Americans traditionally mark Labor Day weekend with one last summer backyard barbecue with friends and loved ones. I too celebrated with friends, in traditional Queens fashion. That is to say by embracing the traditions of another culture, specifically Filipino. On Saturday my friends Kaori and Stella joined me for a traditional salu-salo sa bilao fiesta at Papa’s Kitchen in Woodside. Salu-salo bilao loosely translates to a gathering over a bilao,or banana leaf-lined basket overflowing with goodies. It’s an informal affair where all the food is eaten with one’s hands.
Chef Miguel prepared quite a spread. One tray held crab; crispy pata, a whole foreleg of pig fried to a shattering crunchiness; the shrimp and veggie fritters known as ukoy; longganisang hamonado, a lovely sweet pork sausage; tuna belly; and Papa’s signature spicy dynamite spring rolls. Everything was quite tasty,but we all agreed the salty, fatty tuna belly was spectacular. Stella, who is Filipina, schooled me in the proper way to eat with my hands. On the few occasions when I’ve eaten South Asian food with my hands I’ve felt self conscious most likely because the food is usually very saucy. At Papa’s I felt especially relaxed, and not just because we had the place to ourselves.
A pam pagana platter laid out with okra, pickled eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeños, mango, and onions balanced out all the meat and seafood. In the center sat a tiny little cup of bagoong, a pungent,salty fermented shrimp paste, great for slathering on the slices of cucumber and other veggies.
As we talked and laughed—eating with our hands the whole time—I couldn’t help but think of Papa’s tag line for this special feast: “Iba’t ibang panlasa, iisang kultura: different tastes, one culture,” just like Queens itself.
Papa’s offers Salu-salo on Saturdays and Sundays with seatings at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. with a minimum of four people per bilao , $29 a head. Reservations are required.
Papa’s Kitchen, 65-40 Woodside Ave., 347-724-9586