by Pia Cortez
October is Filipino American History Month (FAHM) and at 7 Mile House, it has its roots in one of its signature dishes: the popular sisig (grilled, diced, spiced pig cheeks, meat and a touch of liver on a sizzling plate with raw egg on top).
When Vanessa Garcia took over the restaurant in 2004, she took it as a mission to introduce Filipino food to the century old restaurant’s clientele.
In spite of the number of Filipinos in the Bay Area, Vanessa noticed that Filipino food wasn’t as popular as other Asian cuisines like Thai or Chinese food. This challenge eventually became an achievement for Vanessa, as she became one of the pioneers of the Filipino food movement in the Bay Area.
“My strategy was to lure my guests with something familiar—a really good burger, then sprinkle amazing Filipino food into a menu mostly comprised of American and Italian food. I wanted to offer people Filipino food that was familiar—adobo and lumpia—and then to introduce something more interesting such as pork sisig on a sizzling plate,” shared Garcia. Before sisig was popular and trendy, 7 Mile House perfected their own recipe and served it as authentically as possible.
Sisig is first credited to Lucia Cunanan, widely known as “Aling Lucing” who first adopted the dish in the 70s. During the American occupation in the Philippines, restaurants would take discarded pig heads, often thrown out by the commissaries at the Clark Air Base, and incorporate them into a sour salad. Aling Lucing adopted this dish and created her own recipe, which includes grilling the cheeks and adding vinegar, calamansi (a citrus fruit, related to lemon or lime) juice, onions and liver.
Today, sisig is one of the most popular items on the 7 Mile House menu today served with rice, as a lettuce wrap, over loaded nachos and even at Sunday brunch in an egg benedict. We have Aling Lucing to thank for pioneering this dish, a visionary of her time.
This year’s FAHM theme is celebrating Filipino women visionaries in different fields: leaders, laborers, scholars, scientists, and activists across the country. Filipino American women like Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova (founder and executive director of the Filipino American National Historical Society), Vicki Manalo Draves (the first American Olympic gold medalist), Dr. Felicisima Serafica (first Filipina American psychology professor to receive tenure in the U.S.), Thelma Buchholdt (first Filipina American elected to a legislature in the United States) and Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon (first Filipina/o to receive a Ph.D. in History from Stanford University) have broken ground and continue to inspire.
At 7 Mile House, they uplift the stories of these women and pay homage to all Filipino women in the U.S. and in the Philippines, for the hard work that usually goes unnoticed and for their ingenuity that feeds hearts, minds and bodies.
Check out how 7 Mile House celebrates Filipino American History Month at 7milehouse.com/fahm.