Filipino chef opens Belfast's first Pinoy eatery because she missed mom's cooking

·3 min read
Filipino Canadian Philippines Nallaine Calvo serves Filipino cuisine food from Kubo at Trademarket in Belfast Northern Ireland United Kingdom UK. On the right is their dish BBQ Pork Belly Liempo with pineapple banana ketchup. (Photos: Nallaine Calvo, Kubo)
Nallaine Calvo serves Filipino food from Kubo at Trademarket in Belfast. On the right is their BBQ Pork Belly Liempo with pineapple banana ketchup. (Photos: Nallaine Calvo, Kubo)

Nallaine Calvo, a Philippines-born chef who now lives and works in Belfast, opened the first Filipino eatery in the city after getting a culture shock upon moving there four and a half years ago.

Incidentally, her food outlet, called Kubo, shares the same name as a pugon-centered restaurant that was just opened in Singapore by a Filipino chef as well. The name is, of course, inspired by the the traditional Filipino houses built with nipa thatching.

Calvo moved to Toronto in Canada with her family when she was two years old. She later moved to London, and remembers enjoying the city's many Filipino restaurants.

The Filipino-Canadian was therefore surprised, after moving to Belfast in Northern Ireland, to find that there were no Filipino eateries at all in the city.

"I missed my mom's cooking, I missed eating with my hands and being able to go to a Filipino restaurant," she told Belfast Live.

Filipino Philippine food cuisine eatery outlet caterer Kubo's opened by Nallaine Calvo Kubo food outlet at Trademarket in Belfast Northern Ireland UK. (Photo: Kubo)
The Kubo food outlet at Trademarket in Belfast. (Photo: Kubo)

Calvo was then working as the head chef at Babel restaurant.

"I was losing touch with my roots moving here," she said. "Not only because there was a lack of Filipino food, but the transition of everything, like moving to another city and working in a different job. So I decided enough was enough - I missed Filipino food and needed to reconnect with it, so organised a Kamayan event at Babel."

So, in 2019, Calvo hosted the first Kamayan night at Babel.

Diners would eat with their hands communally from food placed on banana leaves on a table, just like Filipinos do in the Kamayan style throughout the Philippines.

The Kamayan dinner was well received and Calvo went on to organize regular supper club nights at which Filipino dishes were served

A dish from Filipino Philippine food cuisine eatery outlet caterer Kubo's opened by Nallaine Calvo Kubo's Visayan Kilawin – salmon and cod cure in coconut vinegar, ginger and calamansi with crispy wontons. (Photo: Kubo)
Kubo's Visayan Kilawin – salmon and cod cure in coconut vinegar, ginger and calamansi with crispy wontons. (Photo: Kubo)

Kubo – Spreading Filipino culture

Calvo set up Kubo initially as a home business during lockdown, providing Kamayan food deliveries to people at home.

Later, she ran Kubo from a stall at the Hill Street Hatch, a pop-up space for new entrepreneurs in Belfast to test their business ideas.

Calvo eventually opened Kubo's permanent location last month at Trademarket on Dublin Road.

It's been a dream come true for Calvo, who hopes to raise the visibility of Filipino culture in the city.

"Our supper clubs are a really important tool in spreading awareness about Filipino culture. I think little by little we're taking small steps to educate," she said.

Last month, she hosted the Philippine Kultura Food Festival to share Filipino food and culture with a wider audience.

Being able to cook and share Filipino cuisine has helped Calvo with her homesickness while living separately from her family.

"I love I can connect with them on a very emotional level as well," she said. "Even living so far away from them, it's my way of being close to them."