Filipinos In Boston: An Interview With Civic Action Leader Helena Berbano

By Trish Fontanilla

I met Helena Berbano a few years ago when I was volunteering with ASPIRE (Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence), and emceeing their Asian American Women in Leadership Conference. There was a volunteer potluck afterwards, and while I do remember Helena pretty well, I remember the food she brought even better. Seems like the Filipino way, right? The way to our hearts is through food? I’ve been incredibly impressed with Helena’s work (we’ll be doing a followup piece on more opportunities for civic engagement), so I figured she’d be perfect for our “Filipinos in Boston series!

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena and her mother in Batangas, Philippines

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena and her mother in Batangas, Philippines

Where's your family from?
I’m from Boston, by way of Bronx, NY and Winter Park, FL. My mother and father are from Quezon City, and my grandparents are from Quezon City and Cavite. My dad’s side is Ilocano, and my mother’s side is Tagalog.

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena knocking on doors for Newton City Council Candidate, Nicole Castillo

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena knocking on doors for Newton City Council Candidate, Nicole Castillo

What do you do?
During the day I work with grassroots groups on their civic action and electoral work. Off hours I’m involved in progressive political campaigns and nonprofits. I’m also a full time karaoke queen. Other hobbies include fiction and poetry writing, hiking, amateur baking, and binging Law and Order: SVU.

What inspired you to be so civically engaged?
What compelled me to get involved in civic action work is reality. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, but what I can describe it that I faced a self-reckoning on the reality of access, power structures, and privilege. I confronted myself about the model minority myth, growing up “middle class”, and I reflected on my experiences as a 2nd generation Filipina who grew up in the South. The result of this reckoning was an unyielding passion and motivation to dismantle oppressive systems.

On Boston...

How long have you been in Boston?
I’ve been in the Greater Boston area for almost a decade. I’ve lived in Metro Boston for about 4 years.

Favorite Boston spots (could be restaurants / parks / anything!):
Food: The Beehive (South End), Avana Sushi (Chinatown), Eldo Cake House (Chinatown), Le's (Allston), Thinking Cup (Downtown), L’Espalier (Back Bay), and many more.

Places: Jin Karaoke (Brighton), Lawn on D, Brighton Music Hall, Boston Public Garden, and the Museum of Science.

What's your community superpower?
Keeping up constant humor despite the disheartening political situation. Like I always say, “I laugh, so I don’t cry.”

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena at the Taal Volcano in the Philippines

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena at the Taal Volcano in the Philippines

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Kare Kare hands down. It’s savory, funky, and decadent.

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
I love making Chicken Adobo (writer's note: including a recipe we recently published on the blog). It’s simple, delicious, and magical. When I am having a bad day, the smell of toyo (soy sauce), suka (vinegar), bawang (garlic), and peppercorns is the most comforting thing. Also, sinangag (garlic rice) with adobo is NOT OPTIONAL.

On staying in touch...

How can people stay in touch? 
At me: @helenaberbano (Twitter)
Spam me:

We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers! If you’d like to contribute, send us a note at

BOSFilipinos Event Roundup

By Trish Fontanilla

Hey y'all! One of the questions we always get asked here at BOSFilipinos is, "What events should I be going to?" Well this month, we decided to do a quick roundup of some upcoming happenings around town that you should definitely check out! If we missed something, feel free to leave a note for us in the comments and we'll add it.

Taken from the Tanam event page

Taken from the Tanam event page

Lunar New Year Kamayan
Monday, February 19, 2018
5:30PM - 7:30PM & 8PM - 10PM (2 seatings)
@ Mei Mei

Chef Ellie and the crew at Tanám are celebrating Lunar New Year by eating with their hands! We saw the menu in their newsletter and it. looks. amazing. From lechon kawali (braised and deep fried pork belly) to ginataang alimasag (coconut milk braised crab) to ube cheesecake with coconut meringue, February 19th just feels so far away! For more info:

Taken from the Craft Food Hall Project FB invite

Taken from the Craft Food Hall Project FB invite

Restaurant Pop Up: Kain Na - Time to Eat Filipino Food!
Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - Thursday, February 22, 2018
Times vary @ Craft Food Hall Project

Craft Food Hall in Lowell does weekly pop-ups, and next week they'll be featuring Filipino food! We hear they'll have chicken adobo, turon (essentially a banana spring roll), pancit (Filipino-style noodles), and more. For info:

Picture taken from the ASPIRE event page

Picture taken from the ASPIRE event page

Hot Pot Fundraiser for ASPIRE
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
6PM - 8PM @ Hot Pot Fundraiser

