The Philippines is a place of mystery to me, even for someone who grew up in Malaysia Borneo, which most people would consider an exotic locale. And no wonder; the NZ Filipino (colloquially know as KiwiPinos) community only numbers a mere 17,000 (2006 Census) spread across the main centres. Due to this, Filipino food, or Pinoy food as it is commonly known, is still a relatively undiscovered cuisine in this part of the world.
Turo-Turo Phillipine Café was started by best friends Charie and Mary-Jane in 2010 with the goal to bring authentic Pinoy food to homesick Filipinos and adventurous Kiwis. Turo-Turo is located in the main Glen Innes village, facing the community centre, with plenty of parking nearby just off Apirana Ave and a train station across the road. This is a great location if you have to eat with squirmy little people, as the adults can enjoy their meal while the kids gambol in the playground outside.
On the Saturday we were there, Charie was grilling some pork kebabs ($2 a stick) and isaw (pork intestines) on a rather unique-looking charcoal bbq. Charie explained that her secret is to scrub the intestines with lemongrass. These grilled kebabs are served with an onion-vinegar dressing. The pork kebabs were a great hit with the kiddies, and I enjoyed the isaw, which were rather tasty.
Turo-Turo’s menu includes the traditional Filipino –silogs dishes, – sort of mixed set meal which consists of a meat (beef – tapsilog, milkfish – bangsilog, pork – tocilog and sausage – longsilog) with garlic rice and a fried egg. However, I was here to feast on the crispy pata ($29 for 2 persons), which is a boiled, then deep-fried pork hock, served with sasawin dressing made from vinegar, soy sauce and chilli sauce. The crackling is absolutely scrumptious, and only the fact that I was sharing this dish stopped me from eating it all. The meat was tender, though it would have been even better if it were cooked a bit longer.
We also ordered a serving of chicken adobo ($13.90), a famous Pinoy dish, cooked in sweet soy and vinegar. The kids also got some healthy mami ($9.90), which is noodles and vegetables in a clear broth with meats, dumplings and a hard boiled egg.
What I had not realised was the wonderful range of Pinoy desserts. These hark to the Spanish influences, and are a delight. Biko ($4.00) is a traditional dessert made with glutinous rice with a caramelised topping. This was sticky, starchy and sweet, just delicious. I chose the sans rival ($5), and it’s true to its name. The Filipino version of dacquoise is spectacular; layers of decadent butter cream sandwiched between the meringue wafers and cashews.
The kids chose the halo-halo deluxe ($12.50). Halo is Tagalog for ‘mix’, and this is one psychedelic mixture! It consists of a mound of shaved ice drench with evaporated milk, with a veritable circus of ingredients including sweet kidney beans, coconut meat, green jelly, jackfruit, gulaman jelly and several others I could not identify. This was topped off with purple yam (ube) ice-cream, a slice of leche flan and a wafer stick. You mix it all up before eating. The kids loved it, and I was a believer after one taste. As a Malaysian, I am still loyal to ais kacang, but halo-halo certainly has its own appeal.
A huge thanks to Alyssa who took great care of us. She has such a sunny disposition and made us feel at home even with our big group, which included 5 restless, hungry kids.
Turo-Turo is a great addition to the melting pot of cuisines in Auckland. The food has familiar elements, yet is intriguingly different. I found the liberal addition of vinegar takes some getting used to, but I would happily chow my way through the crispy pata on a regular basis and I will definitely come back just for the stunning desserts.
Turo-Turo Phillipine Café
26A, Mayfair Place, Glen Innes
Ph: 09 – 528 6050
Open 7 days: 11:30am – 9pm