The Underrated “Upo”
It is estimated that Filipinos make up more than 4 percent of the population of the state of Nevada. Of the 98,000 Filipinos in the state, about 86,000 live in Clark County which includes the city of Las Vegas. From 2000 to 2010, the state’s Filipino population soared 142 percent. It is therefore not surprising that Las Vegas has a good number of restaurants that cater to the Pinoy population — like Pinoy Pinay restaurant.
Located on East Sahara Avenue, about 6 miles from The Strip, this fast-food and catering place is one of several Filipino-owned or themed businesses in a strip mall. Don’t be deceived by this photo of the restaurant. It is not as desolate at it may seem. In fact, when I visited the place at lunch time, it took me almost twenty minutes standing in line to place my order. But no big deal. While waiting, I was treated to a bit of entertainment, particularly when one customer ordered some breakfast that included eggs. “How do you like your eggs,” the server asked in the ever-familiar Filipino accent. “Poached,” said the customer. The server repeated to the customer, making sure he heard correctly, “Post?” For a full minute, all that the customers waiting in line heard was a back- and- forth between “poached” and “post” and “posh.” Finally the server asked, “do you mean sunny side up?” The customer finally gave up and said, “why don’t you make that scrambled instead.” Laughter. Then one other customer commented, “lots of them poached eggs in the casinos!”
I came in for the lechon kawali (pan-roasted pork) in the hope of satisfying a craving I’ve had for a couple of weeks now. But what caught my eye and taste buds was their guisadong upo, or sauteed white squash. It is not often that one encounters this dish in a Filipino fast food restaurant — not as often as one would see long beans, potatoes, eggplant or cabbage on the menu. I haven’t had upo in a long time since this vegetable is not readily available at mainstream groceries or supermarkets. It’s a simple dish cooked with fresh tomatoes and tiny shrimp, or in some cases, ground pork. It was absolutely delicious and juicy (almost like broth) and it complemented my order of lechon kawali.
As for the lechon, it wasn’t bad at all. I expected less because it wasn’t “made to order” so to speak. It was, like the rest of their menu, pre-cooked, cut and was sitting in the food warmer, although not for long. What surprised me was that it was so crispy, a quality you will not find in many fast-food places serving this dish. See MyBayKitchen’s version of lechon kawali.
So, all in all, my first adventure into Filipino ethnic food in Las Vegas, was a positive experience. When in Vegas, think outside The Strip!