After launching her first restaurant dedicated to Filipino cuisine, Zenaida Vannaying didn’t wait long to make her next move.
Only a few months after opening the doors to Lola’s Kitchen on Sukhumvit Road, the 66-year-old Pinoy businesswoman said pandemic conditions made the time ripe for another serving the best of her motherland’s cuisine, culture and lifestyle.
“So many Filipinos cannot go home during this tough time,” said Vannaying, who’s lived 40 years in Thailand and also owns hotels here and in Pattaya, among other businesses.
Inside one of those properties, a five-star boutique hotel on Sri Ayutthaya Road, her latest Filipino restaurant has a mission to boost Filipino spirits – thus its name, Viva Filipinas (“Long Live the Philippines,” in Spanish).
Though the archipelago’s cuisine hasn’t electrified the world and is less well-known than others from Southeast Asia, the newly opened restaurant brings to the table not just the dishes that define the country but also a wealth of its history and culture.
Step out of the elevator onto the fourth floor of the Akara Hotel and one is greeted by a large, family-style dining hall filled with rattan chairs, colorful velvet sofas and muraled walls. The counter, where patrons sit and watch their dishes being prepared, is painted like a Jeepney, the infamously kitsch vehicles that get people around Philippine cities (Filipino-American comedian Jo Koy calls them “Uber OG”).
As for the authenticity of the food, diners will find typical Filipino dishes (like chicken adobo and kare kare) and other lesser-known comfort fare.
Among the highlights are classic appetizer Lumpiang Sariwa (THB140) – vegetarian-friendly spring rolls filled with coconut shoots and mixed vegetables topped with savory brown sauce and peanuts – and Sisig (THB240), a sizzling plate of chopped T-bone beef seasoned with onions, chili peppers, gravy sauce and calamansi. Late celeb chef Anthony Bourdain praised sisig, a staple of the Philippines’ Kapampangan people, as “perfectly positioned to win the hearts and minds of the world as a whole.”
Those who like spicy and sour Thai Tom Yum won’t be disappointed by what’s essentially a sour (without any of the heat) version, Sinigang na Salmon (THB290). A delectable bowl of fresh salmon fillet, it’s served in a sour broth of tangy tamarind combined with tomatoes, radishes and other vegetables.
For dessert, try the traditional rice cakes called Bibingka (THB140). A popular Christmas eat, it’s a delicate cake made with rice, salted eggs, cheese, coconut and milk, all served warm on pandan leaves.
Next to the restaurant zone is a red-saturated bar called Club Escolta where bartenders shake and stir signature Filipino-style cocktails (many featuring calamansi!): the Viva Margarita (tequila, Cointreau, calamansi juice and sugar cane), Calamansi Spritzer (gin, sparkling wine, calamansi juice and sugar syrup) and Le Mango Stiletto (Mango juice, fresh mango, Cointreau and sparkling water). All signature cocktails are THB290.
Apart from dining and drinking, the venue also hosts weekly events such as street food buffets, a Sunday Jeepney buffet and a Sabado (Saturday) party featuring drag performances and more.
Viva Filipinas is located on the fourth floor of Akara Hotel Bangkok on Phayathai Road. It’s open 11am until late every day.
4th floor, Akara Hotel, Sri Ayutthaya Road
Opens 11am onwards, every day
BTS: Phaya Thai
Phone: 064 614 4075
This article, Taste the Pinoy life, culture, cuisine at Bangkok’s ‘Viva Filipinas’, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!