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The Story Behind Señor Sisig, San Francisco's Famous Filipino Food Truck

"I think sisig is perfectly positioned to win the hearts and minds of the world as a whole”—Anthony Bourdain, June 5, 2017

 

Almost ten years before Anthony Bourdain shared these thoughts in a television interview, Evan Kidera felt them in his gut. The half-Japanese half-Caucasian business graduate turned on the ignition to the Señor Sisig food truck in 2010, and starting from his native San Francisco, has been driving to close the distance between Filipino food and the American palette ever since.

“I had gone to high school in Daly City, so I had tons of Filipino friends, was versed in Filipino culture, fell in love with Filipino culture. My lady is Filipino, my daughter is Filipino. So I know a lot about Filipino food. My undergrad was also Asian-American studies, so I’d done much research on Filipinos coming to America. The immigration of all Asians, really, but I was always curious as to why you couldn’t go get Filipino food like you could go get Japanese food, or Chinese food, or Vietnamese, or Thai, which are so accessible. What was it about Filipino cuisine that didn’t make the mainstream?”

 

Evan with his daughter

 

We’re sitting in a dive bar called Benders in the heart of San Francisco, and Evan has posed the question that inevitably sparked the birth of Señor Sisig. The fusion food truck that he conceptualized and operates with high school buddy Chef Gil Payumo, has gained much recognition and a wide audience in its decade of existence, harped about by the Bay Area’s global techie set and old school TFC-watching Titas alike.

 

 

But how did a non-Filipino decide on building a business around a relatively obscure dish in Filipino fare? Aside from his connection to the Filipino community, Evan’s ability to read the culinary landscape and make a creative and courageous forecast paved the way for his success. In 2008, in his mid-twenties and already antsy with the thought of leaving his job to explore a low risk investment, Evan started becoming more observant of his surroundings. Born into a family of restaurateurs, the soon-to-be entrepreneur was traveling America doing music, when he realized that the cities he was visiting—New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, Portland—all had robust street food scenes, carts with a range of offerings from halal to unique local fare.

“And so this was a question I asked myself. Why does San Francisco not have that when San Francisco is probably one of the biggest melting pots in America?”

The dig began. Where, indeed, was San Francisco’s street food? It turns out the city had many out-of-date laws and regulations in place—obstacles that Evan and like-minded colleagues, like Off the Grid’s Matt Cohen, would eventually successfully simplify. But in the meantime, Twitter had launched as a platform, and word was starting to spread about a certain Korean taco truck in Los Angeles.

 

 

“We were down there to do a couple of shows, and I think we were in Echo Park, just driving to soundcheck, and we passed by this truck at like 3PM, and there was a line of about 40-50 people! At that time? You don’t see that kind of a line unless it’s 3AM... So I was like, 'pull over, I gotta check what this is,' and sure enough, it was Kogi. It was the Korean taco truck. And I was like, okay. Wow. Wow.

Evan returned to San Francisco, brain spinning. While he had originally toyed with doing a bento truck or a ramen truck just to break the mold of the taco truck concept, he had seen something in LA that he couldn’t undo. “And so I got excited, and I was like, ‘We’re gonna do all Asian tacos and burritos, like Japanese, Filipino, Thai, everything.’ Came back, started to wind that down and was like, that’s gonna confuse people, trying to do too many things…”

The "aha" moment came in an exploration of why, of all the Asian cuisines, Filipino food was the least accessible. Part of his theory was that Filipinos, when they immigrated, were very proud of their food. While they were willing to change language in order to assimilate, encouraging their children to speak only English to advance in American society, food was something they were not quick to compromise.

“They weren’t willing to let their food go. It was like, 'look, this is dinuguan, either you’re gonna eat it or you’re not gonna eat it, we’re not gonna change it.' While Japanese are like ‘Oh, we’ll make a California roll for you.’ Even Mexicans, it’s like, ‘We’ll make a burrito for you.’ ”

So how did they land on sisig, the unlikely dish popularized as a partner to inuman (drinking) sessions, made from the “extra” bits of the pig?

That was Chef Gil’s brilliant offering.

 

 


 

 

When Evan approached Gil with the idea of doing a Filipino taco truck, the young Pampangueño graduate of Le Cordon Bleu threw it back to his family’s arsenal of recipes, landing on sisig as the perfect diced up meat to fill the familiar taco. The magic of the secret 24-hour marinated meat is also available in tofu and chicken variations (fun fact: Evan wasn’t eating meat at the time of conceptualization, though he is now).

 

 

With a 45-person strong team, and five trucks, Señor Sisig has broken the mold and continues to explore new territory, interestingly influencing even menus back in Manila. If you spot “San Francisco Style Sisig” the next time you’re at your favorite late night taco spot in Makati, you can safely assume that Evan’s vision and Gil’s recipe had something to do with that.

 

Señor Sisig Founders Evan and Gil

 

And so what are Evan’s thoughts on taking the wheels off the truck and setting up a brick and mortar restaurant?

"I mean, we’ve always been looking. That’s a question I get a lot. The way I see it is we’re very successful here in San Francisco as a food truck. So we gotta be sensitive to what we built. Although a lot of food trucks have done that; they’ve gone from food truck to restaurant; some restaurants have gone from restaurant to food truck. And they've managed both. But I am sensitive to Señor Sisig and that experience, and so what is Señor Sisig in a restaurant? I don’t think we’ve gotten to the point where we’re really comfortable to identify that.”