London. I just studied when I was there.

Which is your signature dish?

All of my creations are my signatures. I have already created more than 200 recipes. The inspiration comes from my husband and from our Lord.


Chicken Afritada
(Chicken Stew)

Serves 6 to 8

Chicken Afritada is a common recipe among Filipinos and normally served during town fiestas and special occasions.

2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs
2 Tbsps vegetable oil
3 gloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped yellow onions
1/4 cup chopped tomatoes
2 to 3 Tbsps soy sauce
1 cup water or chicken stock
1 large potato, peeled and cut into serving pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut in diagonals ?-inch thick
1/4 cup cornstarch diluted in 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup green peas, optional
Red bell pepper, seeded and cut into medium-sized strips

1. Blanch the chicken in a large skillet to remove excess fat. Drain.

2. Clean and dry the skillet and heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes the garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Add the chicken and soy sauce, and continue to cook. Add 1 cup water or chicken stock, the potato, and carrots, and cover. Continue to cook until the chicken and the vegetables are cooked through.

3. Thicken the sauce with the cornstarch mixture, and finish the cooking with optional green peas and the red bell pepper. Serve hot.

Source: Washington Examiner