Influenced by early Spanish colonization and Chinese merchants, the uniqueness of traditional Filipino food was inspired by Latin and Asian culture. Common stews and braises were given the Filipino treatment by improvising with local ingredients, such as a cup of palm vinegar, a spoonful of sugar, or a startling amount of garlic. The results are complex flavor profiles ranging from sour, to sweet, to salty and generating one powerful kick to the taste buds.Lasa, meaning “the taste” in Tagalog, is the prix fixe Filipino concept by brothers Chase and Chad Valencia at Unit 120, Chinatown’s culinary incubator designed to test new concepts and menus. Now on it’s 10th menu, Lasa has been proving great success for a cuisine that’s rarely explored outside of nanay’s (or mom’s) kitchen.
“How can we approach Filipino food in a different way?” is a question the Valencia brothers have been exploring since 2010. They had grown up tasting Filipino flavors that are found within other cuisines – like the acidic taste of vinegar found in ceviche and the sweet ’n’ savory marinade saturated in meats – yet never stood out as a culinary competitor by themselves. Equipped with optimism and a surplus of Filipino cookbooks, the Valencias spent a few years researching and defining what the food they grew up with means to second-generation California-born Filipinos. In 2013, they opened their first pop-up – and the reintroduction of Filipino food began.
“Lasa is very personal to us. It’s our narrative for our community of second-generation Filipinos. We want to create dishes that are more inspired rather than straightforward by using local LA ingredients for Filipino dishes,” says Chase Valencia. Keeping the spirit and flavors of Philippine regions, Lasa incorporates local seasonal produce, such as heirloom carrots, into preserved calamansi yogurt and chicken skin chicharron crumble. Those who are unfamiliar with Filipino cuisine will be introduced to new flavors and those who are craving a taste of the Philippines, memories will be brought back. The beauty of Filipino cuisine is that it allows room for improvisation, and much like its culinary history, Lasa is creating a new branch of culturally influenced cuisine.
This fall and winter, expect Arroz Caldo to comeback on the menu, a rice porridge highlighted by crispy duck with a leek and ginger broth. Traditionally, this dish offers warm and comforting characteristics perfect for a rainy day, yet the brothers at Lasa are giving this simple recipe a sophisticated twist.
As Los Angeles’ continues to give praise, the Valencias remain humble and thankful for the community’s support. “The industry is tough, especially trying to showcase Filipino food,” says Chase Valencia. “We’re blown away by the amount of awareness and thankful for the opportunity.”
Currently, the team is exploring the idea of introducing an à la carte menu. So in true Filipino fashion, diners can share plates and finish each other’s last bite. Until then, let the Valencias take you through a prix fixe culinary journey.
Written by Janica de Guzman
Photographed by Oriana Koren