Pinoy pride on display at Herbs and Spices Café in downtown Vancouver

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Herbs and Spices Café is a contemporary restaurant with a flair for Filipino fare.

      As part of its western menu of meat entrées, sandwiches, pastas, and salads, the Vancouver establishment also offers a selection of gateway dishes to the underrated Asian cuisine. By presenting select Filipino comfort food with a modern touch, Herbs and Spices Café aims to elevate the culinary tradition to the mainstream dining scene.

      Plating is key, says Matte Laurel, chief operations officer and general manager of the downtown restaurant in the Cathedral Place building at 925 West Georgia Street. “We are visual creatures,” Laurel told the Georgia Straight. “We eat first with our eyes. We need to see Filipino food plated modernly.”

      Herbs and Spices Café’s signature dish, chicken adobo in purple-yam bun, is an example. Chunks of chicken breast are simmered in soy sauce and vinegar and served in purple-yam rolls prepared by the kitchen staff led by married chefs Charlie and Nelia Pingol Lopez. It comes with diced apples, tomato, cucumber, and lettuce in chipotle mayo. For sides, it’s either green salad or fries.

      Laurel related that diners are also discovering pancit bihon, a rice-noodle dish that is a must at every Filipino gathering. Herbs and Spices Café’s version is vegetarian.

      She noted that beef caldereta, a tomato-sauce based meat stew served with steamed rice and vegetables, is another popular choice.

      The more adventurous can dig into crispy pork hock: pork leg boiled, then deep-fried until the skin is brown and crispy while the meat inside is moist and tender. It serves two.

      Laurel said that patrons also like beef kare-kare, meat stewed in peanut sauce with seasonal vegetables. Spicy shrimp paste is served as dipping sauce.

      Kare-kare is a traditional Filipino stew of beef and vegetables in peanut sauce.

      Another dish that is winning guests is crispy pork belly. Filipinos call it lechon kawali, pork belly boiled, then fried until golden and crunchy outside.

      Every Monday, Herbs and Spices Café lays out a Filipino lunch buffet. The $15-plus-tax spread includes lumpia—spring roll stuffed with pork and vegetables—which is as ubiquitous as pancit bihon at Filipino parties.

      Laurel said the restaurant is open Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. It prepares an international lunch buffet on Fridays; on weekends it is closed but available for private functions. The establishment can also be accessed through a courtyard on Hornby Street.

      With eggs Benny, wraps, and omelettes, the restaurant’s all-day breakfast menu is a familiar list. It also offers a trifecta in a classic Filipino breakfast built around fried rice and eggs. The third piece is a choice of either tapa (cured and fried beef), longaniza (garlicky sausage similar to chorizo), tocino (sweet cured pork), or daing na bangus (butterflied, marinated, and fried milkfish belly). The selection is called the Orient Express on the menu.

      Laurel related that her family has been in Vancouver for a long time. She took business and language courses in the U.K., then went to Manila for work, gaining experience in various aspects of the hotel and restaurant industry.

      According to Laurel, it has been her mother’s dream to promote Filipino cuisine in Canada. Her family acquired Herbs and Spices Café and transformed the former sandwich business into a West Coast restaurant with a Filipino twist. It moved to its current location in 2018.

      She said that although taste is a major factor, food has to come in a “complete package: exemplary service, great ambiance, cleanliness, right location, and correct pricing”.

      “Food is a strong catalyst for bringing people together,” Laurel added.