Ever since Kapwa Gardens opened last April, the SOMA Pilipinas cultural district has been booming. The outdoor, multi-use Filipino cultural events space has been bustling with activity, hosting a variety of classes that get your blood pumping — like yoga, boxing, and self-defense — on a weekly basis. Additionally, an 8-restaurant food festival, titled “Not Your Mama’s Adobo,” will populate the square from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. this Sunday, June 13.
But it’s a virtual event, broadcast monthly from the cultural district, that is bridging the gap between the Filipino hub’s pandemic and post-pandemic worlds. A series of live-streamed cooking classes, organized by the groups Filipinos Feed the Frontlines and SOMCAN, bring top chefs from across the Bay Area to teach audience members how to cook healthy versions of their signature delicious dishes. This coming Thursday, June 17, Deanna Sison of Mestiza and Little Skillet will teach attendees how to cook a classic chicken tinola, a bok choy-heavy soup dish with a delicious, ginger-y broth. The event will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom, and interested attendees should make a free reservation online to receive the Zoom link.
The events not only prioritize healthy eating in response to a worldwide plague. They also elevate communal wellness and cultural visibility as San Francisco reemerges from a prolonged period of isolation.
“I feel like most people only know Filipino cuisine as being very pork and carb heavy,” says Sison. “That’s a shame, because there is such an abundance of amazing fruits, vegetables, seafood, and grains that we don’t often see represented. So, it’s nice to shine a little light on the healthier side of Filipino Food.”
Filipinos Feed the Frontlines is a project started by Kultivate Labs, which is a nonprofit economic accelerator focused on revitalizing the South of Market area. After San Francisco began sheltering-in-place last Spring, Filipinos Feed the Frontlines began pooling donations so they could order meals from local restaurants and deliver them to the elderly, low and middle-income communities, and frontline workers — stimulating the local economy and addressing hunger at the same time. The demos are broadcast from the new streaming hub at Balay Kreative, a burgeoning arts studio space and arts hub also created by Kultivate Labs in SOMA Pilipinas.
SOMCAN, which stands for the “South of Market Community Action Network,” is co-hosting the demos along with Filipinos Feed the Frontlines. The organization was founded in 2000, after the Dot Com boom suddenly increased the cost of living in the South of Market neighborhood. They fight to preserve affordability and visibility for the neighborhood’s Filipino residents, often through political and community advocacy.
Healthy eating is a shared goal for both groups, who are well aware of the high rates of diabetes and cholesterol in the Filipino community. The two conditions not only put one at high-risk for COVID-19, but also generate cardiovascular issues in a community that is otherwise less obese than the rest of the population. In a 2017 study, for example, 44 percent of regular-weight South Asians had two or more metabolic abnormalities.
“Food is Healing,” asserts Sison. Health has always been a mainstay in her family, she says, and her mother painstakingly taught her the nutrients and flavor offered by every ingredient she cooked with. Hosting her class, Sison draws on that same knowledge and instinct to nurture. “If a meal can be truly delicious, as well as nourishing, nutritious, and make you feel good — well, that’s the ultimate eating experience,” she says.