A Filipino Restaurant? In Lisbon?

 Kababayan restaurant seen from the street (Photo by Tiago Gutierrez Marques)

Kababayan restaurant seen from the street (Photo by Tiago Gutierrez Marques)

I was born in 1980 and lived almost all my life in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. My mom would sometimes cook Filipino food at home (usually pancit or adobo), but there were no other opportunities to eat Filipino food outside the house other than in the homes of other Filipinos, or in some coffee shops owned by Filipinos, which were often short-lived. I had to wait until 2013 to finally see a full-fledged restaurant serving Filipino food come to life in my hometown.

Named Kababayan, the 40-seat restaurant opened on December 28, 2013 in the neighborhood of Campolide, in Lisbon. Its owner, Pangasinan-native Chef Peter Cayabyab, 41 years old, has lived in Portugal since 2000. The staff, which includes some of his relatives, is all Filipino.

 Chef Peter Cayabyab at the lunch buffet table (Photo by Tiago Gutierrez Marques)

Chef Peter Cayabyab at the lunch buffet table (Photo by Tiago Gutierrez Marques)

One of my usual fears of seeing a Filipino restaurant opening in a country with little tradition of Filipino immigration and a relatively small Filipino community is the issue of sustainability. There is always a risk inherent to opening up something completely new and different to the local community, particularly in times of economic crisis, when people have cut down their habit of going out for lunch or dinner.

But Cayabyab and his team seem to have taken a calculated risk. The restaurant serves not only Filipino food, but also Portuguese and Italian food, thus making it appealing to a broader target audience. For instance, Campolide’s population is quite aged, and while many elderly customers may be reluctant to try Filipino food, they will more readily try the Portuguese or Italian fare.

Serving food from three countries seems quite random, but Cayabyab has a solid track record of working for many years in both Portuguese and Italian restaurants in the Lisbon area. He was even the chef of a renowned Italian restaurant in Lisbon called La Trattoria. 

Lunch and dinner at Kababayan work differently. For lunch, there is an all-you-can- eat buffet available for only 5.99 Euros, which includes Filipino, Italian and Portuguese food. Drinks are charged separately. The buffet menu changes every day, and it is often possible to find out what will be available the following day in Kababayan’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/kababayanrestaurante). For example, the last time I went there for lunch, the buffet included dinuguan (pork blood stew), igado (an Ilocano dish), eggplant gratin, bruschetta, rice, a range of salads, grilled steak in soy and tamarind sauce, monkfish rice (a Portuguese dish) and brazo de mercedes for dessert.

 Kababayan's lunch buffet (Source: facebook.com)

Kababayan's lunch buffet (Source: facebook.com)

 Brazo de Mercedes is one of the flagship desserts served at Kababayan. (Photo by Tiago Gutierrez Marques)

Brazo de Mercedes is one of the flagship desserts served at Kababayan. (Photo by Tiago Gutierrez Marques)

Dinner works a la carte. There is a broad range of both Italian and Portuguese food as well as the standard lumpia eggrolls, adobo and fresh lumpia, which are of excellent quality. I particularly like the sisig (grilled, chopped pork snout and ears) as well as the daing na bangus (fried, butterflied milkfish) but I will eat anything on the menu. Restaurant critics have highlighted dishes such as kare-kare (oxtail in peanut sauce), kalderetang kambing (goat stew) and the rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), but it is important to understand that Filipino cuisine in itself is practically a complete novelty in Portugal. This is why local journalists show tremendous excitement even over more run-of-the-mill dishes such as pancit.

Regrettably, there are no non-alcoholic Filipino beverages available, and the range of Filipino desserts is narrow. However, my wife has told me the tiramisu served at Kababayan is among the best she has ever eaten in Lisbon. Moreover, Kababayan serves halo-halo (mixed sweetened fruit in shaved ice and milk) but only on weekends throughout the summer. The dinner menu doesn’t seem to have changed since the restaurant opened, but I hope that will change with time, to allow everyone to taste a broader range of Filipino dishes any day of the week. For example, I love things such as mami (noodle soup) or bulalo (beef joints in clear broth), which are sporadically served in the lunch buffet, but which may not be available on the day I go there.

