In 2017, the Philippines became Canada’s top source of immigrants. Yet to many Canadians, Filipino cuisine remains relatively unfamiliar — mostly because it hasn’t been as accessible as more prominent Asian cuisines from the region. Only recently have Filipino establishments and dishes started gaining recognition outside of the Filipino-Canadian community — from hands-only kamayan dinners, to stewed or braised adobo (sometimes considered a national dish) or barbecue pork.
The distinct flavours of Filipino cooking shouldn’t be understated. There’s something for everyone. The Philippines’ diverse cultures, which span 7,100 islands and 180 languages, with centuries of Malay, Chinese, Arab, and Spanish influence are reflected in the food. Here are a couple suggestions for those looking to discover Filipino cuisine in Montreal.
Cuisine de Manille
Cuisine de Manille (formerly known as Pearl of Manila) is no new kid on the block. Dado Contaoe, who has lived and worked in Côte-des-Neiges since the mid-eighties first opened the restaurant with his partners in 2003 on Décarie Boulevard. In 2012 Cuisine de Manille moved closer to the community, at its current location on Avenue Victoria.
Cuisine de Manille’s unobtrusive exterior makes it easy to miss, but inside lies a sleek, open dining area. Peter Contaoe, Dado’s son, will likely greet you with a smile from behind the counter.
The family-owned-and-operated establishment specializes in homestyle Filipino cooking: “and we want to keep it that way,” says Dado. From the staple chicken adobo, to BBQ pork, to laing (a spicy, milk-based coconut taro dish), the rotating, buffet-style menu makes Cuisine de Manille great for those looking to try a range of Filipino offerings.
Then there’s perhaps the main testament to its authenticity: Filipinos make up most Cuisine de Manille’s clientele. “Filipinos are hardworking individuals,” Peter explains. “They have big families and double, triple jobs. When they get home they don’t want to cook, they’re tired. They come here to get the most authentic food they can get”.
When Asked about Filipino cuisine foray into the Canadian mainstream Dado says it’s coming.
“It’s starting now,” Peter nods.
5781 Avenue Victoria, (514) 344-3670
Junior is the only downtown-adjacent restaurant to serve exclusively traditional Filipino food. The blockbuster restaurant was the first Filipino spot in town to draw substantial media attention, garnering praise in the likes of La Presse and the Montreal Gazette after its 2014 opening, making it an ambassador for new-generation Filipino eateries.
Junior is the brainchild and creative outlet of Jojo and Toddy Flores, who run it alongside Julian Somera and David Pendon.
“[Junior] always been an extension of what my brother and I are into,” Jojo explains. Basketball memorabilia and t-shirts line the brightly coloured walls.
A turntable sits on plain view. Jojo has been DJing across Canada for over 30 years and curates playlists for other local restaurants, including Ferraro 502 and Le Richmond, while Toddy was one of the biggest sneaker collectors in Canada.
For the owners, the Notre Dame West location, alongside plenty of other popular newcomers, presented an opportunity for opening up Montrealers’ eyes to the cuisine — Jojo suggests that about 70 percent of their clientele have never tasted Filipino cuisine. “We’re proud,” Jojo says, “It’s gratifying to see how people are embracing our culture.”
Drop by for Tagala Tuesday for one of chef Ryan Oabel’s special, typically announced on Facebook the same day: the chef hasn’t repeated a recipe since he starting Tagala Tuesday a year ago. And if you find yourself on Junior’s terrace this summer, try their home brewed pilsner, Jeepney, modelled after classic Filipino pilsner, San Miguel and named for the kitsch painted cars that supply public transportation in much of the Philippines.
1964 Notre-Dame W, (514) 944-8636
In Montreal, Filipino restaurants are mostly located in Côte-des-Neiges, close to Plamondon metro station. The area is the unofficial community hub, and while it hasn’t reached any kind of official Filipino-town designation yet, the significant population concentration has produced a handful of good restaurants. Here are two others to try.
5955 Avenue Victoria, (514) 658-1918
5940 Avenue Victoria, (438) 386-7999