Olivia Francisco celebrates her birthday with a Filipino feast

Birthday celebrations: Olivia Francisco celebrated her birthday on November 26 with a feast for friends and family. Photo: Pip Waller.
Birthday celebrations: Olivia Francisco celebrated her birthday on November 26 with a feast for friends and family. Photo: Pip Waller.

Olivia Francisco can still remember the inviting smell of garlic and onions on the streets of the Philippines.

Ms Francisco - who has lived in Bunbury since 2012 - says the smell was associated with celebrations.

"As soon as people smelt that smell, they would say, oh there's a birthday or a wedding happening, because that's what that smell meant.

"It was usually my mum and dad who were cooking for the community, but everyone would go and help and make enough food for everyone."

This sense of celebrating as a community is now something Ms Francisco tries to do in Bunbury, and for this week's In My Kitchen, she revealed how she celebrated her birthday in a similar way.

With a feast fit to feed over 50 people, Ms Francisco said the Filipino tradition was to make double or even triple the amount of food required.

"Because in our culture, if I invited you, you might bring your son, your daughter or your whole family," she explained.

"Nothing is wasted either - when people go home, they take away everything on the table."

For her birthday feast, Ms Francisco had created more than 10 dishes for her invited guests to enjoy.

With the help of her husband, Enrique, her 11-year-old daughter Denise and her 18-year-old son Gabriel, plus many friends and family who came and went with dishes, Ms Francisco spent the whole morning cooking before guests started to arrive around 1pm.

As she cooked, she explained the significance of each dish, which included the following:

  • Lumpia (spring rolls)
  • Puto (steamed rice cake)
  • Kaldereta (beef stew)
  • Igado (pork stew)
  • Kilawin (yellow fin tuna)
  • Panat (noodles)
  • Fried chicken
  • A whole, roast pig
  • Sweets - Filipino donuts and birthday cake

Ms Francisco said puto (steamed rice cake) and panat (noodles) were significant to birthdays and for celebrating long life.

The puto, which were pink in colour, were made with the help of Denise and Gabriel.

In a bowl, Denise and Gabriel mixed rice flour, sugar, butter and eggs.

They then spooned the liquid into small, round cupcake-like pans.

Over boiling water, they placed the pans onto a steamer for around 20 minutes until they "popped".

The children said the puto was traditionally served with grated cheese.

Both Denise and Gabriel were born in Cainta Rizal in the Philippines, and although they said they at first didn't want to move to Australia, they now love it.

Ms Francisco said they quickly felt at home in Bunbury thanks to the big Filipino community.

"We moved here because Enrique got a job here, and at first we thought we'd be a bit lonely without many friends," she said.

"But there really is a lot of Filipinos here, so it's great when we have big celebrations like this with a lot of our cultural food.

"We're really happy here."

Mr Francisco made kilawin (yellow fin tuna) for the birthday feast.

Served more as an entrée style dish, Mr Francisco said kilawin was enjoyed traditional alongside beer or spirits.

Fermented with lemon, vinegar, onion, and chilli, Mr Francisco added salt and ginger to the dish.

It is then eaten raw.

Both Mr Francisco and Ms Francisco said they were very family oriented; something they wanted to pass onto their children.

"It's very important,' Ms Francisco said.

"Gabriel lives in Perth but he always comes home, and I make sure he has a whole week's worth of food before he leaves again."

To make the igado, which is pork stew with friend banana plantain, Ms Francisco cut pork belly, capsicum and banana with a special knife Enrique had made her from jarrah wood.

In a big, traditional Filipino pan, she cooked all the ingredients together with a tomato-based sauce.

As she cooked, Ms Francisco confessed how much she loved cooking, and that it was her dad who taught her how.

"I was around seven or eight when I started sneaking around the kitchen to watch my dad cook," she said.

"In the old days, kids were not allowed in kitchen, we had to stay in the playground when cooking is happening.

"But I really wanted to learn. He was a really good cook."

After her parents died when she was 16 years old, Ms Francisco became a big support to her older siblings, who to this day still look to Ms Francisco for "decision making and cooking".

Ms Francisco said she loved cooking for her family and friends, but also to share Filipino cuisine with her Australian neighbours.

"It's important to me that every time I have a special occasion that I invite my friends, neighours and the community.

"My Australian neighbours can usually smell my cooking on the street and they say is that you Olivia? And I say yes, come over and taste my cooking!"

"They usually love it and it's a big compliment to me."

In addition to the feast, Ms Francisco said her friends, family and co-workers would also enjoy the Filipino tradition at parties of karaoke and dancing.

Do you know a local who loves to cook?

Send an email to pip.waller@bunburymail.com.au.

My Australian neighbours can usually smell my cooking on the street and they say is that you Olivia? And I say yes, come over and taste my cooking!"

Olivia Francisco
Olivia's daughter Denise and her son, Gabriel, helping make some of the puto (steamed rice cake).

Olivia's daughter Denise and her son, Gabriel, helping make some of the puto (steamed rice cake).

This story Lumpia, Puto, Kilawin and more: Olivia creates a birthday Filipino feast first appeared on Bunbury Mail.