How I Melbourne: Fides Mae Santos-Arguelles

Published on 26 February 2020

Photo: Fides wearing a woven item by Anthill Fabric Gallery.

Fides Mae Santos-Arguelles is a co-founder of The Entree.Pinays, a Filipino food and cultural advocacy group of enterprising Filipinas who volunteer their skills in business, design, storytelling, community building and hospitality to collectively promote the cuisine and culture of their motherland. Fides and her collaborators – who include Grace Guinto, Felis Sarcepuedes, Kristina Naráy, Sandra Tan and Maysie Lecciones – presented a debut event series, BARRIO, for the 2019 program of Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, which was a sell-out success as well as an unprecedented celebration of Filipino food in the festival’s 28-year history. For this year’s festival, The Entree.Pinays are delivering three events. Cakes and Chikahan is a dessert degustation and conversation over nine Filipino desserts featuring a red-hot line-up of Aussie-Filipino talent; the sold-out Barrio Laneway Fiesta brings together the best of Melbourne and Filipino culture; and Barrio Rising Stars Dinner features two young cooking talents, JP Anglo and Ross Magnaye, going back to back in a celebration of contemporary Filipino cuisine. When she’s not working on strategic partnerships and business development for the Pinays, Fides uses her background in government, business-to-business marketing and economic development to run her own consulting practice.

I know I’m in Melbourne when I can take a 20-minute walk from one end of the city to the other and be immersed in so many different sights, smells and sounds along the way. I always discover a new concept store, eatery, art installation or pop-up, and in amongst the bustle, I can usually find a café, park or cultural space to pause.

My defining food moment in Melbourne was learning that Filipinos are the fifth-largest group of Australians born overseas, and the third-largest Asian migrant group after Chinese and Indians, yet our cuisine is comparatively underrepresented. Our advocacy and community work aims to change this. Over the last 12-18 months the Filipino food movement has gained a lot of traction. We’re seeing seasoned Filipino chefs like Migo Razon at Platform 270 featuring Filipino flavours on menus, exciting popups like 23 John Street and Boba Bar Melbourne and the opening of new establishments by a wave of next-gen enterprising Filipino-Australians. Plus mainstream media and food writers are now sharing the story of our cuisine and culture, promoting our events and inviting the community to the party. It’s an exciting time.

There’s no better value in Melbourne than the baguettes at Waffle On in Degraves Street, served by the charismatic owner and French native Marc Laucher. Over more than a decade, this tiny venue has progressively gained popularity and become a favourite among locals and city workers. My favourite is Le Parisien: gruyère, ham, French pickles and mustard.

When I want to go crazy on a meal, I’ll prepare a kamayan feast for family and friends.This communal-style Filipino feast is eaten with your hands and composed of a colourful spread of food. I like to serve grilled meat and seafood like prawns and squid, steamed vegetables and rice, tropical fruits, and of course a range of sawsawan (or condiments), all presented on banana leaves. It’s truly a feast for the senses, and invites connection and conversation - it’s the way Filipinos like to eat.

The best new thing I’ve found is Migrant Coffee in West Footscray for a fresh brew and bagel fix. Try the Pastrami Mami bagel with Swiss cheese, seeded mustard, Five & Dime’s cream cheese and the house-made atchara, a Filipino pickle of green papaya. The enterprising owner, Aussie-Filipina Melodee Malazarte, has turned what was an empty and neglected space into one that’s considered and welcoming. Across the road, Chibog is run by another Aussie-Filipina, Janine Barican Le, who’s swapped her nursing scrubs for aprons. Two great reasons to visit this emerging community on the westside!

When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to take them on a personalised walking tour of the city that I love, meandering through backstreets and laneways, arcades and heritage buildings. If I can, I’ll take the opportunity to introduce them to the people behind some of the city’s hidden gems and long-standing small businesses. It’s the local experience from a local. Does it get any better than that?   

In the mornings you’ll find me caught up in the rush of getting kids out of bed, fed, and dropped off at school. My little boy especially isn’t the toast or cereal kind so it’s always handy when there’s leftover dinner from the night before, like sinigang, a sour tamarind soup from the Philippines with tender meat and a variety of vegetables that’s eaten with steamed rice. It’s a family favourite and, yes, the kids will have it for breakfast.

My favourite Filipino sweet treat is polvoron, a dessert made of toasted flour, milk powder, butter and sugar, wrapped in colourful tissue paper or cellophane. It comes in flavours like cashew or ube, but my fave ispinipig: immature rice grains that are pounded until they are flat then toasted. It has a lovely flavour and crunch. Grace Guinto of The Entree.Pinays and owner of catering company Sweet Cora will be offering her interpretation of polvoronat our Cakes and Chikahan event during Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Chikahan means “gossip” in Filipino, and who doesn’t love a bit of chit-chat over cake?

You have to buy a ticket to the Barrio Rising Stars dinner because you'll not only experience an exclusive, one-off festival menu created by our star chefs Ross Magnaye and JP Anglo, you’ll also become part of our barrio. Ross and JP will bring their shared Filipino heritage to the hearts and minds of each diner. Come along, eat curiously and join our call to action that Filipino cuisine deserves its rightful place on the global table. Kain na – let's eat!

If you looked in my fridge, you might be surprised to find frozen cubes of calamansi juice which I use for marinades or a refreshing drink or hot tea. Calamansi is a Philippine lime that’s common in traditional and modern Filipino cuisine but not commercially available at scale here. For our events, we often harvest from my 30-year-old calamansi tree in my backyard. It was planted by my parents to mark our first family home in Melbourne, and it’s become a beloved symbol and connection to our motherland.

The last awesome Victorian thing I drank was a Summerfield Winery Reserve cabernet sauvignon from 2010. The winery is located in Moonambel and has been run by the same family for more than 40 years. We came across it during a family weekend away and loved the taste of the wines and the family’s simple and honest hospitality. There are so many fantastic wines made here and we make it a priority to offer Victorian wines where possible at our events.

My local is Journal Canteen, upstairs from Journal on Flinders Lane, because it serves as a central base when I’m working on my current consulting project. Stephanie knows my preferences, the service is thoughtful and efficient, plus their salads are pretty darn good. You'll often see owner Johnny behind the coffee machine at Journal - he’s one of the hardest working people around.

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be for Filipino cuisine to become a bigger part of Melbourne’s renowned and evolving multicultural food scene. I’d like our cuisine to be more visible, represented by more establishments and culinary talent, and present in more dishes or on entire menus.

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the support of our multicultural communities, and the curiosity and willingness of Melburnians to welcome, learn and experience new cuisines and cultures. Not only is food necessary for survival, it also has the ability to serve as a peace offering or a moment to be thankful, or to strike up conversation between strangers, conjure nostalgic experiences and create new ones. Through food The Entree.Pinays are building a community; we are building a barrio.

Find out more about work of The Entree.Pinays at entreepinays.com or on Instagram: @entree.pinays.

See them in action next month at Cakes & Chikahan on 23 March or the BARRIO Rising Stars Dinner Series on 25 and 26 March.
Tickets are on sale now.

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