A tour of Filipino food in Calgary

As an archipelago nation made up of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines offers a cuisine just as plentiful that is by turns sweet, sour, salty and rich. While it’s often said that the best Filipino food is homemade, not all of us are lucky enough to have a talented lola (grandma) in our lives. Fortunately, Calgary abounds with some great spots for tasty Filipino dishes, desserts and snacks.


Rise and Shine

Calgary’s obsession with brunch is well-established. Next time, instead of ordering your go-to dish, try a classic Filipino breakfast at Rise N’ Shine Breakfast Place. Tapsilog is a hefty plate of marinated cured beef, aromatic garlic rice and a fried egg. It’s enormously satisfying, and Rise N’ Shine Breakfast Place’s version comes with a fresh mango salsa to keep things tangy and bright.


Snack Attack

In between meals is merienda, a tradition of afternoon snacking brought to the Philippines by Spaniards during the colonial era. A popular merienda snack is ensaymada, a sweet, brioche-like bun topped with buttercream and mild grated cheese. Grated cheese on a sweet bun might seem strange at first, but it provides an extra depth and richness. In Calgary, The Red Box Gourmet bakes ensaymada daily and offers traditional and filled varieties—the ube, (purple yam) ensaymada is a must-try!

Another merienda snack is kakanin, which refers to desserts containing rice flour or glutinous rice. There are countless varieties, but Michael Pantoja, owner of Marcus Special Kakanin says that biko is his best seller in Calgary. It is impossible to keep your fingers clean when eating biko, a delicious glutinous rice cake with coconut milk and caramelized brown sugar, drenched in an additional layer of brown-sugar caramel. Sapin-sapin is an instantly recognizable kakanin, with its brightly colored layers of rice flour mixed with coconut milk and sugar. Pantoja’s version strikes the perfect sweet and chewy note and is dusted with toasted shredded coconut. Pantoja and his wife were laid off at the start of the COVID pandemic and started making kakanin using his parents’ recipes. Today, they have a thriving business and supply the Filipino supermarket, Seafood City, with their kakanin.

Roc's Grill Pancit

…Or is it Lunch?

Merienda snacks can be surprisingly filling, and pancit can be eaten as either a snack or part of a larger meal. Pancit refers to several noodle dishes, with pancit canton and pancit bihon both bearing a resemblance to Chinese stir-fried noodles but adapted with local ingredients and flavors. Pancit bihon is delightful in all its iterations and every family seems to have their own take. Roc’s Grill takes things one step further and adds bits of lechon, or whole roasted pig on top. Roc’s Grill’s pancit is a salty mix of stir-fried rice vermicelli noodles, thicker egg noodles, green beans, marinated chicken and carrots, but the star is undoubtedly the lechon, which is perfectly roasted to a crispy finish.

chopstix filipino restaurant

Ring the Dinner Bell

All that snacking leads us to dinner, where there are several outstanding options. Chopstix Filipino Restaurant offers up traditional dishes and regional favourites. La Paz Batchoy is a regional specialty hailing from the La Paz district of Iloilo City. It’s a hearty, deeply flavourful soup with a meaty broth, pork meat, offal and thick egg noodles, topped with pork cracklings, fried garlic, and onions — comfort food at its best. On the other end of the spectrum is fresh lumpia, which originates from the city of Silay. Also known as lumpiang sariwa, this dish features a mix of julienned vegetables and leafy lettuce covered with a thin crepe-like wrapper. This light, refreshing combination is topped with a brown garlic sauce and crushed peanuts.

For no-fuss homestyle cooking, look no further than family-owned Lola’s Filipino Kitchen. This unassuming take-out joint always has a counter full of traditional stews and soups, from the tomato-based pork menudo to the funky shrimp paste and coconut pork stew known as Bicol Express. Other Filipino classics include kare-kare, a peanut stew with beef and bok choy, and sisig, a chopped pork dish with onions, soya sauce, and chili peppers. Lola’s sisig is a standout, with a rich, smoky and spicy flavour. Sisig is traditionally paired with white rice, a squeeze of citrus and a cold beer, which is easy to understand after a few big bites of this spicy dish.

Buko pandan

Sweet Endings

Finally, for dessert, a plethora of choices fan out across the city. Halo-halo is arguably the most well-known Filipino dessert, a mix of crushed ice, mashed ube, flan, jelly, sweet corn, and ice cream, and Pacific Hut Restaurant’s version is a classic example. Buko pandan is an equally delicious dessert comprised of young coconut, condensed milk, and pandan-flavored jello and tapioca pearls. While famous for its fried chicken, international Filipino chain Max’s Restaurant also makes a solid buko pandan topped with coconut ice cream. To finish things off, try out Calgarian Abbey Claro’s Filipino-inspired ice cream flavors at her namesake ice cream parlour.

Take the Kain Tayo Tour

Rise N’ Shine Breakfast Place
2014 36th St. S.E. | 403.271.5170

The Red Box Gourmet
3725 Rundlehorn Dr. N.E. | 403.457.7269

Marcus Special Kakanin
3607 17th Ave. S.E.
403.991.6223 and 403.248.8429
Orders via phone and Facebook

Roc’s Grill
285 Shawville Blvd. S.E. 403.891.5158 | rocsgrill.ca

Chopstix Filipino Restaurant
5315 17th Ave. S.E. and 9679 Macleod Tr. S.W. 403.235.1682 and 403.251.0740

Lola‘s Filipino Kitchen
255 28th St. S.E. | 403.235.1210 lolasfilipinokitchen.com

Max’s Restaurant
3581 20th Ave. N.E. | 403.453.2111 maxsrestaurantna.com

Pacific Hut Restaurants and Bakeshop
3223 17th Ave. S.E. | 403.248.2466

Abbey’s Creations
Multiple Calgary locations