I don’t know the history of Filipino food but after my first visit to D.J. Bibingkahan in West Covina, it wasn’t too far from Mexican food.
It made me wonder, who inspired who?
This little bake shop is a spacious restaurant and bakery in what is locally known as Little Manila, or the Seafood City shopping center off of Amar Road and Azusa Avenue.
On a recent lunch hour, playing on televisions throughout the dining area was a Filipino version of “Ugly Betty,” an American television show that is a version of the Mexican soap opera show “Betty La Fea.”
The cheesy over-acting and camera work immediately reminded me of Mexican “telenovelas” or soap operas.
Ordering food here required a quick lesson. First of all, I didn’t understand the menu, and not because of language barriers, but there also isn’t much clarity as to how to order food.
Luckily, I was well accompanied by two fellow foodies who were familiar with the way of the D.J. Bibingkahan.
It actually reminded me of how one may typically order food at a fast-food style Chinese restaurant. The food is spread across a long counter behind glass and you can just point to what you want.
Easy for me since I didn’t know what items were what, let alone know how to pronounce it properly in Tagalog.
Much of the food in front of me looked very good but so as not to be sorely disappointed with my lunch I went with a couple suggestions made by my companions instead of following my hungry eyes.
Everyone mostly orders combos which come with steamed white rice and an optional cup of soup, but you can order items a la carte.
With everything from a side spinach with coconut milk dish, beef boiled in blood stew to fish dishes, there was plenty to choose from.
I decided to go with the beef barbecue on a stick and a beef stew called beef kaldereta. I didn’t get to try the soup this time which had pork in it.
I did try the chicken adobo off of a lunch companion’s plate though. The chicken is cooked for hours in a soy sauce and vinegar mixture, making the chicken tender and juicy and the mixture a little more sweet than salty.
The beef barbecue was perfectly cooked, not too tough, and had the nice barbecue taste and not just the marks of a grill.
The beef stew tasted so close to a Mexican dish my mom cooks. The spices in the stew and the juicy, chunky cut of the beef are almost exactly the same as the Mexican version, though the color is a little different.
I didn’t taste them at first but the stew also has potatoes and carrots, much like the Mexican dish. My mom’s dish also has peas and squash though.
My mom serves the dish with rice as well. It’s a great way to absorb the stew and flavor the rice.
This D.J. restaurant is actually one of six chains with another in Las Vegas.
D.J. Bibingkahan in West Covina is at 1515 Amar Road, (626) 581-4682.
(NOTE: After this article ran in print and on the Highlander website, there were many commenters helping me out with a little history lesson on Filipino and Mexican food. And others commented on Spanish soap opera history. Feel free to join in on that discussion by clicking on the link above or start a new one here – Comment away! Thanks.)