Filipino Food in Lower East Manhattan–Johnny Air Mart

Johnny Air Mart on Avenue A, between 13th and 14th Street.

The name of the place is a little odd, but it makes sense.  This little store on Avenue A between 13th and 14th street carries Filipino goods, most of which I assume are shipped in by air.  It’s not a very large store, but it has a lot of the food products that I came to enjoy while living in the Philippines, and earlier by buying them at import stores in Singapore.

Since I’ve been back in New York City, I haven’t had the opportunity to really look around for a place to get Filipino foods, so I was happy, and surprised, to see that there is a shop just a few blocks from where I live, located in a spot I pass by almost every day.  I never saw it before because it’s halfway up the block, and I pass Avenue A on 14th street.

Some of the goods on the shelf at Johnny Air Mart.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my favorite flavor of Lucky Me noodles, Chilimansi, and they didn’t have the Calamansi flavored Century Tuna.  The owner was pretty friendly though.  He told me the Lucky Me Chilimansi is usually stocked but he’d run out, and that he’d never carried the Calamansi Century Tuna, but he’d check with his distributor to see if he could get some in.  They also had Sky Flakes, Ligo sardines, Milo, sinigang mix, the nasty shrimp paste my wife enjoys, and many other goodies.

Turon, purchased from Johnny Air Mart.

I didn’t stock up, but I did pick up some turon on the way out the door.  It’s tastier than it looks.  It’s a sweet dessert with a crusty outside and banana inside.  The shop owner warned me that it wasn’t exactly the same as the kind you get from the Philippines though, since it’s made fresh and the type of banana used isn’t quite the same.

I’m glad to see that Filipino foods will be readily available when I’m ready to do some cooking, or when my wife is.  I think it’ll help her to adjust, having some foods from home available.

Lungs, Ears and Brains: Exotic Filipino Foods

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The meat on the plate is actually pig lungs, boiled and fried.  My wife and her brother enjoy it and convinced me to try some.  It wasn’t horrible, but I didn’t think it was all that good either.  I probably won’t eat that again.  The meat on the stick, however is a grilled pig ear.  It was served with a brown gravy.  I thought about it after some of the stuff I’ve eaten, a pig ear really isn’t that weird.  I mean, I’ve eaten chicken feet and snails before, so why not an ear?  It wasn’t that bad.  It had a decent taste to it, though I didn’t care too much for the crunchy cartilage parts.  I finished it off.

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This is pork sisig.  This is a short order type of dish that’s sometimes served as lunch and often served while drinking.  Up until recently, I believed it was just pieces of pork.  I didn’t really question it or think about it.  Turns out this is made from pig brains though.  Well, partly pig brains.  This dish became a popular part of Filipino cuisine as a result of the US establishing an air base in Pampanga province, called Clark Air Base.  Filipinos would buy the unused pig heads from the base commissary and this is the dish they developed from trying to make use of them.  I’ve actually tried this.  I didn’t know it was made from pig brains at the time.  No one thought to tell me either.  Sisig is such a common dish here, now found pre-packaged and branded in grocery stores even, that my wife and relatives likely don’t give it a second thought.  Now that I know, I don’t think I’ll ever look at it the same way again.  I’m still not sure if I’ll eat it again.

Filipinos are pretty creative about making sure no part of an animal goes to waste.  I’m sure you’ll see that as I post about, and perhaps try, more of the unusual ‘delicacies’ found here.