Filipino Hand-Held Food on the Lower East Side

by Bobby Weiss
December 4, 2022

To stroll through the Philippines is like strolling through a food court with dishes and snacks from all corners of the globe. In one spot you might find empanadas while in another dumplings. You could get pizza with unique toppings at the end of the street, or meringue cakes with pistachios right next to it. Although this article will not provide a historical deep dive as to why the Filipino culture surrounding food is what it currently is, it has been shaped by centuries of global influences, scarcity of resources and the Filipinos’ natural fondness for living communally with nature and one another.

Pork & Ube Slider

This is where Kalye, a Filipino-owned restaurant, comes into play. Kalye brings Filipino-inspired cuisines to New York and offers a taste of the Philippines right here on the Lower East Side. This new restaurant was created by the couple, Rob and Hen Mallari-D’Auria.

“What makes Kalye a unique gastronomic destination is our introduction of the Filipino hand-held food concept. Everything is consumed by hand. Hence, we curated Filipino favorites that are easily consumable in the same way that you can eat a slice of pizza or a burger without the need of utensils,” said Rob (a lawyer who hails from Manila.) Rob has a passion for traditional home cooking. He learned his mother’s recipes and made them his own by adding modern touches to classic Filipino dishes like lumpia, siomai and empanada.

Pork BBQ

Rob and his husband Hen have been working for almost two years on this concept. Ron and Hen (a portfolio manager born in Connecticut,) are self-confessed New Yorkers. Their love for the city is tied to their own New York love story. As a couple living in the city before the COVID pandemic hit, finding themselves in the middle of the empty Times Square in the early 2020 is the impetus to building Kalye from dream to reality. Their combined interest in food and art coincided with their love for the city and gave birth to the concept of Kalye as both a place of community around good food and inspiring artworks.

Working with Hen on their vision for Kalye makes Rob feel more connected to his roots while bringing something valuable not only to the local Filipino community but also to the food scenes in New York.

Hen, on the other hand, has a keen eye for artwork that speaks to him. As an avid collector of art, Hen wanted to showcase his beloved pieces in Kalye and share this passion with others. By curating a selection of artwork from independent artists and young creatives, Hen has found a way to bring the spirit of New York alive in Kalye.

It bears emphasis that the paintings displayed at the restaurant are for sale. The artists, who are members of a non-profit organization that Kalye has a partnership with, receive all the proceeds of any sales. The restaurant does not charge any fees or collect any commission for promoting their artwork or making a sale.

But back to food. Kalye’s menu features their pioneering batch of hero products – the Ube pork sliders (Ube buns with caramelized onions, swiss cheese and “pinakurat” aioli,) chicken “inasal” wings (marinated in native spices, lemongrass and vinegar,) lumpia shanghai (pork springroll) and beef empanada (butter-crust pies filled with ground beer, carrots, peas, raisins, paprika and spices.)

Pork Shumai

For sweets they serve Ube flan (purple yum with leche flan) and sans rival (dacquoise made of toasted cashew meringue with buttercream) and the famous Ube Pao (ube-flavored steamed buns filled with ube jam made with with the milky triumvirate of coconut milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk.

Ube Flan Cake

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