I grew up across the road from a Filipino family. They moved into our little cul de sac when I was in Year 2 or 3 and quickly became my second family. We played football/cricket/whatever sport we could (depending on the weather) and I remember having a crush on the daughters on and off throughout my whole childhood. But - most importantly - it introduced me to the food of another culture.
It used to really confuse me that their fridge was constantly stocked with all this amazing, interesting food and all the kids wanted to eat was spag bol. As a boy, I'd run across the road every afternoon to see what concoctions were stashed in their fridge - and also what I could convince them to let me pillage.
A lot of the time I'd be happy with just a bowl of steamed rice. For some reason, the rice they cooked tasted really amazing, especially compared to my mum's bland stodge. Keeping true to my whiteness, I'd often eat the rice with BBQ sauce.
As we grew up together, I'd try more and more Filipino dishes - featuring fish sauce, green mangos, adobo and things I can't even remember the name of. Then, a few years ago I was in New York City and a friend of mine suggested we go to a spot in the East Village called Marharlika.
Marharlika is a Filo restaurant with a crazy reputation for their Sunday brunch game. The star of this is Sisig - a sizzling platter of pigs head, onion, chilli and calamansi juice, topped with a fried egg. It's a traditional preparation of pigs head in the Philippines. And it's absolutely delicious. As soon as I tasted it, I thought it would make a hella good pasta. Crispy pork, egg and pasta. How could it not?
I sat on this idea for almost two years, waiting until we got ACME opened to put it on the menu. Our version uses whole pigs heads, brought in in every day, then brined and braised overnight in a master stock seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and tomato. We then pick all the soft tender meat from the head, including all the offal, chop it up and pan fry it until it's golden. A sauce made of chilli, garlic, onion, some of the master stock, butter and lemon juice is then tossed with fresh macaroni made in-house and topped with a raw egg yolk.
The reception that this dish received from day one has been amazing. It's one of, if not our most popular dishes. To me, this is amazing because the dish is a perfect blend of my upbringing, my travels and my training all rolled into one. It's a pretty rare and organic thing. And I'm also pretty sure it makes my Filo mum proud.