Where Filipinos go, their food follows.

That’s been the way of things since the first overseas Filipino worker landed in a foreign country until today. With over 2.3 million Filipinos currently abroad, Filipino food is starting to go beyond the kitchens of Filipino families and into the local dining scenes around the world.

Australia is no exception. Spurred on by The Entree.Pinays, a group of Filipinas bringing cultural dishes to the table, Filipino cuisine is making a name for itself in the Melbourne food scene.

An all-female team composed of Fides Santos-Arguelles, Grace Guinto, Felis Sarcepuedes, Maysie Lecciones, Kristina Náray, and Sandra Tan, The Entree.Pinays aren’t just moving to champion Filipino food to the Australian market—they’re also making a network and a community of Filipino foodies.

The women of The Entree.Pinays
From left: Felis Sarcepuedes, Fides Santos-Arguelles, Sandra Tan, Kristina Náray, Grace Guinto, and Maysie Lecciones.

Starting with the first course

In typical Filipino fashion, Melbourne’s Filipino community is pretty much only “Juan degree separated” from each other, often connected through mutual friends, relatives, or co-workers. It should then come as no surprise that these connections are what brought the women together.

With shared childhood memories of growing up in Melbourne, like Footscray Market, a market hub for migrant families, the minds behind The Entree.Pinays bonded and founded a mutual purpose in “raising awareness and appreciation of Filipino cuisine through creative collaboration, community, experiences, and stories,” says Santos-Arguelles.

The Melbourne Filipino food scene is still in its infancy, but more and more events are taking place to expose locals to the wonders of Filipino culture and cuisine. Community festivals, turo-turo (eateries), market stalls, and sari-sari stores are popping up all over the neighborhood.

“We want to elevate and share our food with non-Filipinos, amplify the success of trailblazers, unearth culinary, creative, and entrepreneurial talent, and create an appreciation for Filipino cuisine,” says Santos-Arguelles.

“We want to elevate and share our food with non-Filipinos, amplify the success of trailblazers, unearth culinary, creative, and entrepreneurial talent, and create an appreciation for Filipino cuisine—all in the hope of cultivating demand and investment for reputable Filipino eateries as well as world-class ‘Made in the Philippines’ products and produce in Melbourne,” says Santos-Arguelles. “Why not? It’s about time.”

With over 240,000 Filipinos in Australia, the market and demand for a taste of home is already there, and The Entree.Pinays is here to provide the supply. Like true entrepreneurs, The Entree.Pinays has an ambitious vision. The group wants to see “Filipino cuisine be part of and contribute to Melbourne’s renowned and evolving multicultural food and wine offer” and the “Philippines to be visible, represented by establishment, culinary talent, dishes in menus reimagined using Philippine produce,” according to Santos-Arguelles.

It will take a huge amount of effort to achieve their goals, but it looks like they’re already on the way.

Welcome to the neighborhood

Starting Mar. 12, The Entree.Pinays will be taking on their biggest project to date: a series of events titled “Barrio” for this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, the biggest food event in the metro. The group will be showcasing Filipino cuisine “in a scale previously unseen in the festival’s 26-year run,” says Santos-Arguelles.

Barrio’s guest chefs and professionals include Jordy Navarra of Toyo Eatery in Manila, the first Filipino restaurant awarded the ‘Miele One To Watch Award’ by World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018; Nicole Ponseca, head chef of Jeepney and Maharlika in New York; Ross Magnaye, head chef at Rice Paper Sister and San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year; Yasmin Newman, food writer and author of “7000 Islands – A Food Portrait of the Philippines.”

That’s a powerful set of names to have at their first major event but even from the start of Barrio’s conception, the team was already on a roll. The momentum began when the group captured the attention of Magnaye after a dinner at his restaurant, Rice Paper Sister, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ideas were whirring, community engagement was building, late-night FaceTime talks with international chefs took place, and everything was set into motion.

But Barrio is only the beginning: the team is already planning a Filipino film festival, an ‘adobo cook-off’ between two Melburnian, high-profile chefs, and even a regular calendar of Kamayan Dinners for or community building efforts.

It looks like 2019 is the year of Filipino food in Melbourne, and the community has these ladies to thank for.