Finger-lickin’ good

Filipino food cart brings weekly Kamayan dinners to new brick-and-mortar

All hands at the table for Kamayan night.

All hands at the table for Kamayan night.

photo by ken smith

Inday’s Filipino Food
1043 W. Eighth St.
Kamayan Saturday night dinners, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Reservations required.

The Republic of the Philippines is located some 500 miles off the coast of Southeast Asia. Inday’s Filipino Food is likewise remote, located on West Eighth Street in a part of town one would more expect to find a good upholstery shop than a good restaurant.

In fact, visiting the new eatery on a recent Saturday evening, I might have missed the place altogether had it not been for the familiar Inday’s Filipino Food Cart parked out front, closed and locked into travel configuration. The brick-and-mortar extension of the cart is the latest adventure in food service for John “Crazy Dog” and Ethel “Inday” Geiger.

The Inday’s cart is not just distinctive for its excellent Filipino food, but also because of its appearance, with bright colors and bamboo accents making it resemble a food stand that could be found on some distant beach in Ethel’s native Philippines. This ambiance is amplified tenfold at the physical store. The building is painted tropical style, bright red with even brighter yellow trim, and looks more like a home than a business, down to the two kids sitting on a boat stowed in the rear carport.

The restaurant’s interior is even more striking. Every detail—just four tables covered in banana leaves, a handmade door alarm made from re-purposed metal tools, plastic geckos perched on walls and lampshades, coconuts with charred edges fashioned into serving bowls—is meant to make diners feel far from the familiar.

Saturday nights at Inday’s, the food is served Kamayan-style (i.e., everyone eats with their hands). There is a set menu, which during our visit included vegetarian pancit (noodles), pan-fried shrimp, BBQ baboy (boneless pork) and white rice, and the whole lot is served on one huge platter, sans utensils ($15 per person). A bowl of sauce is served with a single pepper crushed on the side, allowing diners to make their meal as spicy as they want (warning: they’re potent, and a little goes a long way).

Ethel holds down the kitchen while John acts as server. The Geiger kids also pitch in, and came in from their break on the boat to prepare a table for the next guests. John is also the guy who teaches everyone to eat with their hands. He briefly advised us to mold little bowls out of rice, pile on some pancit and other items, then spoon sauce over the top.

My dining companions mastered this rather quick, but I ended up with rivulets of sauce running from my wrists to elbows, rice noodles down the front of my shirt and rice in my hair. My situation worsened when I absentmindedly touched my face at some point during the meal, spreading invisible residual pepper essence into my nose and eyes. A quick trip to the restroom to splash some water on my face and a delicious (and surprisingly smooth, for 8 percent alcohol) Red Horse Beer (brewed in the Philippines) set me right as rain in a forest in Luzon.

Our food was exceptional. The BBQ baboy was delicious, like eating a half-rack of ribs without the pesky bones, and the shrimp were perfectly blackened (and cooked with skins intact, so be sure to peel ’em). The lumpia were filled mostly with deliciously seasoned ground pork, with just a few vegetables, the ratios pretty much inverted compared to most egg rolls. Afterward, three of us shared two different deserts, delectable slices of chocolate and mango maja (pudding).

Burning sensations aside, the food was terrific, as was the entire experience. Kamayun dining at Inday’s is more than a good meal and an interesting cultural experience, it’s like being fully immersed in an experiential folk art installation. For the time being, Inday’s is open only on Saturday evenings for dinner, and reservations are required. It’s well worth the effort.