One of the Philippines’ pride and joy is their rich and diverse cuisine. Hints of its rich history can be savoured from the food, which are influenced by different cultures.
Traces of Spanish, Malay, Chinese, and American influences are engraved on all Filipino dishes, which makes the cuisine unique from others.
Although Filipino cuisine is well-loved by many people, it is still not world-renowned, as Filipino dishes can be hard to make, time-consuming, and ingredients can be hard to find.
But those factors don’t exist when you’re eating at a restaurant. So, if you’re unfamiliar with Filipino cuisine, your next destination should be Amihan Grill + Bakeshop.
Amihan Grill + Bakeshop is a Filipino restaurant located in northeast Calgary, one of the most culturally diverse areas in the city. The restaurant got its name from a Filipino word that refers to the northeast monsoon wind season, which is responsible for nice weather and chilly air.
If you’ve never been to the Philippines before, it is very common to see the streets full of hustling and noisy people, accompanied with the smell of charcoal and savoury food.
The communities in the country are never dull, and are always vibrant, rich of food and love.
This restaurant will take you there with its different types of street foods, grilled barbeque, and sweet pastries, served, and presented with a twist to appeal to Calgarians.
“It’s presented almost like a western style, but when you actually taste and dig into the food, it’s like this Filipino food. Like in the streets of Manila,” said co-owner, Richard Quiambao.
Amihan’s menu is inspired from the dishes that most Filipinos grew up eating. Grilled proteins marinated in barbeque sauce, savoury street foods made from scratch, and lastly, main dishes that are hearty and delicious.
This year, Amihan Grill + Bakeshop is participating in a celebration called Filipino restaurant month. In honor of this event, the owners curated a special menu filled with their classics and a newly invented dish.
“For this year, we are offering adobo pao sliders. It’s like a fusion of the siopao, but we wanted to put adobo in it,” said Quiambao.
Siopao, a street food delicacy in the Philippines, is similar to Chinese buns. It is usually filled with sweet and savoury pork, but the restaurant’s version is filled with a staple household dish called adobo instead.
“So, when you dig into the adobo pao, this is like buying Chinese buns, but when you dig into it, it’s like the siopao but with chicken adobo,” said Quiambao.
Another dish that they added to their menu is the classic Kare-kare. This dish is well-known in the Filipino community, not just for its taste, but for the tedious work that needs to be done to be able to make the dish.
“We chose to stick with the classic Kare-kare,” said Quiambao. Kare-kare is a peanut stew sauce with beef and veggies.
The dish traditionally takes two to three hours to cook, so, if you’re hungry, you might want to consider ordering this delicacy ahead of time as everything at the restaurant is hand made by its chefs.
“We make everything from scratch,” said Quiambao.
From the peanuts to various spices, everything at the restaurant is handmade by the owners. Because of this, food at Amihan’s can never be replicated.
“When you’re cooking at home, it doesn’t taste the same if you eat at Amihan, because we actually make it from scratch,” said Quiambao.
The food they serve are exactly what you would want if your new to Filipino cuisine, and to some the food serves pure nostalgia.
According to co-owner and baker of the restaurant, Ryan Tiqui, the pastries, and breads that he bakes will take Filipinos down memory lane.
“Most of the breads and pastries we have right here, they’re like childhood memories. From the pandesal, or the mamons, etc., those are the ultimate favourites from the Philippines when we were kids,” says Tiqui.
Surely, pastries from Amihan will remind Filipino Calgarians of their sweet childhood memories. Mornings filled with the smell of freshly baked pandesal and coffee, eating mamon or crinkles during snack time, accompanied with orange juice on the side.
“When we’re gathering all the things that we want to sell here, what we want is to bring back our childhood memories, or to bring back all the memories we have. Like those barbeques, or the breads, and pastries, and the likes. That’s what inspires most of our products here,” said Tiqui.
Feelings of nostalgia from the restaurant does not only apply to Filipinos, but for other Calgarians that gets reminded of their own cuisine from eating at Amihan’s.
Patrons from different ethnicities, such as Caucasians, Chinese, and Africans, visits to get a taste of Filipino food, but because of the cuisine’s mixed influences from other culture, they end up leaving with a taste from their own culture too.
“Maybe there’s something in it that’s very similar to their food,” said Quiambao.
Currently, Amihan is thriving and is well-known in their community for its food, ambiance, and great customer service.
The restaurant currently has a 4.8 rating on Google Reviews, filled with all positive comments from its customers.
According to Quiambao, the business is booming and is filled with people on busy days.
“It gets filled up. We also have slow days like every restaurant. Mondays and Tuesdays usually are pretty slow day for us. But the peak, will be like dinnertime, on Saturdays, Friday, and Thursday.”
But before their success is a humble beginning of five friends that wanted to start a business during the pandemic.
“Amihan was a pandemic baby. Three of my partner’s got laid off, and they thought they want to just set up their own business,” said Quiambao.
Quiambao, previously an accountant, was asked by his friends to join in a business idea.
“They asked if I wanted to join. I’m just doing the books and not doing anything in the kitchen. I’m kind of like the marketing guy, but not really.”
Tiqui on the other hand was bored and jobless during the pandemic.
“I lost my job, and I told Richard, ‘What am I going to do? I am so bored at home.’ I have done all the cleaning; I’ve done like every single corner of the house.”
During this time, job hunting was also not an option to Tiqui.
“There’s no jobs available at that moment. And that’s why what we did is, why don’t we create our own jobs?”
Except for Quiambao, Tiqui, Allan Ulgasan, Desiree Bansil, and Sherry Bansil had previous background in the food industry, but all of them noticed something about the food culture in Calgary.
“We noticed that there’s no Filipino restaurant focusing on what we crave for, basically Filipino street foods which we grew up eating. There was nothing like that when we started. So, we thought, we should introduce Filipino street food to Canadian market because there’s no one that specializes in Calgary at that time,” said Quiambao.
Starting Amihan was a gamble for the five of them, according to Tiqui. Their financial state was their biggest problem and relied on their personal credit cards.
“When we started this restaurant, I just have the courage to build a business, I just really want to do it. But financially speaking, we literally didn’t have anything.”
Because they started the business during the pandemic, their start was shaky and quiet. Their early days we’re mostly just friends coming by, but as soon as the pandemic started to go away, their business started picking up.
According to Tiqui, consistency with their food is the most important thing to them.
“We make sure that all the food that are coming out, have been tried, to make sure of the quality.”
Persevering in creating a consistent taste of the food have paid off, and word of mouth have become their biggest drive to their business.
Today, their tables are filled with patrons, and the kitchen is constantly busy.
“At the end of the day, you’ll see the face of your hard work. At first, it doesn’t make any sense. But at the end of the day, to see all the achievements, and all the hard work it takes, it pays off,” said Tiqui.