ASPIRE, a non-profit dedicated to career and leadership development for Asian American girls and women in Boston, is having an all-you-can-eat fundraiser at Hot Pot Buffet in Chinatown! For more info:

Taken from the We, Ceremony invite

Taken from the We, Ceremony invite

Contemporary Women of Color Making History
Thursday, March 1, 2018
6PM - 7:30PM @ Cambridge Public Library

Our friends over at We, Ceremony are kicking off Women's History Month with a Cambridge Public Library collaboration. There will be a panel featuring three local women of color who are changing Boston and beyond. For more info:

Taken from the BCNC event page, image by Bren Bataclan

Taken from the BCNC event page, image by Bren Bataclan

In the Kitchen: Tortang Talong
Saturday, March 3, 2018
11AM - 12:30PM @ Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center

Cambridge-based artist, Bren Bataclan, will be teaching a cooking class featuring one of his favorite Filipino dishes: Tortang Talong! For more info:


BOSFilipinos March Meetup
Thursday, March 22, 2018
6PM - 8PM @ TBD

Join us for our first meetup in 2018! We’re bringing together some of the awesome folks in the Boston Filipino community for a happy hour in March. No agenda, just bring yourself and your friends! RSVP on the Facebook page to receive updates:

Dragon Lady
Thursday, March 22, 2018 - March 24, 2018
Times vary @ OBERON

From the A.R.T website: “It is the year of the Water Dragon and the eve of Grandma Maria’s 60th birthday. By the light of the karaoke machine, fueled by pork dumplings and diet Pepsi, she shares a dark secret from her Filipino gangster past with one lucky grandchild. Traversing 50 years of faulty family memories, Seattle-based performer Sara Porkalob presents this timely new musical about what it means to come to America.”

For info:

Image taken from The Wilbur show page. 

Image taken from The Wilbur show page. 

Jo Koy
Friday, April 27, 2018 - Saturday, April 28, 2018
Times vary @ The Wilbur

Filipino American comedian, Jo Koy, is in town in April, and you’re in for some laughs as he pulls inspiration from his family, and specifically his son. Did you see his Netflix special? I’m still crying-laughing about it. For more info:

We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers! If you’d like to contribute, send us a note at

Vin Diesel* Goes to Manila: Five Things I Learned in the Philippines

by Matt Nagy

Here's a picture of me (*not Vin Diesel) with the SM Aura mall security guard carrying a rifle.

Here's a picture of me (*not Vin Diesel) with the SM Aura mall security guard carrying a rifle.

Hello there! My name is Matt, and I am married to one of the BOSFilipinos co-founders, Bianca. I’ve always lived on the east coast, sharing my modest time on this earth between New York and New England. I never really traveled before I met my wife. I was always told you can travel and explore the world with your partner-in-crime, but I never expected the chance to see and experience the Philippines.

2017 was my first time overseas (besides the Canadian side of Niagara Falls) and luckily for you all I chronicled some of my experiences while I was there. Below are the top five things I learned while I was in the Philippines:

The traffic is unreal. You will only understand this once you go there.

My wife and her friends complain constantly about the traffic in the Philippines. You can only understand how bad it really is when you are actually in the middle of traffic in Manila. The night we arrived, we were welcomed by the heavy, dense, humid, post-rain air. We gathered up our bags and hopped in the family car. We made our way into the heart of Makati, the business district. As we got further and further from the airport, I was nearly blinded by these massive electronic billboards, none like which I have ever seen. I made the mistake of changing my focus to the road in front of us. And to the left of us. And to the right. We were sandwiched in what appeared to be gridlocked traffic.  I started to learn very quickly is that the traffic here is intense, but it is also an ordered chaos. So much so that we were often inches from giant tour buses and jeepneys (Filipino jeep taxis). There is a certain sigh of relief you get once you descend from the highways of Manila and make your way towards the subdivisions (gated residential areas).

My favorite Filipino meal. © Bianca Garcia

My favorite Filipino meal.

© Bianca Garcia

Filipino Breakfast is the best.

We ate outside in the mornings, on the back porch. The cool, balmy morning breeze lifted the rich scent of soft garlic fried rice, called sinangag, from the confines of a hastily set table. The true definition of eating family style in the Philippines features multiple dishes and suitable condiments, all sharing space on a lazy susan.

