Sarap: Detroit’s One and Only Filipino Pop-Up

By: Toni Cunningham | August 20, 2014

When you think about Asian food in Metro Detroit, your favorite Chinese place and Thai joint probably come to mind quickly. But what about a Filipino restaurant? You’ll probably be hard pressed to come up with one—because there really aren’t any in Southeast Michigan. That is, until Sarap made its debut.

Sarap, a Tagalog word meaning “delicious,” is a Metro Detroit-based pop-up restaurant that made its first appearance in June. Since then, co-founders Dorothy Hernandez and Jake Williams have hosted two sold out dinner events and Sarap was recently named one of Detroit’s best new restaurants by Thrillist.

Hernandez, a first-generation Filipino-American, has always loved food, and cooking was a very important part of her life growing up, whether she was at a family celebration or simply spending time in the kitchen with her mother and sister.

“My mom, who is a nurse, would cater on the side, so my sister and I would help her make empanadas [stuffed meat hand pies], lumpia [spring rolls] and other traditional dishes,” Hernandez said. “Jake is a certified executive chef with more than 17 years of experience in the industry and he loves learning about different cultures through food.”

Photo courtesy of Joe Hakim

Photo courtesy of Joe Hakim

After recognizing the void in Detroit, Hernandez decided to draw inspiration from creative Filipino restaurants across the country like Pig & Khao in New York and Qui in Austin that use traditional flavors to bring fusion cuisine to hungry eaters.

“After being on the fringes of the culinary mainstream for a long time, Filipino food has started to garner attention. It’s been named as the next big thing by magazines like ‘Details’ and ‘Bon Appétit.” I thought with my knowledge of the cuisine and Jake’s culinary expertise, we could be the ones to bring the trend to Detroit,” Hernandez said.

One of the most challenging aspects of running a pop-up restaurant, according to Hernandez, is the shuffle of going into someone else’s kitchen and finding your bearings. The most rewarding part, however, is getting to meet people who have been inspired by Sarap.

“For example, this one man shared his experiences on Facebook about cooking with Navy Filipino Culinary Specialists and that my stories about pancit and lumpia made him want to cook Filipino food again,” Hernandez said.

A huge misconception is that Filipino food is made up of what you’ve seen on “Fear Factor” or “Bizarre Foods,” which is not the case. Filipino food is fresh, beautiful and diverse, according to Hernandez, and it incorporates and showcases local ingredients.

“We want to be able to give people a taste of Filipino food—which has influences from Spain, China, America and Malay—and present it in a beautiful and elegant way,” Hernandez said.

Photo courtesy of Joe Hakim

Photo courtesy of Joe Hakim

A typical Sarap pop-up dinner will blend traditional dishes like lumpia and pancit (that Hernandez learned how to make with her mom) with a modern twist, which is where Jake comes in. That means you might be presented with something traditional like lumpia for one course, followed by longanisa (Filipino-style sausages) sandwiches with tamarind mustard and homemade pandesal (rolls) for the next.

Even though Hernandez and Williams are preparing Filipino food, they still try to stay local in one respect—when sourcing their ingredients.

“Living in Michigan, the country’s second most diverse agricultural state, we are very committed to incorporating seasonal and local ingredients because there are so many great products to choose from,” Hernandez said. “We try to source as many ingredients as possible, such as salad greens and other produce, as well as beef and pork. We shop at Eastern Market and we’re also members of FoodLab Detroit.”

Of course, traditional and authentic ingredients like ube and coconuts require the use of non-Michigan products, but the duo’s dedication to staying as local as possible is quite impressive.

Thus far, Sarap has done pop-up events at Supino Pizzeria and Great Lakes Culinary Center. The next pop-up will be held on Sunday, Aug. 24 at Kate’s Downtown, 231 Port Huron Ave., Port Huron, where attendees will enjoy a Filipino-inspired brunch.

“I’m really excited about this menu because it’s a good example of taking those traditional Filipino flavors and reinterpreting them in a new dish. We are still going to have some traditional dishes, such as pancit palabok [noodles with a pork and shrimp sauce] and lechon kawali [deep-fried pork belly], but we’re also going to do some fun twists on brunch favorites, such as waffles made with ube [purple yam] and longanisa eggs [a twist on the Scotch egg using homemade Filipino-style sausage],” Hernandez said.

Photo courtesy of Joe Hakim

Photo courtesy of Joe Hakim

The multi-course meal costs $40 and there is a vegetarian option available. Reservations for the pop-up brunch can be made via the Sarap website.

Additional events taking place in the coming months include Sarap’s participation in the St. Clair County Tastefest and the final pop-up dinner of 2014, which will take place in September at a yet-to-be-announced location.

“The really great part about doing a pop-up in Metro Detroit is because it’s home to a very collaborative, supportive and tight-knit community fostered by the entrepreneurial and inventive spirit one can only find in the Motor City… Aside from the chefs and entrepreneurs in Detroit, there’s also a very passionate and excited community of food lovers who are always looking for something new to try and really appreciate good food. I can’t really think of a better place to do Sarap than here,” Hernandez said.

For more information on Sarap, as well as additional details on future pop-ups, visit the official website or Facebook page.