Ellie Tiglao’s foray into pop-up dining was borne out of an innate reaction: If you can’t find it, make it.
After moving from California to Boston for a career in neuroscience, Tiglao wasn’t satisfied with the Filipino food available in Boston, and missed the traditional dishes she relished as a child at her father’s restaurant. In August 2014, she launched Pamangan, a Filipino pop-up restaurant that, four years later, has morphed into her latest project: Tanám, which is scheduled to officially open to the public at Bow Market in February (though soft openings are currently being held for community investors).
“It’s funny how a pop-up works,” Tiglao said. “It’s like exercising. You’re figuring out how much you can do with limited resources.”
The evenings are about more than pancit, fried pork belly, and sticky rice — they’re about a narrative experience, Tiglao explained. A central theme is incorporated into every dinner (a past pop-up topic, for example, centered around grandmothers), and tickets to an event include a zine and a take-home box filled with recipes and objects related to the theme.
After experimenting with both the numbers of guests and dishes at her pop-ups, Tiglao has settled on an intimate figure of 10 guests at two seated dinners each night at the Bow Market space. Diners will eat together around a communal table, taking in four to six courses during each ticketed event.
“I’m actually very introverted and shy,” Tiglao said. “This format has brought out the best in me, in terms of sharing stories.”
An outdoor bar is set to debut later this spring, serving Filipino bar snacks and cocktails.
The opening of Tanám is a victory for Filipino food in Boston, a cuisine that has taken off in other U.S. cities in the past few years but still hasn’t quite caught traction here. Tiglao said that while there isn’t a big Filipino chef community in Boston, the encouragement is there.
“A lot of people who have grown up here that are trying to bring Filipino food to the main stage are really supportive of each other,” she said. “But I really believe that once someone sees that it’s there, there’s a lot more interest in trying it. I’ve definitely heard someone say that a Halo Halo truck would be good, or a Filipino convenience store.” (Halo Halo is a traditional Filipino dessert made with shaved ice and evaporated milk).
Despite not finding the Filipino food of her childhood in Boston, Tiglao still believes in the city’s strong restaurant scene. She shared some of her favorite spots that she frequents when she’s not putting the finishing touches on Tanám, from where she gets her Tex Mex fix to the restaurant — and chef — that inspires her daily.
“Whenever I had family in town, I really loved taking them to Helmand in Cambridge. They do Afghan food. They have a huge oven in the middle of the dining room that’s fun to watch and have fresh bread coming out of the oven.”
“I always take joy in the small things that happen in regular places like pop-ups, working with artists who are doing really great stuff. There’s a place called Frugal Bookstore, and it’s a bookstore that has a lot of progressive-leaning books. They also host lots of events. Black Cotton Club, that place is really cool. And I used to be the arts director for a [coworking space] called Industry Lab. All of those things are under the radar too. …They all have programming, from comedy to art shows, that involve lots of different media.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the past year going to Waypoint [in Cambridge]. I mostly sit at the bar and have a cocktail that I find interesting, or that has [creative] ingredients that might work together.”
“I really love going to The Neighborhood [Restaurant & Bakery]. I used to go to Union Square specifically for The Neighborhood. I love sitting outside. Everyone knows what they’re going to eat.”
“[I miss] River Gods, a bar that used to exist on River Street in Cambridge. … It’s a shame and I hope a wake-up call to cities who claim to support small business but don’t work with developers to ensure that our cities’ businesses reflect and benefit the people who live there. We don’t want a Sweetgreen or Caffe Nero on every corner.”
Where’s the Mexican food?
“I come from California. We just have a thing about Mexican food. I hate to be a hater, but it’s something that I just haven’t found here. If anything, there are probably places in the suburbs and pockets where I should do more exploring. I have a friend, Amanda Escamilla, she’s doing a pop-up now calls Tex Mex Eats. She’s from Texas. She does food, mostly tamales, at markets, and Frito pie. It’s really good.”
“I feel like I spend a lot more time recently digging into the places that have been influential in Boston. It’s really not new but Wally’s [Café], there’s just so much history there. It’s so well respected. People know it and think of it fondly. I know some folks from Berkeley, and it’s great to see that there’s a place for those musicians to feel at home.”
“I have one place where I do spend a lot of time, particularly because the people are so great, which is Mei Mei. [Chef Irene Li] does great stuff there, and the food that she presents uses a lot of local produce. It’s really inspiring to me. I keep that in mind when I’m thinking about my food.”
Play together, stay together
“I’m really energized by people who share similar values with me. … I love [Dudley Cafe in Roxbury] because it [fosters] conversations with others, particularly with people who I share values with around intentional and culturally appropriate exploration of art and food that inspire me. Community organizers from all over Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville make it a point to stop in there and chat. It’s said that the movement that plays together, stays together, and Dudley Cafe is a space that makes room for that.”