Flavourful Fili foods found in town

A new food store in Whitehorse will help ease the transition into Canadian life for Filipinos. Inspired by a growing Filipino community and an…

A new food store in Whitehorse will help ease the transition into Canadian life for Filipinos.

Inspired by a growing Filipino community and an absence of food from home, Beth Gallanosa opened the small grocery in late March.

She knew she wanted her own business, but wavered on what it would be.

Then, after making a trek to Winnipeg and filling her suitcase with Filipino snacks to bring home, Gallanosa and her partner, Art Kehler, decided there was a demand for the traditional food in the North.

“Why only when we go to the big city can we have Filipino food?” she says, displaying the wares of Fili Foods, located in the Yukon Inn Plaza.

In only a month, Gallanosa and Kehler secured a space, obtained the permitting and filled the small store.

Refrigerators offer juice, yoghurt drinks and chocolate milk. The packaging looks familiar, but slightly different.

“Our version of chocolate milk,” Gallanosa gestures. “It has a distinct taste. It has more flavour.”

Shoppers seeking flavour will find it here.

Marinated milkfish, dried baby shrimp and smoked herring, hot sausage and marinated pork, chicken and pork steamed buns and tiny, pre-peeled bananas fill a freezer.

Gallanosa imports them from a Vancouver supplier, but she is hoping to eventually bring the foods directly to Whitehorse.

Down the aisles, customers will find pouches of spaghetti sauce by Del Monte, Filipino style.

It is sweeter, she explains.

There are six varieties of flavoured tuna, and halo-halo, a traditional favourite mix of sweetened fruit and beans.

Pre-made snacks, candy and baked goodies also abound: chips made from banana, potato and rice, Skyflakes, a popular soda cracker, dried fruit and tarts and sweet pastries filled with purple yam, mung beans and mango.

There are dozens of varieties of rice and noodles, along with flavour packets such as tamarind, pang kare-kare, sweet and sour and adobo to create traditional dishes.

To complement the meals are a variety of sauces including lime soy sauce, banana ketchup and vinegar spiced with hot peppers, garlic and onions.

And to make traditional desserts, Gallanosa also stocks flan pans and melon scrapers.

Many of the packages are single servings, a departure from the way North Americans cook and shop.

“Filipinos eat six times a day,” Gallanosa says, pointing to the rice and rice noodles. “They love food. You’re not Filipino if you don’t have rice in your house.

“In the Philippines, we try to sell things in small packages, or individually; even cigarettes and diapers.

“Not everybody an afford to buy it all in one shot.”

Not everybody knows what they want to buy either.

Even Gallanosa is not familiar with all the products in her store.

“Every time I walk by there, I see something I want to try,” she says.

So she does.

The packages that she opens sit on the counter for curious shoppers to sample.

Her customers, particularly those who are unfamiliar with the foods, appreciate the opportunity to try them before they buy.

Business is growing, among Filipino and non-Filipino customers alike.

The labour shortage that spawned an influx of immigrant workers has boosted the Filipino population to around 600, says Gallanosa, whose mother and five siblings immigrated to the Yukon since she arrived five years ago.

About 10 years ago, a Whitehorse woman opened a Filipino food store downtown, but it lasted only a few months.

Gallanosa hopes between the growing population and a burgeoning interest from non-Filipino customers, the store will find its niche market.

It is rewarding to provide comfort and a reminder of home to customers in the form of food, says Gallanosa.

“You don’t just want to cash a cheque,” she says. “You want to start something you can really call yours.”