Dinner is more expensive than lunch but overall, prices range between 10 and 15 Euros, which is a very reasonable price by Portuguese standards, considering the quality and the outstanding service.

 The dinner crowd at Kababayan restaurant (Source: facebook.com)

The dinner crowd at Kababayan restaurant (Source: facebook.com)

The restaurant also includes a small, discreet area with a counter that works as a bar.

In contrast to my initial fears, Kababayan has had tremendous success among both the Filipino community in Lisbon and the demanding local crowd. It quickly caught national media attention, and one objective marker of success is that Kababayan has already been included on the list of the best restaurants in Lisbon by the weekly magazine Time Out Lisboa, an extremely influential and powerful media outlet concerning Lisbon affairs. The endorsement gives the restaurant tremendous projection because the list is published in every issue of Time Out, and restaurants often remain there for months and often years.

The blurb actually reads, “A restaurant with true Filipino soul, and as strange as it may sound, there isn’t a single mistake in the menu, which is in Portuguese. Try any Filipino specialty (the menu explains it well) and finish it off with a quite sweet dessert: the Brazo Mercedes.” Time out has also published small news stories as well as a comprehensive full-page review and gave it a score of four stars out of five. The weekly’s influence in Lisbon is indeed so great that it can make or break a restaurant.

Kababayan has already been visited by the Ambassador of the Philippines in Portugal Philippe Lhuillier, and has even received a favorable review from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (http://www.dfa.gov.ph/index.php/2013-06-27-21-50-36/phl-embassies-and-consulates/2251-kababayan-restaurante-in-lisbon-stirs-interest-in-philippine-cuisine).

Most Filipinos tend to come on Sundays (even though you will see a steady stream of them every day), and Chef Cayabyab sometimes closes the restaurant on that day for private parties like baptisms or other unusual events. For example, the restaurant was actually the venue for the first-ever Portuguese edition of “Megaworld Voice” international, a global singing competition for Filipinos and Filipino descendants around the world. Marita Soriano, the winner of the Portuguese competition, will represent Portugal and compete in the European regional finals, on September 6, in Madrid with the Grand Finals to be held in Manila, on December 16. Kababayan has already catered for the nearby Philippine Embassy as well as the formal celebrations of Philippine Independence Day at Lisbon’s Hotel Marriott, where US President Barack Obama stayed when he came to Portugal in 2010.

I have been particularly impressed at how popular the restaurant has been among Portuguese locals. The last time I went to Kababayan, I overheard an elderly Portuguese man, who I was told was a regular customer, explaining to his friend why he enjoyed it so much: “It’s quiet, clean and the staff is extremely polite.” I would concur with everything he said, but I think what keeps people coming back and new people trying it out is the extraordinary quality of the food and the versatile mixing of Filipino food with excellent Italian and Portuguese food. Not less importantly, the meals go easy on your pocket. Kababayan has tremendous potential, and I will continue to go there time and time again. But I am still waiting to try the bulalo.


 Tiago Gutierrez Marques

Tiago Gutierrez Marques

Tiago Gutierrez Marques is a Filipino-Portuguese physician and writer currently on a fellowship in medical journalism and editing in the United Kingdom. He graduated from the University of Lisbon in 2005 and completed a family medicine residency program in 2011. He continues to occasionally practice medicine in Portugal as a locum family physician.


Restaurante Kababayan

Address: Rua Marquês da Fronteira, nº 173-A, 1070-294, Lisboa, Portugal
Open from Tuesday to Sunday
Lunch: 12:00 nn to 3:00 pm
Dinner: 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm
Bookings: +351.218.220.209 / +351.916.742.138


More articles from Tiago Gutierrez Marques:

Come Join Me In Portugal
January 1, 2013
Tiago Gutierrez Marques reminds us that Magellan "discovered” the Philippines, but Filipinos have yet to discover his homeland, Portugal.

Notes From A Medical Mission
June 5, 2013
A Portuguese Filipino doctor shares his view of Philippine healthcare. 

At Last, Filipino Cinema In Portugal
July 10, 2013
Independent Filipino films are rippling into European consciousness.

Brain Drain, Portuguese-Style
August 16, 2014
Even a developed First World nation can start leaking highly skilled workers who seek better opportunities away from home.