The best places in Philly to find Filipino desserts, according to ‘Mayumu’ author Abi Balingit
For Abi Balingit, the bite most emblematic of Filipino cuisine is halo-halo, the shaved ice soaked in evaporated milk and sweet toppings. The dessert, which is Tagalog for “mix-mix,” offers a variety of textures with a good balance of flavor.
“[Filipino sweets] are a play on texture but also flavor profile,” said the New York-based baker, whose experiences with the desserts of her heritage culminated in a dessert cookbook, Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed.
A few components bring out these characteristics, including kakanin, or rice and coconut delicacies, ube and pandan, which are used among the 75 recipes in Balingit’s book.
Philly is bursting with Pinoy flavors, from the pop-up Tabachoy, now open as a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and national chains like Red Ribbon BakeShop and Jollibee. More projects are on the horizon, including Baby’s, a cafe from the team behind supper club Tita Emmie’s, slated to open in Brewerytown this summer. Inspired by the treats and flavors Balingit highlights in her new book, we’ve tracked down some of Philly’s best spots for Filipino desserts.
For Chance Anies, Filipino cuisine is all about bold savory or sweet dishes often associated with personal experiences and flavor memories.
“My personal favorite dessert is bibingka,” said Anies, owner of Tabachoy. “Traditionally, bibingka is a rice or cassava flour cake. But the way that I grew up with it in my Filipino family’s household was very much like a coconut sheet cake, very dense with oil.”
While he doesn’t offer the dessert on the menu, Anies has a pandan cheesecake at his Bella Vista restaurant. It’s a Basque-style cheesecake wrapped in a banana leaf, with a texture profile akin to bibingka. “Although it is not the same, a lot of Filipinos will eat it and ask me, ‘Is this bibingka?’”
There’s also an ube sundae, which contrasts hot and cold temps. A swirl of ube soft serve is topped with coconut caramel and puffed rice, served in a tin cup, and accompanied by a crunchy turon, a banana spring roll.
“Let’s take these things that are traditionally Filipino in flavor — they don’t necessarily have to be served in the exact same way — and cross over into Western technique,” said Anies.
📍 932 S. 10th St., 🌐 tabachoyphilly.com
This national bakery in Northeast Philly is one of Balingit’s childhood favorites.
“[Red Ribbon] was kind of my first experience with Filipino desserts, along with my family making it home,” she said. “It’s a good place to start.”
Find mamon sponge cakes bursting with mocha and butter flavors, soft bread rolls known as pandesal, Filipino chiffon cake called taisan loaf, and Ube Overload Cake with layers of Philippine ube halaya.
📍 2201 Cottman Ave., Suite 113, 📞 215-449-8389, 🌐 redribbonbakeshop.com
Chef Raquel Villanueva Dang of Tita Emmie’s says her favorite dessert is taho, a cup of silken tofu layered with brown sugar syrup and tapioca pearls that’s typically served at breakfast. She says each bite brings the nostalgia of mornings in the Philippines where “the guy yells out, ‘taho!’”
You might find taho for brunch at Baby’s this summer — Dang is still working on the menu for the forthcoming Brewerytown cafe. But you can expect a rotating selection of Filipino pastries like pandesal, sticky rice, cheesecakes, and other desserts.
Kathy Mirano is the queen of Filipino food at Reading Terminal Market. The lunch counter in Center City’s prime dining destination highlights the dishes of Mirano’s childhood. There’s a menu dedicated to desserts, including layered halo-halo, creamy ube jam, half and whole cake rolls with ube, matcha and mango creams, and sweet crispy turon. Macarons stuffed with ube, matcha, banana, pineapple, coconut, and mango are also available.
📍 51 N. 12th St., 📞 215-800-8844, 🌐 tambayanphilly.com
Explore this Northeast Filipino grocery and food store. There are boxes of assorted polvoron (shortbread cookie) with flavors like pandan, ube and toasty pinipig, coconut, and pineapple. Also find the pandan-filled moon cake-like pastry called hopia and macapuno ensaymada, a soft, sweet bread covered with butter, sugar and topped with grated cheese. It delivers a perfect blend of salty and sweet.
📍 7925 Bustleton Ave., 🌐 pinoy-groseri.com
What if bibingka was made with corn masa typically used in tamales and tortillas? Roxxanne Delle Site-Jeronimo created a version of her favorite childhood dessert with ingredients of her husband Alfredo’s Mexican heritage. The couple combines their cultural backgrounds to offer Filipino-Mexican delights on their Instagram pop-up shop.
Delle Site-Jeronimo remixes tres leches with Pinoy ingredients like sampaguita (jasmine flower), ube, pandan and Milo hot chocolate mix. Her ensaymada-concha hybrid is filled with ube and macapuno (jellylike coconut), and doughnuts come with a calamansi-poppyseed glaze and a caramelized plantain cream filling.
To order the treats, keep an eye out on Instagram — the couple offers items monthly.
In Mount Laurel, find turon with ube ice cream, halo-halo and more on the made-to-order menu at Manila Cafe. Plus, cassava cake, banana fritters, sapin-sapin, and other types of rice and coconut cakes are served on certain days.
You’ll find sapin-sapin, cassava cake, and sweet fried saba bananas at the Somerdale location.
📍 200 Larchmont Blvd., Mount Laurel, 📞 856-222-0604, 🌐 manilacafenj.net;📍 20 S White Horse Pike, Somerdale, 📞 856-435-4999, 🌐 manilacafe2nj.net
Over in East Passyunk, chef Lou Boquila is a master at kamayan family-style feasts. At Perla, a chocolate coconut budino concludes the impressive meal.
📍 1535 S. 11th St., 📞 267-273-0008, 🌐 perlaphilly.com