In the midst of the Filipino food’s moment in the food world is the increasing discovery of the wide adaptability of Filipino flavors, where the tastes that mark tradition are met with new forms and novel techniques. Case in point today: the flavors of some of your favorite meryenda, reborn as creamy but feather-light clouds of cheesecake soufflés by the Sydney-hailing team of PILYO.
There’s the Bibingka Cheesecake Soufflé, a sweet-and-salty, kesong puti– and salted egg-topped variant that successfully captures the traditional rice cake’s strong note of egg yolk and slight char; the Putong Ube Cheesecake Soufflé, a mauve maven which highlights the natural nuttiness of purple yam, lent a custardy richness from its crown of yema de avila; and the Mamon Cheesecake Soufflé, a most ethereal take on the fluffy sponge cake with a buttery tinge given additional depth from a guava glaze and queso de bola on top. Each one of PILYO’s cheesecake soufflés feels light as air at the onset, tastes barely sweet, and dissolves on the tongue with little effort (especially when briefly microwaved as they recommend)—before leaving behind a creaminess that lingers on the tongue as it does on the mind.
PILYO is the brainchild of Australian-Filipino Chef Iñigo Castillo and partners Chrissie Ablaza (in Manila) and Morris Baco (in Sydney), who—during their stint as site caterers for the Cammeray Golf Club in Sydney—experimented with adding Filipino food to the café menu. Having received positive feedback, the team would continue on this legacy in the form of PILYO, their own “cheeky” take on Filipino cuisine.
In Australia, the word cheeky is often used pertaining to someone being mischievous & playful . . . in a good way . . . Translated [into Filipino]: PILYO!”
The one-of-a-kind Filipino word ‘PILYO’ best represents the team’s philosophy—where they take familiar elements and take it out for their own spin, described by the trio as being “mischievous and playful”. Through pop-up events and special dinners, they successfully introduced Filipino food to Australian diners—some of whom, they share, had never even encountered the cuisine previously. Thanks to Filipino food’s multicultural character, as one with Asian, American, Latino-American, and Spanish influences, they were able to capture the hearts and fascination of the locals who would come to appreciate its simultaneous uniqueness and familiarity—even going on to be featured on Australian news website SBS. And upon returning to the Philippines in 2016, the trio made sure to bring PILYO along with them.
“It’s good to ‘modernize’ traditional favorites by putting a bit of yourself in the food, so to speak . . . putting our own experiences into PILYO makes it unique and ours,” they explain. By no means does this mean simply innovation just for innovation’s sake, however, as PILYO still values the importance of ultimately paying ode their roots. “We have to emphasize . . . [that] it [should] still make sense, and doesn’t lose [the] focus on traditional flavors . . . We don’t just do things for shock factor . . flavors should [still] complement each other.” PILYO clarifies that they are by no means going for fusion, and instead embracing the natural evolution of food through time. The resulting treats are a reflection of their own personal experiences, that stay true to the essence of traditional versions.
A newer addition to the PILYO lineup are their Empanaditas, this time highlighting Filipino food’s interconnectedness with other cultures—the classic stuffed baked or fried pastries known as empanada are, after all, popular to this day not only in the Philippines but in other countries colonized by Spain. And though there’s no shortage of empanada options around the country, PILYO’s version stands out—thanks to the use scratch-made, lard-based crusts that make for flaky, savory blankets around three available fillings: the sweet, smoky Bacon variant (which comes with the most addictive onion-guava jam); hearty and tender Lengua (a much better version of the tomato-based beef empanadas you’ll find elsewhere); and the surprise hit—tangy, smoky Kesong Puti (ingeniously pairing tart green mangoes with smoky tinapa).
Playful they may be in approach, PILYO offers well-executed takes that break the borders of tradition—without losing the core essence of Filipino cuisine. It might not exactly be your grandmother’s cooking, as they say. But it’s one that’ll to do her just as proud.
Playful takes on Filipino tradition brought from Sydney to Manila, in the form of meryenda-themed Cheesecake Soufflés and unique Empanaditas.
Spend: PHP 700-900 for a box of Cheesecake Soufflés, PHP 300 for a box of Empanaditas
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