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So Sarap NYC is bringing favorite Filipino street food dishes to the streets of New York. It gives the Filipinos who are far away form home a sense of nostalgia and taste of authentic Filipino street food. If you haven’t yet had street food, it includes treats like fishball, isaw, ice cream, taho, kikiam, kwek kwek, chicharon and the infamous balut. Now, New Yorkers too gets a taste of the Philippines in the Lower East Side.

According to Pop Inquirer, initially So Sarap NYC looked to target non-Filipinos and share the culture through food. Spearheaded by Virgilio “VJ” Navarro Jr. and Sebastian Shan, these high school besties have made it their mission to remind Filipinos in New York some of their best memories of Pinoy street food. Literally it’s a love language for Filipinos.

“According to those who have tried our street food for the first time, they loved it and were happy to have experienced how we roll, so to speak.” 

vj navarro jr., co-founder of “so sarap nyc”

When Navarro lost his job during the pandemic, it was an opportunity for his long awaited dream to be a reality. There’s four vendors total for So Sarap NYC: Fishball, Isawan, Taho, and Balut Penoy Chicaron. The vendors roll up also in the classic karitons (pushcarts), along with all the street food tools like balancing buckets of taho ingredients on a stick. Plus, they really be selling on the street and subway too!

His knowledge of street food comes from his father and lolo (grandpa). Navarro’s father was also a street food vendor in the Philippines, selling isaw and fishball, as well as from his Lolo who sold suka (vinegar). Vinegar usually accompanies as a dipping sauce for the snacks. However, it’s also the Filipino community in New York that helped pull it all together and make it an authentic experience.

“…For those who have tried and experienced street food in the Philippines, they stated how it made them feel like they were back home.”

VJ NAVARRO JR., on providing an authentic filipino street food experience

Even Chef Harold Villarosa visits So Sarap NYC to learn all about chicken feet and their place in Filipino cooking.

Cover Photo Credit: So Sarap NYC Facebook

With Filipino gaining popularity these days, it’s not surprising that Chef Harold Villarosa is set to have his own show with Bon Appétit. Chef Harold is bringing the versatile flavors of Filipino food and showing us fusions bridging classic and new recipes.

Filipino born, and South Bronx raised, Chef Harold Villarosa received his earliest culinary and agricultural education in the bukid (rice paddies) of Iloilo. He emigrated to the U.S. at 9 years old which opened his perspective. Chef came to a world where progressive ideas and personal freedom abound, while issues like food justice remain a daily challenge. With an instinctual understanding for flavors and nourishing others, Harold entered the industry at age 14. Since then, Chef has worked for Michelin starred restaurants while infusing his community projects. He recently opened a restaurant comedy club concept in Union Square called The Stand.

We had the chance to chat with him and ask about his career, his favorite Filipino dishes, and his collab with Bon Appétit.

Can you tell us about your culinary journey, how did it start?
It all started at McDonald’s, having that early perspective on food and business really set me up for success. 

A lot of us can relate to get their start at the good ‘ole Mickey D’s!

So you started cooking because you wanted to buy sneakers. What was the first pair of sneakers you bought?
The first pair of sneakers I ever bought with my check from McDonald’s was the blue foamposite “Penny Hardaways.”

We all know the struggle of asking our parents for something we want and they say, “You have to work for it if you want something.”

“…my parents as an example of people coming from nothing and living in America inspired me.”

Chef Harold on people who inspire him

How did the Filipino work ethic help in working your way up from fast food chains to Micheline rated restaurants? Who are people you admire?
I didn’t really know that it was Filipino food work ethic, I thought it was just immigrant work ethic. My mom and dad instilled in me early on that hard work pays off. Working in those restaurants I just kept my head down and tried my best. My skill sets weren’t the best but I showed up on time everyday and I think that kept me from getting fired.

Who taught you how to cook Filipino food? Do you have a go-to dish to cook for parties?
I learned really from a Dominican chef named Miguel Trinidad who was the owner of Maharlika and Jeepney, two amazing Filipino restaurants in NYC. He opened my eyes to the possibilities and showed the similarities between Caribbean food and soul food, which at that time I was into.

