“There's something about Filipinos and Filipino culture, we are just so adaptable, and as a people we’ve been exposed to so many different influences, so I think it's just part of our DNA.”
The after-work crowd at Mestiza, the popular eatery on Bryant and Fourth, is building to a low rumble, and Deanna Sison Foster shuts the door to her office just as a Michael Jackson impersonator settles down at the bar with a frosty bottle of San Miguel. Mestiza is Deanna’s fourth and most recent project -- she was also on the teams behind Famer Brown, Little Skillet, and Victory Hall and Parlor -- and she explains how each endeavor expresses her perspectives on food as a Filipina-American with a rather unique upbringing.
“Coming from a Filipino family, food was an important part of our family traditions. In Florida, we would get together with other Filipinos and have big picnics around food, but then we moved to Germany. So my parents were from the Philippines, and I was living in Germany , but raised in American culture. So the influences of what I ate were always varied. We were a military family and entertained frequently. My mom, who was a great cook, would often be thematic about her dinner parties -- everything from sushi to Indian curry, to Filipino food. So I guess that eating as part of a cultural practice and socialization was a big part of my life, and something that I have always enjoyed.”
It’s an energy of communal enjoyment that Deanna was able to duplicate at her previous projects -- and something that’s in great supply at Mestiza, where Chef Sophina Uong (formerly of Calavera and Picán in Oakland) lends her expert hand in a range of cuisines and techniques to create taqueria and pulutan-inspired selections, rooted in an encyclopedic range of Southeast Asian and Latin flavors.
“I just want to be surrounded by good food, good people, and good vibes, so that’s how Mestiza was born: paying homage to my Filipino roots, as well as the way that I grew up eating a mixture of different cultures and influences. Even the word Mestiza' traditionally, it's common Filipino slang to refer to a person of Spanish origin. But my interpretation of 'Mestiza' is its true meaning, which is mixed, and I feel like that’s what we’re about: this harmonious mixing of cultures.”
It’s a pattern that Deanna sees reflected in the rich cultural history of the Bay Area, as well as the histories of both Filipino and Mexican peoples.
“Mestiza speaks to a lot of people who grew up in the Bay Area, because everyone comes from a different background. I think the Mexican notion of a taqueria is awesome, and I wanted to give props to Chavo’s, the taqueria that was in this spot for 30 years -- I felt like we needed to highlight the rich culinary history that Mexico and the Philippines share. For 200 years, the Mexico-Manila galleon exchanged produce, spices, and other foods between the two lands. There are so many similarities between Mexican and Filipino cuisine, and the flavors and ingredients that we use.”
Still, Deanna is careful to stress that Sophina’s food won’t be limited by traditional cultural markers, and wants Mestiza to truly represent its philosophy of constantly mixing and remixing ideas in and out of the kitchen -- although presenting Filipino food that reflects her generation’s tastes, a relative rarity until recent years, remains a focus.
“San Francisco is really known as this culinary capital where you can find basically any ethnic cuisine -- it is heaven because we have the best of the best. But I found that Filipino food was really underrepresented, and I knew that it fit very well with the flavors and spices of Mexican cuisine. I think that’s how a lot of the newer generation of Filipino-Americans have grown up, eating, enjoying, and identifying with a lot of different influences.”
This mixing of cultures has produced a unique and varied Filipino-American identity that Deanna is excited to experience at UNDISCOVERED, where Mestiza will be serving Pork Adobo Nachos with Achara and Epazote Crema, Vegetarian Chicarrones topped with Chile Con Queso, and their famous Sticky Wings served with a spicy Chile Morita Sauce.
“We are overdue for an event like UNDISCOVERED. Filipino-Americans have played such a big role, especially in San Francisco, that it’s about time we had a designated cultural district and I am super proud and excited to be part of it. The Filipino-American culture here in the City is so strong and unified with so much amazing talent, I can’t wait to see us all out there.”