We never thought we’d see the day when Kwek Kwek, isaw and Dirty Ice cream stands would pop up in Times Square NY of all places, but Pinoys VJ Navarro and Sebastien Shan made the dream happen with So Sarap NYC, a new street-food pop-up that’s now taking the city by storm.
So Sarap NYC takes a huge leap in introducing Americans to Filipino Street Food while giving our ‘kababayans’ a taste of home. VJ Navarro and Sebastien Shan, who were high school best friends turned business partners, are the masterminds behind this endeavor. The Filipino Street Food Pop-Up was birthed back in 2020 amidst the pandemic. They have been serving popular Filipino street food staples ever since such as fish balls, taho, isaw, balut, penoy, ice candy, and many more.
VJ Navarro is no stranger to the New York City food scene and has worked in fine dining restaurants like Nobu, Lure Fishbar, Burger & Bar, and Sessanta. When the pandemic hit, VJ was part of the millions of workers displaced by a wave of restaurants closing their doors because of restrictions, but his resilience, hard work, and perseverance have turned the food he spent his childhood eating into a successful business venture. Taking a huge risk, VJ along with his friend Sebastien and his father Virgilio Navarro aka Manong Ilio literally took Filipino food to the streets and became a huge hit, especially towards the Filipino-American community.
“Once the pandemic struck, NYC restaurants closed and I was laid off from work. I knew that I had to find the silver lining from my situation, and that was when I knew it was the perfect time to bring all of the ideas I’ve had brewing for a Filipino Street Food Pop-Up into fruition,” said Navarro.
The men behind So Sarap NYC had a daunting mission in front of them, which is to remind Filipinos of their childhood memories and give everyone a taste of what Filipino street food is all about. The long lines and the fast dissemination through word of mouth, earning them customer after customer, is proof that they are headed in the right direction.
Are Americans ready for Filipino Street Food?
Majority of the beloved classic Filipino dishes that we have consist of what foreigners refer to as offal. Offal dishes utilize the internal organs of different animals such as chicken liver and pork intestines, which may be off-putting for a lot of people. We, as Filipinos know very well though that when done right — they taste amazing. There are a lot of videos showcasing the reactions of foreigners towards our favorite dishes such as balut and isaw with disgust on their faces. Admittedly this type of food is not for everyone, however, So Sarap NYC is slowly gaining the hearts of people who are adventurous enough to try these dishes. When asked regarding the reception of people towards their food, VJ had this to say:
“Everyone was very excited and so, so proud. Filipinos stated how it made them feel like they were transported back home. And according to those who have tried our street food for the first time, they loved it and were very happy to have experienced how we roll, so to speak.”
On the other side of the world, Filipino cuisine is slowly getting the recognition that it rightfully deserves, thanks to people like the Navarros and Shan. Through these creative visionaries, they are able to transport people back home and into our side of the world that they have not yet discovered.
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