Evelyn Bunoan, Filipina Chef Extraordinaire

bunoanMost people would simply drive by and not notice the small brick-front building at 3610 Lee Highway in Arlington, Va., with its nondescript sign over a small entrance door. However, this little gem — the Philippine Oriental Market — is the go-to place for the local Filipino community. Why is it so popular? Because its chef/owner, Evelyn Bunoan, is such a recognized figure — winning awards for her cooking, writing for the local Manila Mail newspaper, and because she is the regular party chef at the Philippine ambassador’s residence.
As the party chef, Bunoan said, she gets frequent calls requesting her catered meals. Once an embassy meal is reserved, she proposes a menu designed to serve guests that might include the ambassador, senators, White House personnel, and dignitaries from the Philippines. The meals usually consist of five distinct courses, and most are not drawn from traditional Filipino fare. “These are always my creations, and they love them” she said. “They are very seldom Filipino unless those are requested. The food is always a type of French cuisine.” The most popular entrée is her beef tenderloin, in particular, the braised beef tenderloin with red wine and mushroom sauce. And the most popular dessert? Her made-from-scratch, one-of-a-kind flan.

Meals for Cancer Patients
Besides cooking for the public and the ambassador, Bunoan and her husband Oscar have established a foundation called the CHEW (Cancer Help Eat Well) Foundation, through which she cooks and offers healthful meals to cancer patients in need. She started this program after a friend died of lung cancer. After that, Bunoan wanted to serve healthful foods to cancer patients, especially in the early stages of illness. “I prepare healthy foods for them,” she said. “But if they are in stage four, I tell them to eat whatever they want. I can give them the food. I don’t want to deprive them.” When they are in remission, she said, she tells them not to eat fatty or sweet foods.

A Master French Chef
But to the everyday patron who loves great food, a stop at the market — more like a restaurant, actually — is a food lover’s dream. Bunoan said she purchased the market in April 1978, and she has since seen an explosion in her business. Initially just a grocery store well stocked with Filipino goods and ingredients, the market gradually evolved into a mini restaurant and carryout. “I cooked Filipino foods,” she said, “but with my own original take on regional recipes to appeal to a broad audience.” Over the years, she has polished her cooking skills by attending the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in London and by earning a degree as a Master French Chef, which has inspired her to create some top-tier dishes. She also had the business savvy when she opened the market to see that “food to go” would become popular with busy consumers who often eat on the run. These dishes became an instant hit, earning a write-up in the “Best Bites” column of the Washingtonian.

Keeping Up with the Noon Rush
Several days a week, Bunoan cooks her famous Filipino dishes — stews, noodles, pastries, rice, sweets, lentils — for the savvy who stop by at noon. In fact, some people begin to line up well before noon because the word is out: Philippine Oriental Market is open today! Although Bunoan changes much of the menu each day, she maintains several standard dishes that are so popular she really cannot delete them: Lechon (roast pork); Lumpia Shangai (spring rolls, Filipino stlye); Chicken Sisig (lemon pepper chicken); Chicken Inasal (spiced grilled chicken); Pinakbet (braised mixed vegetables with shrimp paste); Beef Calderetta (spiced beef stew); and Chop Suey (stir-fried mixed vegetables in a savory sauce). No wonder this is the go-to place for the local Filipino community…and everyone else! To taste for yourself:  POM/Philippine Oriental Market & Deli, 3610 Lee Highway, Arlington, Va., 703-528-0300.
LOCAL COOKS Alexandra Greeley

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