A Festive Feast by Tita Flips

Community News & Features Dec 22, 2017 at 5:09 pm
Chef and owner Diona Joyce

Chef and owner Diona Joyce

By Irish Mae Silvestre

When it comes to Noche Buena and New Year’s Eve, the jewel of every dining table is, hands down, the lechon or ham – maybe even both if you can manage it. Now, with the iconic pork dishes available as part of a special holiday menu at Kanto by Tita Flips, the art of entertaining just got that much easier for time-pressed hosts. Chef and owner Diona Joyce took some time out of her busy schedule to talk about her palabok and why Filipino cuisine is the new buzzword.
What needs to be done to promote Filipino cuisine?

Continue serving good, quality food. More and more people are coming on board. When I started about five to six years ago, especially in downtown Toronto, there was no street food or anything like that. For those who were in the business, they had only been serving Filipinos but not the mainstream. The older generations offered the cafeteria-style kind of thing, which is the usual there. But it’s only for Filipinos so when some non-Filipinos come into the store, they’re like, “What is it?” There was no explanation of what the dish was. It was daunting to try Filipino food the first time since it wasn’t really in the mainstream.

Why do you think people would want to try it?



It’s human nature: we always want to try something different. It’s something new so people would be curious and want to try it. It wasn’t mainstream yet. No one had tried it yet. But new is always good, right? I grew up eating Filipino food and I believe the cuisine is really good so it’s something I want to share with other people. If I eat it why would other people not [want to] eat it? We have a great culture and cuisine that we should be proud of. It’s just a matter of presenting it and making people try it.

What sets it apart from other cuisines?

Filipino food is Filipino food (laughs). It’s not Chinese, it’s not Japanese. It’s got a different distinct taste and flavor that’s only for Filipino cuisine. For example, my palabok. People learn to say, “palabok.” You learn to say “phad thai” so how you can you not learn to say “palabok”? It’s Filipino and it’s a distinct flavor so people should try it.

Do you have any specials for the holidays?

During Christmas, we have our traditional dishes. We have lechon belly which we do in-house we brine and marinate everything. It’s still daunting having a pig on the table for non-Filipinos so it’s boneless lechon belly. It’s still a traditional lechon with crispy skin and juicy meat but without the head, bones and feet. We also have Christmas ham, which is traditional fiesta ham. It’s made with Ontario pork and we cure them in-house and has that sweet pineapple flavor. I have different things going on but those are the two main ones.

Filipino Christmas is about…



LOTS of food (laughs). Growing up, it was more about food than presents, right? It’s about eating together and eating great things all day. You’re eating food that you don’t normally eat on a regular day because we only eat it on Christmas and it’s about bonding and family.

How do you set yourself apart?

I don’t see myself as trendy; my style is really on the more authentic side. I still retain the integrity of the dish. I don’t like fancy types of dishes. So I find a medium in terms of cooking while still keeping the integrity of the dish. For example, I don’t put a lot of mussels or tinapa (smoked fish) in my palabok because some people find it too fishy if it’s traditional. I try to adjust it to make it more accessible to the North American palette.

When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?

I’ve always wanted to cook. I always loved cooking for birthday parties and stuff. I used to work in an office and it wasn’t my calling. Being in the kitchen, while it’s hard work and a lot of standing on your feet, it’s what I’m happy doing. So far, it’s been seven years… I guess it’s working.

Kanto by Tita Flips, 707 Dundas Street West, (416) 893-0737, kanto.ca