Recipes from a grandmother’s Filipino kitchen land in Williams Lake

 Recipes from a grandmother’s Filipino kitchen land in Williams Lake

Elena Brodland opened La Kantina on First Avenue in 2022, the Cariboo’s only Filipino restaurant

Lucky for us, the only Filipino restaurant in the Cariboo is right in Williams Lake on First Avenue.

Elena Brodland opened La Kantina (where Trattoria Pasta Shop used to be) in June 2022; Filipino food being what she grew up cooking with her grandmother in the Philippines as a child. She remembers working at her grandmother’s restaurant with her cousins.

“She’d make us taste each dish to see what was missing,” said Brodland, smiling as she remembered how particular her grandmother was over each dish.

Today, some of these same recipes have made it into Brodland’s shop. Other dishes are her own creations, including the creamy coconut chicken curry and the spring rolls on the menu.

“Sometimes what I do is I do a trial. I’ll cook it and then I’ll taste it and if something is missing, I’ll add a little bit until I get the right taste of how my grandma made it.”

All of the dishes are authentic Filipino food, Brodland said, noting the high standards she holds to ensure the original Filipino flavour.

This is not always easy in the Cariboo, as some of the products are hard to get and often out of stock. For example, there’s sisig powder, a blend of different spices used in the restaurant’s tuna sisig dish, as well as the calamansi — a lemon native to the Philippines.

“It tastes totally different from the lemon here than the lemon in the Philippines.”

They also use different noodles called canton noodles, which are thicker and made with different ingredients than noodles made here.

“I don’t want to use the noodles here. I tried one time … it’s a totally different taste. It’s not the authentic Filipino pancit canton, so I have to be particular with what I use.”

The family restaurant is run by Brodland and her mother, Mercedita Francisco. Her husband, Ron, also helps out when he’s not working at the Gibraltar Mine, where he’s been the last 19 years. The couple has two daughters, Ella (born in 2005) and Tya (born in 2006), one at Thompson Rivers University and the other in Grade 12.

Brodland and Ron met after he came to the Philippines to visit his friends, whom Brodland also knew. After their meeting, they continued talking long distance Brodland in the Philippines and Ron in Canada. They remained friends for a couple of years before dating and then a year and a half later, Ron proposed, first online and then arriving back in the Philippines to propose in person. They married in 2004, and in 2005, Brodland joined Ron in Canada, first flying into Vancouver and then driving up to Williams Lake.

At the time, Brodland was working as a medical technologist; however, as is the case for many who move to Canada, her credentials wouldn’t transfer — despite her program in the Philippines being a Bachelor of Science degree and Canada’s being a shorter diploma program. Instead, she landed a job as a lab technician at Cariboo Memorial Hospital in 2007. She worked there until 2019, when she slipped on ice and was injured, left with headaches and sensitivity to bright lights, amongst other symptoms. After a two-year hiatus and making a remarkable recovery — though not entirely — she still finds herself at her restaurant, cooking the food her grandmother taught her to cook.

“The strong bond with family, closeness with each other, celebrating things,” said Brodland, is part of the Filipino tradition, something she maintains with her family today in Canada. On Christmas Eve, the family celebrates Noche Buena, a Filipino tradition that has the family cooking and feasting together until midnight. In the Philippines, it includes roasting a whole pig, although here, they roast just the belly of a pig. On New Year’s Eve, they do the same thing: cooking, feasting and celebrating until midnight. They’ll also open all their doors and windows, letting out any bad luck and welcoming good luck and prosperity.

Christmas will be busy for Brodland; the restaurant is open seven days a week, other than on Christmas Day. Her mom will be visiting the Philippines, leaving Brodland there alone. She loves what she does, though.

“It’s tiring, but I enjoy it because I love cooking … Then I ask my husband to try [the food],” she said with a laugh. “I have my standards. If I don’t like it, it’s not going to be on the menu.”

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