When I reflect back on the lunch I had on Friday, I realize how much has changed since my college cafeteria days. I intentionally made a point to visit UC Berkeley’s student union dining room for What’s Poppin’, A Pop-Up Dining Adventure. For the month of March, three female and minority chefs from San Francisco’s incubator kitchen, La Cocina each have a space to showcase cuisine from their diverse backgrounds. I went to campus with some friends and tried food from each spot.
Chef Binita Pradhan runs Bini’s Kitchen specializing in food from Nepal. Fans seek out her fresh made momos or dumplings. We sampled the vegetarian combo which included kwati, jeera rice pulao, and momos. Kwati is a traditional Nepalese soup mixed with nine different beans. It was thick like a stew and very comforting. The jeera rice pulao is a cumin flavored basmati rice that was cooked perfectly. My favorite part of the combination meal were the plump, fresh, and juicy momos topped with a spicy tomato cilantro sauce. Check out the Bini’s Kitchen website for more ways to access those momos.
Mixiote is a style of Mexican cooking where meats and vegetables are traditionally marinated, wrapped, and slow cooked. It’s also the name of Chef Alma Rodriguez’s business. I was lucky to have attended a wedding last year where she and her team catered some delicious food. To see her have a spot in the dining room was a happy sight. Their pop up menu allows for a choice of pork, chicken, or veggies served on hand made tortillas or rice bowls. We had the pork tacos which were topped with a roasted pumpkin seed sauce. These were hearty, tender, and very flavorful. Our luck was upon us because they specially made taquitos that day. These fried tacos were stuffed with potatoes and were delicious. Stay tuned and follow @MixioteSF on Instagram because word on the street is she’s raising funds for her first brick and mortar.
I have been following Chef Aileen Suzara’s journey for awhile, since she was a Public Health student at UC Berkeley. Sariwa means fresh in Tagalog and Chef Suzara’s mission is to bring healthy Filipino food to the forefront.

We tried a variety of food at Sariwa including the amazing homemade vegetarian lumpias filled with sweet potato and vegetables. The lunch bowls allow for a choice of mains including chicken adobo and coconut tofu and pumpkin and choice of vegetable side dishes. I was bummed the coconut tofu and pumpkin entree was sold out as it is the menu item that characterizes Sariwa most. At the same time, it’s proving that Chef Suzara is making a difference in the way people perceive Filipino food and it’s all coming full circle. Read more about her story in a recent interview by Bon Appetit.
This month’s What’s Poppin’ is not only a great opportunity for rising female and minority chefs, but it’s a great way for students to explore new, diverse, and healthy cuisines. These three pop-ups are serving lunch M-F. Contact the MLK Jr Student Union for more information and their hours. Address: 2495 Bancroft Way Berkeley, CA. Phone: 510-664-7976.

Irenia: Filipino Cuisine in the O.C.

Tonight I had a craving for Filipino food. I have been thinking about a recent lunch that my best friend and I had in Santa Ana, California. I had bookmarked Irenia when I was doing my research on places to eat near Disneyland. Los Angeles food critic Jonathon Gold had included Irenia on a list of Best Restaurants in Los Angeles. Irenia was only a handful of restaurants located in Orange County so my curiousity was piqued.

We were on holiday, so cocktails during lunch was a no brainer. My BFF got the Purple Drank which was made with gin, coconut rum, ube, and pineapple. Although it wasn’t on the menu, I was able to get a Petite Colada. There is definitely something about drinking from a coconut that sends warm vacation vibes.

Our waiter recommended the Dilis, baby anchovies. I don’t know why I was surprised when a bowl of hundreds of tiny fried anchovies were set in front of us. How bad could it be if they are fried right? Right, because I actually really enjoyed these delicacies. It came with some vinegar to dip them in, which I didn’t really need. It was a fun snack that I kept munching on.
I ordered the Chicken Inasal rice bowl. The pan roasted chicken thigh came with sautéed Chinese broccoli and zucchini. The grilled chicken had a nice crispness and the flavor was out of this world. I definitely could taste a mix of vinegar and soy, like you would find in adobo.
My BFF ordered the pancit which was described as egg noodles with a soft boiled egg, chicken skin chiccharron, fried garlic, and scallion. It didn’t taste like pancit that we are accustomed to. I think it was the sauce that was problematic. The flavors were one dimensional and fell flat. She let the waiter know it wasn’t what she expected and did not like it. He explained that there were different varieties of pancit, but offered to have the kitchen make her something else. Since we had some time constraints, she declined.
To make up for the dish, our waiter brought us a dessert on the house. The ube brown sugar pie was a nice way to end the meal. Ube is a purple yam. The pie offered a nice caramelization and the fresh whipped cream lightened up the sweetness.
Irenia offers some very traditional Filipino dishes with a modern twist. Minus the pancit, I thought Irenia was excellent. Looking at the full menu, it’s very clear that they aren’t afraid to use vegetables which I can appreciate from a restaurant serving Filipino cuisine. If you are near Santa Ana, I would recommend a visit to Irenia.

Lunar New Year is February 16 and this year it will be the Year of the Dog. My BFF had mentioned to me that Disneyland has special festivities to celebrate the holiday and we should go since we were born in the Year of the Dog. The festivities are actually held at Disney California Adventure Park from January 26 – February 18. We packed a bag and set out for Anaheim last week.  Most of the Lunar New Year activities were held in the area known as Paradise Pier. The first thing we went to do was to check out the kiosk to shop for Lunar New Year merchandise. It was disappointing to find out that they were already sold out of the commemorative pins. It was only Day 4! They did have special Mickey ears, t-shirts, snow globes, key chains, and lucky red envelopes for sale.

It was cool that they had food stands serving food from different Asian countries that celebrate Lunar New Year. My BFF and I would attempt to try as many food items as we could. We first stopped at the Korea marketplace. We got the Yachae Mandu which are steamed vegetable dumplings with a sesame-garlic soy sauce. These dumplings tasted like they were from the frozen section of an Asian supermarket. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t very good.
We also tried the Korean dessert, Yang Gaeng, which is a sweet red bean and raspberry jelly. This dessert was beautiful with the gold flake topping. I had a couple of bites and thought it was pretty tasty.
Our next stop was the China marketplace. I picked up an order of Xiao Long Bao (pork soup dumplings), Sanbeiji (three cup chicken), and a Dan Ta (egg tart). The soup in the dumpling had evaporated and the chicken luckily came with rice to offset the salt and sauciness. The egg tart was the best thing I ate that day. It tasted more like the custard pie that I have fond memories of getting from San Francisco Chinatown.
We picked up a Banh Khoai Lang Tim from the Vietnamese marketplace. The purple sweet potato macaron was gigantic and quite good. The texture was crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
One of the highlights of the day was Mulan’s Lunar New Year Procession with dancing and performances.

The star of the show was Goofy who looked amazing all dressed up.
Speaking of dressing up, we also got to see Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto in Asian attire.

The finale was a special evening water show called Hurry Home.
There are still two more weeks of the Lunar New Year celebration at Disney California Adventure. If you are a Disney fan, I would recommend it. I would suggest skipping the savory foods from the Asian marketplace, but make sure to pick up some desserts.