My go to dish at parties? I’m really into cooking adobo right now. I really adobo everything up just to find the right mix. I like to switch it up and add coconut milk and red chillies. 

We have our next late snack lined up! Hello grilled cheese adobo!

How did growing up in the South Bronx influence your cooking style and flavors?
I’m open to everything lol. Coming from the South Bronx, I’ve eaten so many kinds of different foods, from African and Dominican to Colombian and Halal – it really made me have an open mind. It gave me a chance to identify the people with the food and appreciate their culture as a whole. People put love into food when they make it for those they care about. So every time I ate at a friends house, that mom or grandma put so much love into it. That vibrated throughout my being. And that’s how I try to cook now, sending positive energy to the food so it can be received positively. 

You’re also a hip-hop fan, do you listen to music while you cook? If so, what’s on the playlist, any Original Pilipino Music (OPM) songs?
I’m a big Griselda fan right now but I’ve also been switching it up a lot lately and listening to a lot of these young cats. Guapdad 4000 from the bay is hot.

We’ll have to manifest a collab between Chef and Guap for a chicken adobo remix!

Here at Myx Global, we’re about bridging Filipino talent internationally, what made you take that step to crossover to the West Coast with your bistro in San Francisco?
I think that, just like you guys, I wanted to bridge the gap between East Coast FilAms and West Coast FilAms. I want to be the connector and the cool Unkle that says, “It’s okay to be a Filipino in America. We got our own swag and here’s some food.” 

“There’s never really been a connectivity between the two coasts and anyone in between. I want to be the connector…”

The Bay is the spot to do it. There’s a high vibration of Filipino culture and appreciation while also being a place for progressive social work to be done. A place where we can tap into the political realm real quick. So we have an opportunity to be social leaders and show what the next generation of Filipinos can do, all while showing respect to our elders who got us here.

Can you tell us more about the Insurgo Project and its mission? Also, how would you explain the Unkle Harold brand?
The Insurgo Project was really done out of necessity in the low-income neighborhoods we come from. We wanted to give the tools for the next generation to be successful in the food space and the business space. We created a curriculum to show how you can create generational wealth and financial wellness, while having a social impact initiative attached to your brand. 

The Unkle Harold’s brand is the outcome of all the sh*t I talk. I couldn’t create a curriculum and teach thousands of students about building a brand and business if I didn’t do it myself. This brand encompasses the social aspect of a food brand with sustainability and social impact as pillars. We want to create a franchise model that helps put the idea of food being healthy and knowing where it came from it also doesn’t hurt your pocket book.

What can we expect to see on your collaboration with Bon Appétit?
You can expect to see a lot of collaborations with the community that I’ve built throughout my career. From food stuff to social impact stuff, it’s about continuing the narrative of knowing where you came from and giving back to that community. Never forgetting who helped get you there and using your platform to help those people become successful too. 

We have an opportunity to be social leaders and show what the next generation can do, all while showing respect to our elders who got us here.

Chef Harold on bridging the gap between coasts and generations

10. Filipino food is on the rise globally, what are your top 3 Filipino dishes that you recommend everyone should try if they never had Filipino food before?
I think we can do Chicken Pyanggang, which is chicken with a burnt coconut sauce. Then let’s go with Inihaw, which can be anything grilled but let’s go with the chicken feet. Lastly, you’ve got to try the roasted pork, Lechon. This is a Filipino staple, especially with longganisa and lemongrass.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Chef Harold! We’re excited to check out your show on Bon Appétit and we’ll be trying out this dishes for sure!

Chef Harold has made numerous news and media appearances and was recently on Vices “Munchies” kitchen demo for his signature Crab fried Rice. He was also featured in NY1 ‘s New Yorker of the week for his work in the community . In 2019 , Chef Harold was invited to be part of the annual TED summit in Vancouver, B.C to speak on his non-profit work in NYC.

Chef Villarosa currently is a member of the Black Culinary Alliance; The Experimental Cuisine Collective in conjunction with NYU’s Chemistry Department; and holds a Culinary Arts Degree from the Culinary Academy of New York. He is also the current Culinary Ambassador for the US embassy for Denmark

Cover Photo Credit: Chef Harold Villarosa Website

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