Life

Ann Pornel dishes on all her favourite Filipino foods

From sinigang to ube ice cream, the Baking Show co-host is waiting for Philippine cuisine’s glow-up.

From sinigang to ube ice cream, the Baking Show co-host is waiting for Philippine cuisine’s glow-up

Ann Pornel with long blond hair, wearing a light aqua-coloured, Filipino-style dress with terno sleeves.
(Credit: Geoff George)

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ann Pornel, co-host of The Great Canadian Baking Show, about something that is near and dear to both of us: Filipino food.

For me, growing up in Thunder Bay, Ont., meant the only Philippine cuisine available was whatever my parents made. Adobo, mechado and torta are synonymous with childhood for me, just as pork sinigang and longsilog are for Pornel, the self-proclaimed "Filipino queen."

Pornel immigrated to Canada when she was five but has gone back to the Philippines a few times since then. She currently lives in Toronto with her parents, so access to authentic Filipino food from her childhood is never far away. 

"[People] don't even know what we can make with just a bulb of garlic and vinegar," Pornel said with a laugh.

We discussed her favourite comfort dish, her newfound love of roadside food in the Philippines, and what it means to her to see Filipino food represented on The Great Canadian Baking Show

​​This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Describe what breakfast looked like growing up, both in the Philippines and when you moved to Canada. 

Rice, rice, rice! Even when we went back [to the Philippines] in '93, I remember fried eggs with golden brown crispy bubbled edges, and longganisa or red hot dogs, with garlic rice. I remember thinking, "Why do we get to eat like this here but not at home where I would have toast or cereal?" So, yeah, I've always had a problem with North American breakfast.

What is your Filipino comfort food? 

The one that I want on my birthday and holidays, or if someone's asking me what I want to eat, will always, always be sinigang. I love pork sinigang. Fish sinigang is good, but there's just something about that super tangy sour broth and then a big ol' hunk of meat up top. Oh, I'm so hungry right now!

We know from the Baking Show and Raufikat's Better Bake Along that you don't bake, but do you cook?

No! I am a classic spoiled child! I hate to reveal it, but it's true. I'm not a great cook. It's not to say that I can't. I just don't. When I cook, it's always things that I'm interested in. My parents are like, "Well, that's nice for you." And then they'll go open up their adobo that they made on Sunday. 

Is there a Filipino dish you wish you knew how to cook or hope to learn?

I would really love to learn how to make sinigang so I can stop asking for it. I think about the tradition of passing on recipes as a family. That did not happen with my family. Every time I ask my mom how to make sinigang, she's like, "I'll just make it for you." She's gatekeeping secrets on purpose so that I never make it better than hers!

That reminds me of my mom. She will give me the recipe, but she will not give me the measurements. It's like a Technical Bake. 

That's it! That's absolutely so accurate. She's like, "Here's the list." Then you're like, "Well, how much of what?"

Speaking of Technical Bakes, Baking Show did a sans rival last season. How bummed were you that you missed that day? 

You are bringing up the triggerest memory! I kid you not! I was sick at home and I was so upset that one of my best friends literally went … and got me five different sans rival slices from various Filipino corner stores. That's how bummed I was! I'm the Filipino queen! Why would they be doing this if it wasn't for me?

I came back the next day that we were shooting and everyone's like, "Oh, we missed you!"  And one of the camera [operators] told me a tree got struck by lightning [outside], and I was like, "That was me! That was my angry spirit being upset to not be included!"

Are there any Filipino desserts or bakes you want to see on the show?

I always think about this because I would love to see more Filipino things. Last season, when [contestant] Jomar [Manzano] walked up to [judges] Bruno [Feldeisen] and Kyla [Kennaley] to present his pandesal Showstopper for Bread Week, I burst into tears. Pandesal is a very humble roll, but it's such a big part of Filipino culture. 

It makes me emotional now because it was so cool to see something very Filipino be presented in a beautiful way, and I felt so special to be a part of that. To me, any Filipino representation is huge.

A portrait of a woman's face made of bread. The "hair" is made of a bunch of pandesal rolls and the "face" is made of foccacia, adorned with olives.
Jomar Manzano used pandesal to make up the "hair" in his Showstopper portrait from Season 6's Bread Week. (Credit: Geoff George)

A few years ago, you did a massive trip through Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. What was a new food you discovered that you love? 

My favourite was honestly the ice creams they go door to door selling, like, in the tin cans in a little cart. I crave that constantly! Those little tiny scoops of either mango or ube were the two that I would eat with the little cones. And taho, the soft tofu in the syrup with boba balls. Anything that someone came to the door selling, I would buy immediately.

I really got in a place of [discovering] roadside foods — stomping off the side of the road for turon and siopao. There's something about that experience of watching someone make your food as you stand by and watch.

When it comes to cuisine, particularly Asian cuisine, Filipino food isn't typically at the top of the list. How do we change that?

I think that's coming up because I've noticed a lot of Filipino vendors and Filipino small businesses [lately]. We're just quietly waiting for our glow-up. But when it happens, people will be like, "Yeah duh! I know this stuff already!" There's a lot of Filipino dishes that people are already familiar with, but they don't even realize it. So I'm like, don't worry, I can wait. I think the Philippines is coming. I have faith in that.

I'm certainly looking forward to Filipino food taking over North America, one Jollibee at a time.

Yes! Get more Jollibees so there's less of a lineup. That's the next goal, honestly!

And finally, fork and spoon versus hand: How do you eat your Filipino food?

Gasp! It will be fork and spoon because I have long fingernails, so to get anything underneath them grosses me out. So, fork and spoon is the number one choice, then fork and knife, and then hand. That is the hierarchy of utensils for Ann Pornel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Villagracia is a writer and producer for CBC Life and CBC Arts who loves to bake and uses movie quotes to express real human emotions. She also tries to insert D&D or her cat into every conversation. Follow her on Instagram @mivi3k.

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