Amazing new research on pioneer Filipino restaurant in Brooklyn

October 8, 2010

Manila Karihan Restaurant ad in 1927 Philippine newspaper

There was a Filipino restaurant called Manila Karihan Restaurant at 47 Sands St, Brooklyn as early as 1927.  The proprietor, E.G. Lopez, placed an ad in a Philippine newspaper ca 1927.  This is the same location as the Manila Restaurant showed in a 1938 photo we had discovered earlier from the NYC photo archives.

A week ago, Liena Zagare of the Ditmas Park blog stumbled upon and sent me a photo from the NYC archives of a “Manila Restaurant” dated 1938 taken as part of a WPA Writers project during the depression era (see photo below and previous blog post).  It was just such a tantalizing tidbit of history and we, along with other Filipinos everywhere, were thrilled to discover a very early Filipino restaurant in all places — Brooklyn!

And that was all we had going for us.  After posting the photo on FB, some friends, Alan Benenfeld and Dan Sarmiento, did some digging and came up with the WPA Writers entry to supplement details about the restaurant located on 47 Sands Street in the Navy Yard district of Brooklyn.

My friend, Alex Orquiza, a doctoral student of history from Johns Hopkins, presently in Manila finishing up his research on the Philippine-American food exchange from 1898 (Philippine-American War) to 1946 (Philippine Independence from the US), gave one good bit of advice.  Send the information to Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Assistant Professor of the History Dept at the San Francisco State University

Before long, Dawn sent me an image of an ad (above photo) from the Philippine Republic, the back page of which says it has a 10,000 circulation in the Philippines, Hawaii, and “every Filipino community in the United States, and also has readers throughout the world, wherever there are Filipinos.”

Manila Karihan ad placed among other ads from Washington, Hawaii and Calfornia

From this ad and its placement in the  paper, one can glean a few things:

1. The name of the restaurant located on 47 Sands St., Brooklyn was not Manila Restaurant as reported in the WPA Writers project, but Manila Karihan Restaurant.  The term karihan is used for informal roadside eateries.

But to me the term karihan just does not jibe with the 1938 photo because the photo shows  well dressed men and women.  Perhaps in 1938, the term karihan might have been dropped and the place became a bit fancier and could have been renamed simply as Manila Restaurant.

2. The newspaper where the ad was placed, Philippine Republic, is believed to have been printed in 1927 as there is a story about the 1927 sugar crop that “seems promising.”  This means that a Filipino restaurant was in existence in Brooklyn as early as 1927!

A section of the Philippine Republic issue where the ad was placed giving us a glimpse of how Filipinos were viewed then

3. The ad states that the restaurant (inspite of being called a karihan) offers American, Chinese and Spanish  along with Philippine dishes.  Perhaps they wanted to broaden their appeal to a clientele beyond the Filipinos living in their neighborhood.   This also explains the odd dish called “mixta” that the WPA Writers project noted as one of the dishes offered in the restaurant.  I had never heard of that term and my internet search yielded a reference to “paella mixta”  – a mixed dish of rice, beans, meat and vegetables.

4. The ad also emphasized the restaurant’s motto of “courtesy, cleanliness and satisfaction.”  Why state these?  Perhaps to counteract misconceptions about Filipino restaurants and cooking?

The 1938 photo of Manila Restaurant from the WPA Writers Project located on 47 Sands St., Brooklyn

The American legacy on Philippine food

I am headed home to Manila next week and one of the events I am organizing there is a Filipino Food Forum featuring Alex Orquiza’s research findings on the American legacy on Philippine food.  From a quick reading of Alex’s outline and findings, one of the things that stood out was how the Americans had systematically instilled the notion among Filipinos — through education and through the mass media — that our native diet of rice and fish was inferior to the American diet packed with protein.  These proteins came in the form of mass produced food which then produced several generations of Filipinos more at home eating hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes than our native dishes of home.

I have much to learn when I go home this October:  attending “think forums” and learning from cooks flying in from different parts of the country to do regional food cooked with old recipes, old cooking techniques and old cooking equipment for my birthday celebration on Oct 24.

Will post more of the Philippine adventure in the next few weeks!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

jem mapanao October 9, 2010 at 5:46 am

do you have a facebook page we can follow you in ?


corinna nuqui October 9, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Please let me know if I can attend the food forum in Manila. Thank you.

Amy Besa October 9, 2010 at 5:38 pm

I just sent you an email.

Amy Besa October 9, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Go to our homepage and just click on the FB button and it will bring you to the Purple Yam FB page. Make sure to like it.


eiza October 26, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Hello. I’ve been thinking about that “mixta” and may I suggest that it might be another version of Arroz Valenciana. My grandmother and aunts used to cook Arroz Valenciana for festivals (fiesta) or for Christmas.

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