Goldilocks USA: Sharing a Tradition, Making It New

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Cake decorator Melinda Belarmino demonstrates Goldilocks’ signature style of cake writing. (Photo by Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

Cake decorator Melinda Belarmino demonstrates Goldilocks’ signature style of cake writing. (Photo by Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

When I was growing up in Manila in the 1980’s, birthday cakes meant Goldilocks cakes, with their sugar rosettes, ceramic figurines and signature handwriting in gel icing. Decades later, in Los Angeles, inspired by childhood memories of the Philippines, my brother and his wife decide to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday with a traditional Filipino children’s party. The essentials? Colorful banderitas, a game of pabitin, sweet spaghetti with red hotdogs, fried chicken, and a birthday cake from Goldilocks.

My most recent revisiting of the baking institution of my childhood (for, truly, it wasn’t just about birthday cakes, but all sorts of pasalubong goodness in the form of mamon, ensaymada, polvoron, sansrival…) was a few days ago, when I attended a lunch hosted and organized by owner Rob Yee and marketing director Agnes Francisco in celebration of Goldilocks’ 50th anniversary. I sat at a table with other bloggers/Instagrammers, and we were served a satisfying assortment of Filipino food. While the company specializes in baked goods, it has recently transformed its Cerritos and Carson stores into full-service restaurants where families and friends can sit down and enjoy an authentic Filipino meal. We gathered for lunch in the Cerritos branch; the night before, dinner was held for another group of social media savvy guests at the store in Carson. The management team hopes that these simple gatherings will bring the traditional Filipino cuisine offered by Goldilocks to the attention of a younger generation of Filipino-Americans and non-Filipinos alike.

 Varissa Brum (@misoo_hungry), Miralyne Ung (@omgitsbomb), Joey Ngoy (@jofieats) and Jeremy Lu (@socaleatery) take pictures of the lunch spread.  (Photo by   Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

 Varissa Brum (@misoo_hungry), Miralyne Ung (@omgitsbomb), Joey Ngoy (@jofieats) and Jeremy Lu (@socaleatery) take pictures of the lunch spread. (Photo by Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

Goldilocks Bakeshop first opened in Makati City, Philippines as a small family-run bakery in 1966, and later debuted in the United States in 1976. It has since grown to become the largest family-owned bakeshop in the Philippines, with hundreds of stores all over the country. Additionally, there are eleven locations in the United States (ten in California, and one in Las Vegas, Nevada), and two in Canada. Goldilocks products are also sold by retailers around the world to meet the demands of a growing Filipino diaspora.

Perhaps it is this growing global presence that is slowly but surely pushing Filipino food into the culinary mainstream. Here in the United States, Filipinos constitute one of the largest groups of immigrants. Even then, our cuisine has only recently come to the awareness of the larger American dining public. “At long last, Filipino food arrives. What took it so long?” writes Tim Carman on The Washington Post in April of last year. The following month, Eddie Lin of Los Angeles Magazine declares that 2015 may very well be “the year of Filipino food in Los Angeles.” Most recently, in July 2016, Saveur published a piece on how Philippine cuisine continues to break through LA’s food scene. These essays credit a new generation of Filipino-American chefs with the current emergence of Filipino restaurants in the country. The assertion is that second generation Filipino immigrants, without the struggles of adapting to a new country, and with an awakened sense of pride in their culinary heritage, are the ones who have taken on the task of bringing it to the limelight.

This is the milieu in which Goldilocks finds itself, and in which, as a 50-year-old Filipino cultural icon, it undergoes a renaissance. With the rising popularity of contemporary and fusion Filipino food, why not also a return to one’s roots? The question that the company sought to answer was: How do you take something traditional and give it a younger, more diverse appeal? As I observed during that lunch, their answer is to innovate on classic recipes without succumbing to what is merely trendy, and to create excitement through social media, particularly Instagram, with its thriving foodie culture.

