Filipino food may be ready to have its breakthrough moment in New York City. Philly Pinoy provides a new reason to head out to Red Hook, and now Sa Aming Nayon, newly opened in the East Village, is getting a lot of positive attention. Of course, Filipino food is best known for pork and seafood. In fact, almost every dish in the "Vegetables" section of Sa Aming Nayon's menu features pork and/or shrimp. Luckily for vegetarians, the staff is happy to accommodate us.
Although I haven't had a lot of Filipino food, I am familiar with lumpia, the Filipino version of spring rolls. When I saw lumpiang sariwa ($4.95, pictured at the top) on the menu, I figured it would be something similar, though wrapped in an egg crepe. I was not prepared for the football-sized dish that came to the table. The crepe was filled with a combination of cooked carrots and celery, mixed with raw lettuce and jicama for texture. Then the whole affair was drenched in peanut sauce. It was a pleasant blend of salty and sweet, and there was more than enough for two of us to share.
Most of the salads on the menu come dressed with bagoong, the Philippine version of fish sauce. I asked for the ensaladang talong ($5.95) to be made without the sauce, and they were happy to do that for me. It lost something in the translation, though the eggplant was grilled perfectly, so that it was soft without falling apart, and the tomatoes and onions were very fresh. Unfortunately, lemon is no substitute for salt, and there was no hint of the "long hot chili" described in the menu.
I asked our server for an entree recommendation that would be good without shrimp and pork, and after a moment he said that the ginataang sitaw at calabasa ($9.95) was very good. He was right. Without any animal products, it is a simple mix of soft, sweet squash and crunchy, squeaky long beans stewed in coconut milk. As soon as the dish was put in front of me, the aroma of the coconut milk hit me in the face. This was another wonderful mix of salty and sweet, managing to be both rich and light at the same time. I really can't imagine this dish being any better with the meat in it, but maybe that's just me. Interestingly, my favorite part of the dish turned out to be the bits of soft onions sprinkled throughout it; they had absorbed so much of the coconut milk and seasoning that they were little explosions of flavor. I also want to point out that all entrees are served with your choice of rice, french fries, or a baked potato. I went with the rice, but was intrigued by the potato options.
My experience at Sa Aming Nayon only strengthened my sentiment that Filipino food is due its moment in the culinary sun. Even when stripped of some of its most fundamental ingredients—pork and seafood—it is capable of some amazing heights. The salad, which would seem to be perfect for a vegetarian, may have been a misstep, but I'll be dreaming of that squash and long bean stew for weeks to come.
Sa Aming Nayon
201 1st Avenue, New York NY 10003 (map) 212-388-0152
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