The Philippines’ cuisine breaks onto local food truck scene
Knockout fare from the Philippines fuels one of Medford’s newest food trucks.
Filipino Fire opened over the summer as the latest venture of Troy Wohosky, executive director and head coach of Spartan Boxing Gym. Co-owned by Wohosky’s brother, Jayson — and supported by their extended family — the truck parks most days in Spartan’s lot on Welch Street.
The Philippines’ cuisine seems underrepresented locally, given Filipinos’ presence in Southern Oregon. Amid Hawaiian and other Pacific Island fusion, Filipino Fire is the region’s only mobile food unit, of which I’m aware, serving that specific genre. It’s true to both Wohoksy’s native country and the Rogue Valley, where he was raised from early childhood.
The food truck’s name, indeed, could reference the catalyst that brought the Wohoksy family to Medford. After Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, there was neither food nor water, and people were looting, Wohoksy recalled in a Mail Tribune story published last November. Leaving many members of his family behind, Wohoksy, his siblings and mother immigrated to the United States with his American father, who had been stationed at Clark Air Base.
Speaking Tagalog, Wohoksy said he was bullied because he couldn't speak English, causing him to fight in school. Neighbors suggested he vent his aggression instead at a local boxing club. Eventually reaching the Olympic trials, Wohosky never attained his world champion goals but kept training in his driveway when his former gym shut down.
Kids living nearby asked Wohosky to teach them and, after growing his program to about 40 students, he accepted the offer from one of their dads to move into a Medford warehouse. At its 5,000-square-foot facility on Welch, Spartan has had over 1,000 students in its nonprofit, grant-funded programs. Beyond boxing, Wohoksy is known locally for his work in gang prevention.
Before long, cooking will confer new recognition on Wohoksy and his family. Filipino Fire has a small menu and limited hours of operation, but the food is intensely flavorful, supremely authentic and very fairly priced for the portion sizes.
Lumpia, the Philippines’ quintessential street snack and party dish, comes with every combination meal from Filipino Fire. Order an additional four or 12 pieces for $5 and $12, respectively.
That’s exactly what I did, rather than risk running short on lumpia while hosting my sister for lunch and pledging leftovers to my partner at home. Longer and more slender than other Asian springrolls, lumpia typically are stuffed with a mixture of ground pork and vegetables.
Their wrappers also thinner, deep-fried lumpia practically shatter with the first bite. That addictive crunch causes me to easily consume four to six rolls. So despite ordering the small side, I requested both entrees as combination meals with yet more lumpia.
Main dishes numbered three: pork or chicken adobo and pancit, each iconic dishes of the Philippines. I requested the chicken ($15) and the noodles known as pancit that can vary widely in their ingredients and preparation. But I never met a noodle I didn’t like.
My own pancit prepared at home — using a recipe from “Cook Real Hawai’i” by Filipino chef Sheldon Simeon — relies on chow mein-style wheat noodles. But it was immediately apparent that Filipino Fire’s version features rice vermicelli. And judging from the slices of Chinese sausage, the food truck’s pancit is likely “bihon guisado,” which also incorporates cabbage, carrot and onion.
The noodles, themselves, were feather-light and tender, offset by the crunchier vegetables. Their mild flavor got a salty-savory boost from the sausage, which I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. “Yummmmm!”my sister exclaimed.
Not that I needed more meat. The portion of chicken adobo came with a drumstick and small thigh over a generous mound of rice that was, again, both light and flavorful, soaking up some of the sauce that retained traces of traditional adobo seasonings, including bay leaves.
It sounds cliched to say the chicken fell off the bones. But I hadn’t had poultry of this long-simmered succulence in quite some time. Adobo’s inclusion of vinegar helps to soften protein fibers during the dish’s nearly hourlong cooking time. Even the fatty skin was melt-in-the-mouth tender, the cartilage an easily chewed morsel from the drumstick’s ends.
And the lumpia? Each roll was a perfect parcel of rich, porky goodness. I had to slow down after three, then relish a fourth and final lumpia so my partner could enjoy the remaining rolls. My only wish was for condiments more exotic than sweet chile for dipping. Banana ketchup, which can be purchased at Asian markets and on grocers’ ethnic foods aisles, is a common accompaniment in the Philippines.
As Filipino Fire expands its hours, I hope the menu expands, too, offering more specialties “of the islands,” pictured on its Instagram account. But to operate from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, the truck needs another location, according to a post earlier this month on Facebook. Any business owner interested in hosting Filipino Fire can email email@example.com. The truck also is working to set up delivery through DoorDash and Grubhub.
For now, find Filipino Fire Tuesday afternoons at Spartan, 729 Welch St. Follow @fiilpinofire on Instagram for updates and additional hours of operation. Or “like” FilipinoFire on Facebook. See spartanboxinggym.us for more about the boxing gym.
Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org