I would often pair the sinangag with itlog (fried egg) and longganisa (Filipino sausage). This common breakfast combination is appropriately called longsilog (the combination of the words longganisa, sinangag, and itlog). The creamy egg yolk, folded into a warm bed of rice was perfectly complemented by the rich crunchiness of the sausage. I would wash it all down with a refreshing glass of fresh calamansi juice. Calamansi is a Filipino citrus fruit, small and round, looks like a baby lime, and very tart in flavor.

Upon completion of this carb- and protein-rich greasy delight, Bianca’s dad would come bearing fresh mangoes from a local market. Without a doubt, these are the best mangoes I have ever had. This would be another staple item to my meals while at my in-laws. It turns out that these are in fact not even very good mangoes, because they were not in season during the time we visited (January). Filipino mangoes, like most mangoes, are best in the summer. Could have fooled me. I’ll take your crappy Philippine mangoes over our “good” US mangoes any day.

Graffiti along Diliman Avenue on the way to the UP Town Center mall. © Matt Nagy

Graffiti along Diliman Avenue on the way to the UP Town Center mall.

© Matt Nagy

The rich and the poor are neighbors.

We arrived in the Philippines at night, so the only thing I was focused on was the giant backlit billboards, the angry traffic, and when I was finally going to be able to shower after 30 hours of travel. The first full day we were in the Philippines was the day I truly understood what it’s like to live in a third world country.

We spent one afternoon in U.P. Town Center. It is a sprawling mall complex sharing a mix of indoor and outdoor stores and restaurants, in the University of the Philippines area. We ate ramen and I bought a pair of sneakers. Normal activities you might expect in a first-world country.

But on the way there, nestled in between our secluded subdivision and the mall, were these small, metal, roughly constructed shanties and storefronts, representing a metaphysical window into the impoverished life that many experience here.

Upon returning to Bianca’s home from a day of shopping and eating, I was reminded of the safety and comfort of a gated community, and the surrounding area of elegant Mediterranean-style and ultra-modern homes of their subdivision. Seeing these extremes back to back made me realize how good I have it. It's one of the most interesting parts of visiting the Philippines.

Being a minority here is like being a celebrity.

I truly understand what it’s like to be a minority now. Fortunately for me, I only experienced the positive aspects of being a minority. There were times in my trip where I could see a lot of heads turning in my direction, people looking up from their lunch to react to seeing a white guy in the same restaurant, and the noticeable pause in conversations when people caught me in the corner of their eye. This isn’t the case everywhere. There are a few communities where there is a relatively large white population, but so few and far in between that even I gawked at white people when I saw them in the mall. I will say that the best, most flattering part was when the family driver told Bianca that I look like Vin Diesel. Just to be clear, I might be a dumb-looking bald white guy, but I look nothing like Vin Diesel. Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.

With the Garcias

With the Garcias

Filipino people are some of the most welcoming people in the world.

Last, but certainly not least - despite the fact that I am a dumb-looking bald white guy, I never felt like I was the only non-Filipino in the room. At every meal, every celebration, and every other meeting in between, I felt like I have always lived in the Philippines. The way I was embraced by Bianca’s family and friends was nothing short of amazing.

I’m looking forward to going back and experiencing the warm hospitality again, seeing more of what the Philippines has to offer, and eating more longsilog. I mean lechon. I mean Jollibee.

A conversation with my Best Friend, Saima

By Leila Amerling

Saima and I, THEN and NOW... (our Junior year of highschool (1998) and Saima as my maid of honor (2016). I actually couldn't find one normal picture of us in any of my wedding photos.)

Saima and I, THEN and NOW...

(our Junior year of highschool (1998) and Saima as my maid of honor (2016). I actually couldn't find one normal picture of us in any of my wedding photos.)

Saima Kazi is a half-Bangladeshi, half-Indian Muslim living a foodie life in Boston. Saima has a story to tell and it starts (where most of our stories begin) where she grew up: the Philippines. Saima was born in Bangkok, Thailand, moved to the Philippines later in elementary school, and lived the rest of her formidable years there. She then moved to Boston for college and has been here ever since.

Saima and I have been friends, best friends, since the 6th grade (although she will claim it was the 4th). Like any close friend, she has been a part of many of my life transitions, she was even my maid of honor. She is the reason why I actually live in Boston. Well technically, she was the person who convinced me to move to Boston from the Philippines for college. The reason why I’m still here, well, I ask myself that every winter. It could have something to do with Saima’s cooking. If you ever have her cooking, you’d probably stay in Boston too.

Saima is one of the first members to join BOSFilipinos, and was a sous chef for our Filipino Food Pop-Up last September. When we host our monthly Filipino food potlucks, Saima's contributions are the first to be cleaned out. Anyone who has tasted her food will agree that she's an incredible cook. And anyone who meets her will also agree that she completely lives and understands the Filipino way of life.

