Released in November 2021, “FILIPINX: Heritage Recipes From the Diaspora” is a collaborative and intimately political Filipino cuisine recipe book by chef and culinary activist Angela Dimayuga (American, b.1985) and food journalist Ligaya Mishan.
Before the pandemic, James Beard-nominated chef Angela Dimayuga resigned from her role as the Standard International’s Creative Director of food and culture. The move marked the end of a tenure that had sparked headlines in the food press just two years before. Not only was Dimayuga responsible for international programming as an executive in a corporate position, but was also working in nightlife and private cheffing. “This isn’t sustainable,” she recalls thinking. “I wanted to create space to produce something more personal and less ephemeral.”
Renowned for her technique-driven menu at Mission Chinese Food, where she was an executive chef for 6 years, Dimayuga has become a culinary activist with a vision to transform the food landscape into a space for art and political action. Her bold refusal of promotion from IvankaTrump.com, her dinners celebrating progressive nonprofits like the ACLU and Performance Art Space, further endeared her to the culinary and arts communities. She was championed by Anthony Bourdain, who told ChefsFeed, “If you were to appoint an official ambassador—someone with the juice, the trust, the confidence— to open a place serving Filipino food, I think she would be a good advocate.” It wasn’t until experiencing the loss of two critical mentors in succession, Bourdain and her grandmother, that she considered what her own legacy might be. With a renewed sense of purpose, she began focusing on a more personal project: a cookbook honoring her heritage and identity as a queer, lesbian Filipinx-American. She already had someone in mind for the project.
When Times food journalist Ligaya Mishan sought her out for a piece on Asian-American chefs in 2017, Dimayuga found an ally, and particularly one who could relate to the multicultural nuances of her own experience. “I was already a fan of Ligaya’s columns in Hungry City,” and “seeing her work meant that she was committed to the quest,” she told me. “At the time, I didn’t even realize she was also Filipino.” Later, when Dimayuga was approached to present “10 Essential Filipino Recipes” for The New York Times in October 2019, she asked Mishan to collaborate. The result was a thoughtfully compiled suite of time-honored classics referencing Dimayuga’s mother’s collection, and older cookbooks highlighting flavors from other regions in the Philippines—each articulated through personal storytelling. The piece was enough to land a deal with a publisher.
For the first time, Dimayuga would be able to focus on one project. However, what she didn’t anticipate was that they would start writing the book in lockdown, with Mishan in New York and Dimayuga stuck in the Cayman Islands. “I was cooking food meant for groups of people and feeling disconnected from family and friends,” Dimayuga told me.
In a moment when an entire global community was dispersed and isolated from loved ones, accessing the real meaning of the project was of even more significant consequence. “The whole book is an interesting journey of us going back to our heritage,” said Mishan, noting that even the graphic design incorporates ancient Filipino tattoos. “From the beginning, Angela and I didn’t want it to just be a cookbook. We wanted it to tell the story of this experience of being part of a Filipino diaspora in America.”
While Filipinx: Heritage Recipes from the Diaspora includes traditional Filipino dishes like Sinigang, Dimayuga shares her own innovations. Following a more typical Sinigang recipe, Dimayuga alters it to create a vegan version—adapted from an incident in a hotel room while waiting for an evacuation flight during the pandemic. After reading a book by one of her favorite Filipino writers, Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, Dimayuga craved the “bracingly sour brothy flavor” of the dish. “Normally, it’s soured by Tamarind, but you can use other things as souring agents, like pineapple, different citruses, or tomatoes.” With an instant red miso soup packet, a tomato, a lemon, and a hotel kettle, she set out to reproduce the taste of umami with what was available. “Everyone has their own idea of what these recipes are, based on what their mom does; everyone thinks they have the right recipe,” she told me. “That’s why we were excited to name it Filipinx. It’s a term that’s specific to me. It comes from my experience growing up in the Bay Area and in a predominantly Mexican and Filipino area. My hope is that naming it as such, and naming a diaspora, will create a spaciousness for people to know that all of their recipes are important.” From dishes inspired by her childhood to the stories of cultural leaders within the Filipino diaspora—like novelist Jessica Hagedorn and the standout interview with transgender advocate and director Geena Rocero—Filipinx feels less like a container for recipes and more like a complex vehicle for the exchange of ideas.