- John Taylor
I'd wager that I'm not alone when I say that I grew up eating from the sweet and salty ends of the flavor spectrum. In a culinary era that predated our current departure from added sugar and high sodium levels, eating sweet stuff was part and parcel of being a red-blooded American. When I realized that kneeling to the saccharine altar of Big Sugar was doing my palate a disservice, I strove to achieve a better balance. That said, I hadn't fully experienced the true nuance and depth that comes from a cuisine steeped in sours and bitters, such as that of the Philippines. Filipino food is a love note to the tongue-tickling power of vinegary, acid-forward flavor profiles, and some primo examples can be found at West Jordan's BFF Turon (8860 S. Redwood Road, 385-557-2909).
The restaurant blossomed from a catering service called STAR Events, which was created by four Philippines-born women who immigrated to Utah. According to its website, STAR Events came to fruition when a friend of co-owner Yaye Sherer needed help planning a wedding. Sherer enlisted the help of Loida Torres, Sonia Aquino and Edna Rubi—STAR is an acronym for the women's last names—and the four quickly realized their passion for food and attention to detail would be an ideal foundation for their own business. By the end of 2018, the friends and business partners opened BFF Turon to focus on cooking the food most reminiscent of their heritage.
Filipino food has been heavily impacted by a conflux of Chinese, Malaysian and Spanish influences, which has created something both familiar and unique. Glass noodles called pancit ($2) are one of the most ubiquitous features at BFF Turon—a heaping helping comes with each combo meal, or you can get a cup à la carte. While these noodles look a bit like lo mein, they're spiked with a heavy dose of black pepper and sit in a pot with sliced cabbage, which imparts the cruciferous veggie's distinctive flavor to the dish. You dig into them expecting a blast of soy sauce umami and are instead walloped with a dry heat and vegetal highlights.
The lumpia are another nod to Chinese cuisine—they're essentially fried spring rolls that are about half the size of their Chinese cousins, and an order of six will only set you back $3. For a real kick, snag some of the imported banana ketchup—imagine a bottle of Heinz but multiply the sweetness factor by 10 and throw in a smoky undertone for good measure—from the restaurant's stacked condiment bar. It's one of the few places where sweet flavor shows up during the evening, and it contrasts nicely with anything of the sour or bitter variety.
I'm of course talking about the main dishes, which are served up in generously portioned combo plates ($7.49 to $8.99 depending on your protein) that come with pancit and rice. The pork adobo ($8.49) is a dish that exemplifies the acidic profile in many Filipino stews without being too overbearing. It's extremely tender—before the pork gets fried up with the soy sauce and garlic mixture, it's marinated in vinegar, which makes the meat melt in the mouth. For something on the milder side, I'd go with the beef caldereta ($8.99), a middle-of-winter, stick-to-your-bones kind of stew that incorporates beef, potatoes and carrots into a rich brown broth that is lovely when it's served over rice.
Those looking to dig deep into Filipino cooking can check out the pork dinuguan ($8.49), or "chocolate pork stew." While the word chocolate might imply a mole-like broth, it develops its earthy flavors and rich color from being stewed in a gravy of pig blood, garlic and vinegar. While I liked the acidic sourness of the vinegar as an alternative to salt, this dish packs a bit of a punch—I would definitely recommend it if you're looking to take a stroll on the wilder side of the menu. On a sweeter note, the turon ($3) is the best way to top off an evening of vinegary stews and bitter broths. It's a banana spring roll that's been deep fried and dusted with brown sugar. Despite the fruit's natural sweetness, the sugar factor remains pleasantly muted.
As the developing trend toward foods that offer up a more sour or bitter bouquet marches forward, it wouldn't be surprising to see Filipino food start to fill a niche in the millennial diner's culinary landscape. Regardless, BFF Turon is serving up food that comes straight from the heart, and exploring Filipino culture through the lens of its food offers up some fascinating insights about what makes our own palates tick.