Leila: This might be a loaded question but, where are you from originally?
Saima: I inherited the ethnicity of being from Bangladesh, but moved to the Philippines from Thailand where I was born. I grew up in the Philippines which is where my most coherent years were spent (i.e. teens), and it’s where I feel the most connected, like the culture and the food. Mainly because I was surrounded by Filipinos.

Leila: What do you do?
Saima: I help manage a boutique in the fashion retail industry.

Leila: What’s the best part of your job?
Saima: Meeting different people, being able to style them, and being able to teach people how to style them, leaving everyone happy once I’ve interacted with them! Well, at least most of the time...

Leila: What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?
Saima: Cook new things, spend time with my Besties, dance with my handsome Haitian boyfriend, and catch-up on Netflix. I’ve been watching Downton Abbey lately.

Leila: What is your favorite thing to cook?
Saima: Oh boy! Another loaded question. Adobo, Pinakbet, Arroz Caldo, Munggo, Thai Meatball Curry, Haitian Chicken Stew, Biryani, anything with a fried egg on it. I could keep going but those are in rotation in my kitchen.

Leila: Is that influenced by your background?
Saima: Oh yes! Thai I picked up from spending my early years there. At home, we cooked Indian, and most of my latter years was spent in Filipino restaurants and homes. But it’s not just the food, it’s the people that I’ve come across that have influenced my cooking (you and your mom are a BIG part of it). I was born into a conservative Indian family forced to follow rules but the Philippines brought me sunshine, tanduay rum, dried mangoes and introduced me to the other aspects of non-conservative ways of life, like binge eating, drinking, dancing and singing karaoke. I mean who doesn’t want a piece of the Philippines?!

Leila: How did you learn to cook?
Saima: Well, I never had to cook until I moved to the the States. I am a foodie so when I left the Philippines I craved it a lot. I thought about the flavors that I missed and enjoyed the most, so I took my favorite flavors, and learned to cook by trial and error.

Leila: When do you plan on going back to the Philippines?
Saima: When they eradicate all lizards. Hate them. Or when there’s a wedding to attend. That’s when all of the best Pinoy foods come out to play (except lechon, I’ll never know the true deliciousness thanks to my religion).

So there you have it folks. A little peek into the life of my friend, Saima. I’ll bet you may think that you have a boring life, but really, like Saima, you have a story to tell too!


We want to hear your story too! Or if you know of anyone that has a story to tell, or that you want to interview please let us know! Send us an email at or hit us up on social media and we'll get back to you ASAP.

Filipino Chicken Adobo Recipe

By Bianca Garcia

© Bianca Garcia

© Bianca Garcia

During one of our early BOSFilipinos meetings, Leila, Trish, and I talked about our family’s version of adobo. I said my family’s is very vinegary, Trish said her family’s is a little sweet, and Leila said her family’s is pretty balanced, with equal amounts of soy sauce and vinegar. We all said our family’s version is the best.

If you don’t know yet, adobo is any meat or any combination of meats that is are braised and simmered in vinegar, soy sauce, lots of garlic, black peppercorn, and bay leaves. Saveur wrote a good Beginner’s Guide to Adobo. It’s the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, so ingrained in our culture, that just the thought of the fragrant stew can make any Filipino think fondly of home.

One of the wonderful things about adobo is you can alter it in many different ways to make it your own. You can change the ratio of vinegar and soy sauce, you can use different meats (my family’s go to is pork and liver) or vegetables (my favorite is sitaw, or string beans), you can add coconut milk, a little sugar, onions, ginger, hard-boiled eggs, chilies. However way you make it, I’m sure it will be delicious. And pretty soon, you’ll be claiming your version is the best.

CHICKEN ADOBO Recipe by Bianca Garcia


6 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on)

1 ½ cups vinegar

½ cup soy sauce

10 garlic cloves (around 1 whole head of garlic), smashed

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon coarse salt

8-10 dried bay leaves

1 cup water

1 tablespoon olive oil

fresh chives for garnish


  1. Place the chicken, vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns, and seven of the smashed garlic cloves in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add one cup water, plus more if necessary, to barely cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

  2. Remove the cover and simmer, uncovered, for another 30 minutes.

  3. Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken and set aside. Increase heat to high and allow the broth to continue simmering.

  4. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic cloves. Add chicken and sear each piece on both sides until golden brown and skin is crispy.

