The Filipino-American Community of Vermont will throw its first public festival and fundraiser on Saturday, June 11, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Barns at Lang Farm in Essex Junction. The event will include live entertainment, a kids Miss and Mr. Fil-Am pageant, a raffle, crafts, games and a range of Filipino food vendors. Admission is $5 at the door and free for children 5 and under.
Cathy Bender of South Burlington has lived in Vermont for 16 years and serves as treasurer of the nonprofit group. She said there are about 200 member-households scattered around the state who gather periodically to share cultural traditions and also help each other access consular and other services.
“It is nice to reach out and connect with my fellow Filipinos,” Bender said.
Bender, who works in food service at the University of Vermont, will also be one of the festival food vendors. She began baking cakes and other traditional Filipino delicacies at home during the pandemic. Her business, Cathy’s Homebaking, took off, Bender said.
Among her most popular offerings are a sponge cake roll flavored with the purple yam known as ube and filled with a mixture of whipped cream and cream cheese, as well as an egg yolk-enriched cake called yema.
For Saturday’s event, Bender will also make barbecue chicken and pork skewers glazed with a homemade, sweet-tangy sauce made with ketchup, honey, lime and soy sauce. Before she moved to the U.S. in 2006 at the age of 23, Bender grew up eating street food in the Philippines. “One stick or two was enough to satisfy your craving,” she said.
Bender will also make bibingka, a baked sweet rice cake made with sticky rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, eggs and coconut. These cakes are often topped with a mild, salty cheese “to balance the sweet,” she said. In Vermont, Bender uses cheddar.
Raven Antonio will also offer baked goods flavored with ube, coconut and pandan, another distinctive Southeast Asian flavor, plus a sweet, milky drink similar to bubble tea with squares of fruit jelly. She launched Maritela’s Filipino Baked Goods out of her Colchester home in the fall of 2021 after graduating from the Vermont Foodbank’s Community Kitchen Academy culinary training program offered in partnership with Feeding Chittenden.
Antonio, 26, moved to Vermont six years ago from the Philippines. Having her own food business “was a long dream of mine,” she said. She named it after her two grandmothers, Marilou and Otela. “In Filipino culture, we are very tight with our ancestors,” Antonio said. “I feel like it’s empowering to come up with that name and to honor them.”
A third food vendor, Mercy Mallette of South Hero, has lived in Vermont since 1988. The initial adjustment was tough. “Everything is so different from our culture,” Mallette, 55, said, adding quickly, “but not in a bad way. Just different.”
Mallette explained that, like Filipino food, her background includes Chinese, Japanese and Spanish heritage. Prior to the pandemic, her Mercy’s Asian Island Cuisine was a regular Grand Isle farmers market stall. Many people are more familiar with Chinese food than Filipino dishes, so she offers lo mein stir fry and egg rolls, even though the latter are called lumpia in the Philippines.
For the June 11 festival, Mallette will also serve Singapore-style noodles called pansit, usually made with very thin rice or cornstarch noodles. “They are famous in the Philippines,” she said. “Every Filipino loves to eat pansit.”