Back in December, on the eve of our first proper snow-fall, I tramped through the slushy streets of Greenpoint on a mission to experience my first ‘Salo‘, an underground Filipino supper hosted by Greenpointers’ very own wonder-chef Yana Gilbuena.
I stepped out of the frosty night air to find a glowing interior, a long table wrapped in banana leaves and a gang of friendly strangers – sharing wine and inhaling delicious cooking aromas.
At the far end of the room was Yana, presiding over the stove with relaxed ease and turning out course after course of exquisite Filipino food, served direct onto the banana leaves and eaten with our hands, Kamayan style.
Over the next couple of hours we feasted on glistening domes of sticky garlic rice, excellent ceviche, whole baked fish (with THE BEST dipping sauce), hunks of roast chicken, and a marvelous wobbly pumpkin flan. When the night came to an end not only had we made new friends and eaten like kings, but had also experienced a whole new way to dine.
Well now, one month on, Yana has unveiled big plans for Salo. She has given up her flat, sold-off all her belongings and is about to make off around the country on The Salo 50-State Tour. That’s 50 states, 50 weeks and 50 Filipino pop-up dinners!
Traveling around the country is one thing, traveling around with a backpack by public transport and attempting to host a huge dinner party in a new state each week is quite another. To help her on her way she has just launched a support campaign on Indiegogo, funds of which will go towards travel costs and documenting the epic journey with friend and filmmaker Cassandra Sicre.
We caught up with Yana to hear more about Salo and learn how her crazy idea is about to become an epic reality!
GP: Where is the word Salo from and what does it mean?
YG: Salo, in my native language of Tagalog, is a derivative of the word “Salu-salo” meaning big party or gathering. Salo, with a different inflection, may mean “catch”. Hence, my tagline: To catch and to gather.
GP: How did Salo come about?
YG: I started Salo because I missed the flavors of home. I grew up in a city called Iloilo, in the island of Panay in the Philippines. Even nine years after moving away, I still craved the Filipino taste, so decided to recreate it by hosting underground dinners featuring the flavors of all three regions of the Philippines.
GP: How and when did you learn to cook?
YG: My first memory of learning to cook was when I was about five. I was a hyperactive only child so they had to keep me busy. The only way to do that was to assign me to help out with the cooks in the kitchen. Also, my aunt really liked to cook, so I learned a lot from her growing up.
GP: What is the aim of the Salo 50 State Tour?
YG: I hope to be able to create awareness about Filipino cuisine at the same time as raising some funds to donate to the contingency relief plan for the typhoon victims in the Philippines. I’m also keen to broaden people’s palates. I hope that America will get a taste for the Philippines, not just the food, but the culture too.
GP: What cooking utensils are you taking and what will be on the menu?
I’ve got rid of all my possessions and am only taking my knives! Although I did find a very handy bamboo pot scraper from Eataly the other day that I know will come in useful for cleaning my rice pot. As for the menu, I will be tailoring it according to what’s local and seasonal each in place. I will be making a mini-cookbook for each state with the recipes I’ll be using.
GP: How are plans for your route shaping up?
YG: I’m planning a route that will allow me to chase summer! I want to travel light and have minimal impact. My goal is to have only seven pieces of clothing and live in them for a year. I’ll be starting in Key West and ending in Hawaii, criss-crossing across the states. I’ll be posting the route and tour dates on my website.
GP: What will the Indiegogo funds pay for?
YG: We will be traveling minimally, using only Amtrak and Greyhound and crashing on people’s couches for an entire year, so the money that we raise from Indiegogo will be used for travel, event production and documentation and to help us finish this project in 50 weeks.
GP: What does Salo mean to you on a personal level?
YG: I really feel that I’ve found my passion in life: bringing people together through food. I love the fact that their lives wouldn’t have intersected if not for that one dinner and how everyone becomes like a big family at the end of the night. After this tour I hope to take Salo to other countries too. I want to keep spreading the love as that, after all, is the Brooklyn way!
Yana’s Salo 50-State Tour begins in March.
Holler to your friends across the country and let them know Yana and her knives are on their way. And be sure to check out her Indiegogo campaign, lend your support, and spread the Salo word!