Most people drive by the Philippine Oriental Market on Lee Highway in Arlington and don’t recognize it as the go-to place for the local Filipino community. Why? Because its chef/owner, Evelyn Bunoan, is one of the most recognized members of the local community, winning awards for her cooking, writing for the local Manila Mail newspaper, and, of all things, being the regular party chef at the Philippine ambassador’s residence.
But to the everyday patron who loves great food, even if it seems a bit exotic, a stop at the market (more like a restaurant, actually) is a food lover’s best dream. Bunoan said she purchased the market just before Easter in April, 1978 and she has since then seen an explosion in her business.
Initially just a grocery store well stocked with Filipino goods and ingredients, the market gradually evolved into a mini restaurant and carryout. “I cooked Filipino foods,” she said, even creating her take on regional recipes to appeal to a broad audience. She has over the years polished her cooking skills by attending the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in London so her dishes could really appeal to customers from different cultures. She now holds a degree as a Master French Chef, which obviously qualifies her to put out some top-tier foods.
She also had the business savvy when she opened the market to see that “food to go” would become popular with busy consumers who often eat on the run. These dishes became an instant hit, and she even got a write-up in the Best Bites column of the Washingtonian.
Now Bunoan, cooks her famous Filipino dishes — stews, noodles, pastries, rice, sweets, lentils — for the savvy who stop by at noon. Even before noon just at opening time, people begin to line up for their noonday feast because the word is out: Philippine Oriental Market is open today!
Although Bunoan does change much of the menu daily, she maintains several standard dishes that are so popular she really could not delete them: Lechon (roast pork); Lumpia Shangai (spring rolls, Filipino stlye); Chicken Sisig (lemon pepper chicken); Chicken Inasal (spiced grilled chicken); Pinakbet (braised mixed vegetables with shrimp paste); Beef Calderetta (spiced beef stew); and Chop Suey (stir-fried mixed vegetables in a savory sauce).
She also has an array of unusual Filipino sweets for desserts, which she has changed slightly for better flavors. These include Leche Flan (labeled as Tastes Like No Other); Cassava Cake (made from yucca), Puto (steamed white rice cake), Halo-Halo (Filipino fruit in coconut milk with glutinous rice flour), and Bibingka (rice coconut cake). If patrons are not careful, they could end up buying everything available and having a sweets feast at home.
Besides cooking for the public and the ambassador, Bunoan and her husband, Oscar, have established a foundation called CHEW (Cancer Help Eat Well) Foundation, through which she cooks and offers healthful meals to cancer patients in need. Besides all that, what is so amazing about the market and its cook is this: Bunoan’s main help is her husband and a staff member who helps clean up the tiny kitchen.
POM (Philippine Oriental Market & Deli)
3610 Lee Highway
Arlington, Virginia 22207
Skewered Jumbo Shrimp
(with Spicy Coconut Milk Sauce)
If you want something different for your next special occasion, try this Filipino hors d’oeuvre. It will be an elegant addition to your menu. This recipe is not at all difficult to prepare, especially if you cook the coconut milk sauce ahead of time. Also, it can complement any other appetizers being served, like vegetables, fruits, cheese and nuts. Depending on the number of guests, you may also want to double the amount of shrimp, just to be on the safe side. (Just remember to adjust the other ingredients accordingly.)
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
2 fresh red chili peppers, finely chopped
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Pinch turmeric powder
25 pieces frozen extra-large or jumbo raw shrimp, thawed
25 bamboo skewers
1/2 cup bread crumbs, plain or seasoned with salt and herbs
In a small saucepan, bring coconut milk to a boil. Lower heat, add the hot peppers, and simmer uncovered until the coconut milk is reduced to 50%. Season with salt and a pinch of turmeric. The sauce should have the consistency of a heavy cream. Transfer the coconut milk sauce into a small serving bowl and set aside.
Thread each shrimp lengthwise on a bamboo skewer (first through the cut-side then bend through the tail section). Spread the breadcrumbs in a piece of foil and dust lightly the skewered shrimp. In a nonstick skillet with sprinkle of vegetable oil, pan-grill the shrimp in batches about 2 to 3 minutes each side or until cooked (do not overcook).
Transfer to a serving platter, (garnish if you wish) and serve hot or chilled with the sauce.