  5. Return chicken to the pot, and continue reducing the sauce by simmering for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens to your liking. Serve with white rice, and garnish with chives, green onion, and/or chilies.

If you’d like to read more of my story, check out my post on Filipino Chicken Adobo on Confessions of a Chocoholic.

And If you’d like to explore other variations, check out the following recipes:

Chicken Adobo is the Greatest Recipe of All time by Bon Appetit

What I Cook When I’m Alone: Top Chef Winner Paul Qui’s Pork Adobo Recipee


Filipinos in Boston: An Interview with Food Photographer Tina Picz

By Trish Fontanilla

Picture provided by Tina Picz / Tina with her husband and daughter

Picture provided by Tina Picz / Tina with her husband and daughter

Where are you from?
I grew up in Massachusetts and have lived in California, Florida, and Brooklyn, NY. My mom is from Leyte, Philippines and my dad is from Rhode Island. 

And what do you do?
I've been a food photographer for over 3 years and a freelance writer as well.

What inspired you to be a photographer?
I became a food photographer after having a cooking blog in NY for a bit, by way of trying many creative outlets over the years like singing in bands, designing clothing, planning fashion shows and selling vintage clothing. I'm always in search of new artistic paths, and have loved trying my hand at many different mediums of self-expression. I've always enjoyed capturing moments of beauty, in whatever form I could, and sharing them with others.

On Boston...

How long have you been in Boston?
I have been back in Boston for 3 years now after moving around the country for 6 years.

What are your favorite Boston spots? Could be restaurants / parks / anything!
Some of my favorite spots are Boston Public Garden, biking along Charles River, and for food I love Mei Mei, Pho House, Dosa N Curry, The Indo, Whole Heart Provisions, and My Thai Vegan Cafe.

© Tina Picz / Jacqueline Dole pop-up at Mei Mei

© Tina Picz / Jacqueline Dole pop-up at Mei Mei

What's been your favorite, or one of your favorite photoshoots?

One of my favorite photoshoots in Boston was probably a pop-up dinner event at Mei Mei a few years ago, at which Jacqueline Dole, founder of Parlor Ice Cream Co., was pastry chef and made delicious Baked Alaska. I loved the local, seasonal, one-night menu, and the usage of handmade pottery by Adria Katz. It was fun to get behind the scenes and capture the chefs cooking, the young, lively staff having a good time, and of course eating the great food they offered!

What's your community superpower?
Helping food pantries and food businesses tell their stories through photographs. I especially love working with local female entrepreneurs and small businesses, and seeing all the ingenious and creative ways that they've incorporated food into the community to benefit those less fortunate. I like offering my photography skills as a volunteer service where it can help spread the word to more people regarding ways to get involved locally.

On Filipino Food...

© Tina Picz / Tina's mom's birthday party

© Tina Picz / Tina's mom's birthday party

What's your all-time favorite Filipino dish?
My all time favorite Filipino dishes are: Sinigang (my mom's fish soup), Fish Adobo, Champorado (chocolate rice), Biko (sweet rice cake), Puto (rice cake), and Suman (coconut sticky rice in banana leaves).

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
My favorite to make is Champorado because it's easy and sweet!

How can people stay in touch with you?  
To stay in touch, follow me on Instagram @bostonfoodphoto and @deerdrifter or

©Shannon Aubourg / Tina with her mother and her daughter

©Shannon Aubourg / Tina with her mother and her daughter

Thank You For a Wonderful 2017

Hi BFfers -

Well, it’s been one heck of a year! From Bianca and Leila meeting in person for the first time (!!!) at the start of the year to officially starting BOSFilipinos this summer and then doing our first eatup with the Milagros Project early this Fall. We just wanted to take a moment to say thank you for coming along this journey with us. Whether it was coming to an event, forwarding a newsletter, retweeting a tweet, or liking an Instagram post, every little bit of support has meant so much to us. It really takes a village when building up a community! In 2018 we’re looking forward to doing more events, sharing your stories, and connecting more people and groups in this wonderful city we call home.

But for now, we’re enjoying time with family this holiday season…

Clockwise - Bianca and her husband Matt on their wedding day in July; Leila and her family during Christmas brunch this year; Trish and her family during their Noche Buena celebration. 

Clockwise - Bianca and her husband Matt on their wedding day in July; Leila and her family during Christmas brunch this year; Trish and her family during their Noche Buena celebration. 

… and we wanted to say, Kapayapaan, Kasaganahan, at Kasiyahan sa Bagong Taon (Peace, Prosperity, and Happiness in the New Year!).