The menu consisted of traditional Filipino favorites such as Fresh Lumpia, Lumpiang Shanghai, Hinamburang Talong (in my family, we know this simply as ensaladang talong: grilled eggplant with chopped tomatoes, onions, and mango, served with bagoong, vinaigrette, and salted duck egg), Crispy Pata, Sotanghon Guisado, and Halo-Halo. There were also new approaches to familiar dishes, such as the Bagoong Rice Medley (my favorite: a bibimbap-inspired dish of bagoong fried rice topped with perfectly crispy lechon kawali pieces, diced tomatoes and mangoes, sunnysideup egg, and a drizzling of a special spicy sauce), Bulalo Steak (tender beef shank and bone marrow served on a sizzling platter with gravy and veggies), and Adobo Fried Chicken (a chicken leg quarter marinated overnight in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, then pan-fried), and as for dessert, Ube Tres Leches cake (layers of vanilla and ube chiffon cakes soaked in three kinds of milk, then filled with ube halaya and buttercream), and, the most amazing innovation of all, in my opinion, Frozen Mango Brazo (a frozen, fruity version of Brazo de Mercedes).

Hinamburang Talong and Bagoong Rice Medley (and Crispy Pata in the background). Dishes are served family-style.  (Photo by   Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

Hinamburang Talong and Bagoong Rice Medley (and Crispy Pata in the background). Dishes are served family-style. (Photo by Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

Sizzling Bulalo Steak  (Photo by   Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

Sizzling Bulalo Steak (Photo by Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

Owner Rob Yee serves the Ube Tres Leches cake.  (Photo by   Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

Owner Rob Yee serves the Ube Tres Leches cake. (Photo by Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

To be honest, I felt a little out of place at the lunch at first, since I was (am) neither a millennial nor an Instagrammer. What I am is a 1.5-generation immigrant, and a mom to pre-teen Fil-Am kids. I am a blogger, albeit in the old-fashioned sense – that is, I’ve kept, for the past nine years and counting, an online record of our lives as an immigrant family in America. It was only later, as the guests and hosts talked about food and our shared love for food, and admired and feasted on the dishes that arrived on our table, that my role there made sense to me. I felt like I was bridging a gap between two worlds.

As the guests were busy styling their plates and taking the perfect Instagram photos, I marveled at the strangeness of this self-conscious, visually driven millennial culture. I overheard two older ladies at the next table scoff at the activity, saying out loud (perhaps not knowing some of us could understand Tagalog!), “Picture nang picture, hindi naman kakainin! Hindi uubusin!” Which was far from the truth, because the young people I was with ate the food with enthusiasm and thoughtful commentary. “I had no idea that mango goes so well with shrimp paste!” remarked Jeremy (@socaleatery) after sampling the Bagoong Rice Medley, and I had to tell him about the quintessentially Filipino snack of green mangoes dipped in bagoong. “I didn’t expect that texture,” Joey (@jofieats) said about the Frozen Mango Brazo. “Now I’m curious. I want to know what traditional brazo tastes like,” he added. As for the “hindi uubusin” part of the older ladies’ comments, there was really more than we could finish! (A very Filipino thing with regards food, if you ask me. Food equals love, I like to think, and in my family, whenever we gather, there is always so much of it.)

In true Filipino fashion, each of us was sent home with a box of goodies. In it were some old favorites (e.g. ensaymada) as well as old-favorites-with-a-twist (e.g. ensaymada with ube). I was excited to take them home to my kids. I had come full circle: I was now the bringer of the pasalubong I had enjoyed as a child. I thought that Goldilocks had done it right, for appealing to the sense of nostalgia of someone like me, while looking and moving towards the future.

Joey Ngoy (@jofieats) cradles a roll of Frozen Mango Brazo.  (Photo by   Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)

Joey Ngoy (@jofieats) cradles a roll of Frozen Mango Brazo. (Photo by Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan)