Purple Yam—the culinary brainchild of Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa that’s helped make a name for Filipino food in New York—needs no introduction. While the Philippines itself would be christened in 2014 with the opening of its very own local branch in Malate, the restaurant’s offerings can only be availed of as part of a set menu priced at PHP 2000-2500 per head and available only by reservation. We assure you it’s a worthy splurge, but the budget-constrained need not fret; Purple Yam’s “reimagined” take on Filipino cuisine can still be had from the Purple Yam kiosk, conveniently located at Estancia mall.
The Estancia branch offers a condensed, but no less comprehensive, selection of their signature creations, available seven days a week—no reservations required. Primary of these are their ice creams, made the natural way with ingredients you know and recognize (milk, cream, egg yolks, fresh and local fruit where applicable), and which come in a slew of flavors available by the scoop. You’ll also find a halo-halo bar, where you can customize your own blend of the Filipino iced dessert with their homemade toppings. Available, too, are their signature baked goods, as well as rice meals and sandwiches that feature Purple Yam’s homemade cured meats and other ingredients sourced from partner farms and artisanal purveyors.
It is important that the source [of the ingredients] has integrity and is honest and will not give you a product that is tainted with chemicals . . . Most of my suppliers are equally passionate about what they do so we form a community of like minded food activists that want to protect the environment in order to produce healthy and delicious food.”
While the Estancia branch deliberately takes on a more casual approach to dining, the philosophy remains the same as that of its full-fledged restaurant counterpart: from-scratch cooking the long way with no cheating or shortcuts involved, and the use of good, real ingredients, with attention to the source. This includes the country’s many heirloom produce—some of which, sadly, are otherwise ignored or forgotten. In the process, the demand created from the use of these ingredients also helps support their farmers and producers while working towards their preservation.
Although the image of Filipino cuisine has, for a lot of people, become marked by the heavy reliance on sugar, MSG, and/or preservatives, Purple Yam’s ingredient-focused, slow approach is one helping change that. By employing their culinary know-how on the best of what the country has to offer, the Purple Yam team is able to bring out their greatest qualities and showcase them for Filipinos (and the world) to see. Here are some of our favorites:
The pasalubong staple makes its way to Purple Yam’s roster, and this version stands out with the use of two kinds of buko, Malakanin and Lukadon, for a “balance of softness and texture,” explains Besa. Beneath each slice’s buttery crust are generous strips of the young coconut, embedded in cream and thickened just a touch using nipa starch and cornstarch that it forms a custardy base with which some of the buko strips melt and become one while others retain a firm (but succulent) bite. Though subtle in flavor, the filling gains just enough depth from a layer of homemade ube jam spread on the bottom. Slices are served warm at the store, but we’ve found that this tastes equally fantastic served cold.
Heirloom Rice Bibingka
Purple Yam’s take on Bibingka is based on a recipe from the cookbook of Enriqueta David-Perez, but modified by Besa and Dorotan to be fluffier and lighter. Two kinds of rice make their way into the batter—Nishiki, a medium-grained variety from Japan which Besa explains contributes moisture and sweetness; and one heirloom variety (this particular one we’d tried uses Ominio rice from the Mountain Province, though others they’ve also used in the past include Dorado from Mindanao and Inencanto from the Dumagat in Rizal)—before being topped with salted eggs, Gouda cheese from Cagayan de Oro, and Asiago cheese from Negros’ own Casa del Formaggio. Though it takes some time to prepare (each cake is made upon order), the bibingka arrives on the table warm and with a smoky, nutty fragrance that invites you to dig in. Cut into its body and you’ll find a dense but fluffy rice cake with a moist open crumb, studded with black dots (from the Ominio rice) that add a welcome rustic grit. Every forkful juggles a creamy, coconut-y note with a distinct nuttiness we assume to come from the said heirloom grains that goes well with the said cheeses’ pungency. You get just enough sweetness as it is, but for the ultimate sweet-and-salty hit, don’t forget to sprinkle on the muscovado sugar served on the side.
Purple Yam carries a short but succinct selection of flavors both classic and creative for their all-natural ice cream, which is made with dairy from Farm to Table and Badaco Farms in Batangas—and absolutely no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Take your pick from one of their many fruity options, which put the natural flavor of their respective fruits at the forefront; of them, our top pick has to be the Benguet Cherry, a decidedly tart scoop made with native cherries (they exist) that Purple Yam transforms into a brilliant crimson jam that is mixed into their cream base and which tops the finished scoop right before serving. More unique is their Champoy ice cream, which weaves the preserved fruit’s hint of savory and sour into the ice cream’s dairy backbone, before being topped with a disc of Kalabasa Tikoy. On the indulgent end is their Double-Chocolate, which uses Callebaut chocolate and Valrhona cocoa, for a scoop that’s both rich and boldly bittersweet with a distinctive consistency that’s especially silky-smooth on the tongue and thick in a way we’d liken to a frozen mousse.
If there’s one flavor that you absolutely cannot miss however, it’s the Ube—a flavor they do justice to (and rightfully so, as you’d expect from their very name). Made with two varieties of the eponymous root and no commercialized extracts, don’t expect it to taste (or look) like more ubiquitous versions of the said ice cream flavor. Rather, their version packs shows off the yam’s true taste and color: a subtle, pandan-like nuttiness and a beautiful amethyst hue from the Sapiro and Deep Purple varieties, respectively. The resulting scoop takes on a one-of-a-kind texture that’s part-starchy and part-creamy, with visible specks of actual yam that’s fun to chew on as the ice cream melts on the tongue. More notably, there’s just enough milkiness to support the yam’s nutty essence without masking it the way many other versions can. It’s ube goodness in a way not many of us have likely had before, and one that’ll make you proud of what the country has to offer.
Purple Yam (Estancia Branch)
A kiosk serving Purple Yam’s ice cream, baked goods, and light meals.