Taking a step towards upping the odds is Manila-born and raised, Michelle “Alex” Mossige with her Adobo Afternoon pop-ups. Married to a Norwegian and now 12 years in Norway, Alex works as a chef cum personal restaurant manager at Wilberg. She also founded MP Events By Michelle P. Mossige, which organizes food-related events for Lola’s Kusina and Stavanger Dining Club.
From Necessity to Hobby to a Career
Alex has worked in food for as long as she can remember. Food and cooking always played a big part in her life, especially because her father hailed from Pampanga, the Philippines’ culinary capital.
“I remember women from all over town gathered together at my grandparents’ place to prepare huge vats of food for fiestas,” says Alex. “From the age of seven, I watched folks slaughter and eviscerate chickens and pigs for cooking. I tried to help in any way I could, which was how I learned to cook.”
Though she always loved eating and watching cooking shows like “Wok with Yan” as a child, Alex admits she viewed food as nothing more than a necessity. Ending up in food was not on her agenda. Her interest only sprouted in her twenties, when she began working. From mere necessity, cooking then became a hobby for Alex. She started gathering cookbooks, which has now grown into a sizeable collection.
When she moved to Norway, food blossomed into something more than just a hobby. It became her passion and profession.
On Filipino Cuisine
First and foremost, Filipino food for Alex is the food she grew up with, which is Capampangan cuisine: lechon, a roast suckling pig, and dishes her mom taught her to prepare, such as sinigang, adobo, pansit, and paksiw.
Alex describes Filipino cuisine as food enriched by the country’s colonial past. When foreigners ask her what the cuisine is like, she tells them it isn’t like Thai or Malay food, but a mix of those flavors. Though not spicy, in general, the taste and flavor of Pinoy food varies depending on the region.
“Spanish and Chinese influences are strong in many of our local dishes, but indigenous ways of cooking from our aboriginal tribes, like the Aeta, are evident as well,” she explains.
Filipino Cuisine in the International Mainstream
One of the reasons why Alex thought Filipino food is slower in trending compared with other cuisines is because Filipinos have never been so good in bragging about their own food culture. She says, “We are easily affected by foreign influences and feel that Filipino food is not sophisticated or delicate enough for other people to appreciate.”
Alex believes this is changing fast, however, as Filipino cuisine gains visibility in the US mainstream, thanks to the shows of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern.
And in London, she points out that Josephine’s Restaurant and pop-up restaurants, like Luzon, show how Filipino cuisine can be different and elegant, unlike the typical turo-turo or street-side food.
Filipino Food in Norway
Alex expresses optimism for Filipino food on the Norwegian market. “It’s all about educating the people,” she says.
Most Norwegians she meets think Filipino food is Thai or Chinese. When she organized festivals and ran a cafe, people, especially the kids, loved the pork BBQ and the Filipino version of spring rolls. And when catering, her clients love kare-kare, a meat stew in a thick savory peanut sauce.
“Norwegians like food that is not so spicy, and we have a diverse range of food to offer,” she explains.
The Adobo Afternoon
Alex loves organizing events. She started a group on Facebook called Stavanger Dining Club, which was inspired by pop-up restaurants abroad.
The club presented Filipino cuisine and other types of food as well depending on what she fancied creating at the time. It’s been a year since she organized an event with the Stavanger Dining Club, so she decided to re-introduce Filipino food in Stavanger.
“What better dish to showcase Filipino cuisine than the most popular Filipino dish, adobo?” Alex said.
Pork adobo is her favorite, especially if it’s cooked twice and the sauce is reduced to a consistency thick enough to glaze the rice.
She added, “Chicken adobo with liver or a combination of pork and chicken adobo are also divine. Oxtail adobo, another variation, works really well too.”
Adobo reminds Alex of home in the Philippines. It brings to mind a stage in her life when she was young and innocent. It stirs up memories of preparing food in the kitchen with her mom, Angela Patenaude, and of eating together at the table with her dad, Edgardo Pangan, and two siblings.
“When I cook adobo, I also can’t help think about my favorite aunt, who passed away before my interest in food turned into a passion. How I wish I could share my love for food and cooking with her,” she says.
Adobo is Alex’s comfort food and she’s happy that her husband loves it too, especially when flavored with a lot of vinegar.
Plans and Dreams
Alex plans to focus on presenting Filipino cuisine in Norway. She wants to start a food safari tour for Nordic travelers visiting the Philippines. She intends to combine food and travel-related events, her passions.
“My dream is to have a cafe again wherein we can serve Philippine coffee beans and cocoa-based products. It will be a hub where people can enjoy both coffee and Filipino food with that Filipino hospitality that we are all known for,” says Alex.
Jacqueline Lauri is the founder of My Food Beginnings, a project endorsed by the Philippine Embassy in the US, to fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine globally. Jacqueline is soliciting real-life stories with reinvented recipes for the forthcoming Filipino food anthology.