Chef Nora Reyes and Her Take on Filipino Food in the USA

Food Blogger Chef Nora Reyes: Recreating Favorite Filipino Food and Forgotten Classics in the USA

/ 11:26 AM November 08, 2023

Food Blogger Chef Nora Reyes: Recreating Favorite Filipino Food and Forgotten Classics in the USA
Filipino cuisine is a fusion of Malay, Spanish, Chinese, and American influences shaped over centuries of history. From its indigenous adobo-inspired stews to cross-cultural delights like pancit bihon noodles, this Southeast Asian cooking tradition holds cultural significance for over four million Filipino Americans today.

In major US cities, the Filipino diaspora has left an indelible mark – from the proliferation of “sari-sari” stores stocking pan de sal to packed restaurants specializing in regional dishes. Family-style joints touting lechon and kare-kare draw crowds, while fast-food powerhouse Jollibee has supplanted other chains as the top foreign franchise.

However, for all its growing popularity, many feel aspects of Philippine cuisine remain obscure abroad. This is where Chef Nora Reyes has devoted her craft – by creatively adapting traditional recipes for American kitchens and introducing unseen specialties through her “Recipes by Nora” food blog.

After moving from her hometown in the Philippines to New Jersey, Nora was inspired to share regional fare, evoking memories for overseas Filipinos craving tastes of home. By developing alternative ingredients and innovative preparation styles, Nora ensures treasured Pinoy dishes maintain authentic flavors regardless of location.

Through approaches like air-frying lechon belly or grilling inihaw na liempo in the oven, she preserves cultural connections to food. Nora’s mission to introduce forgotten classics and bring regional traditions to wider audiences have made her among the ambassadors of Philippine cooking in the United States.

Chef Nora Reyes’ mission to share Filipino cuisine with the world

Chef Nora Reyes is a Filipino-American chef based in New Jersey known for her authentic and innovative takes on traditional Filipino dishes. Born and raised in the Philippines, Nora developed a deep love and appreciation for the comforting flavors and rich cultural heritage reflected in Filipino cooking from a young age.

However, upon moving to America to start a family nearly two decades ago, she found the local Filipino community yearning for familiar tastes of home and craving exposure to lesser-known regional specialties. This inspired Nora to recreate and popularize beloved Pinoy favorites and forgotten classics for overseas Filipinos and food lovers everywhere.

The Roots of Chef Nora Reyes

Early Life and Influences

Nora was born in Naga City, located on the Bicol Peninsula in southeastern Luzon. She came from a large, close-knit Filipino-Chinese family with a long-standing background in the butchery business.

Gathering in the kitchen wasn’t just a cherished pastime, but also a nod to their trade. It was there that she bonded with her mother, a banker and an excellent cook herself, who owns a food catering business and a cafe, helping prepare homestyle Bicolano specialties.

From a young age, Nora showed a gift and passion for cooking. She spent hours watching her mother, aunts and grandmother prepare dishes, learning techniques through observation and helping wherever she could.

Family meals were joyous occasions to share new recipes and connect stories over food. The aromatic scents and vibrant colors of ingredients like coconut milk, fish sauce, and chili peppers instilled in her a profound appreciation for Filipino cuisine.

This nurtured Nora’s appreciation for how Filipino cooking plays a pivotal role in cultural identity and tradition. Dishes were never just sustenance – they carried memories, brought people together and expressed care through flavor. She attended a top culinary school in Manila, honing her techniques.

After her studies, Nora knew she wanted to broaden her horizons beyond the Philippines. Later, she moved to New York City where exposure to diverse communities only strengthened her sense of Filipino food’s place on the world stage.

Nora carried the lessons of her upbringing and training into pursuing her mission of sharing the richness and versatility of Philippine cuisine with wider audiences.

Her early influences of treasured family recipes and cultural significance of food continue guiding her successful online platform today.

Culinary Journey

After moving to New York City, Nora served as a training director for a leading restaurant chain before becoming a restaurant consultant. Later, she worked as a personal chef, introducing her wealthy clients to Filipino favorites through private dining experiences.

Nora had lived in Los Angeles for some time, where she honed her culinary techniques and developed a love for cross-cultural fusion. It was there she reunited with her kindergarten classmate, Mark, who would later become her husband.

They eventually settled in New Jersey, and with her entrepreneurial spirit, Nora launched “Recipes by Nora” to share her heritage with a broader audience.

Nora’s Mission and Vision

Nora always had a passion for sharing recipes through blogging. Her journey began in 2013 with a blog focused on creating fondant cakes. However, as the years went by, she felt a deeper connection to sharing Filipino recipes.

This led to the birth of “Recipes by Nora” in 2018. She now aims to share unique dishes, particularly from the Bicol region, an area she knows intimately.

Also, Nora’s overriding mission with “Recipes by Nora” is to educate people around the world about the diverse culinary treasures and cultural riches of Filipino cuisine.

Having experienced firsthand the challenges of cooking authentic Pinoy dishes abroad, she is passionate about making these recipes accessible to home cooks anywhere through clear instructions and ingredient substitutions.

Nora strives to introduce fans to unusual regional delicacies on a journey of discovery across the 7,641 islands of the Philippine archipelago. She hopes sharing specialized preparations from areas like Pampanga, Pangasinan, and Batangas will foster pride in local culinary traditions among Filipinos globally.

Furthermore, Nora aims to inspire cross-cultural appreciation through spotlighting Filipino cooking techniques, ingredients, and flavor profiles that introduce an Asian perspective to international palates.

Filipino Dishes and Cuisine in the American Scene

Her vision is for Filipino food to gain recognition alongside other cuisines as delicious in its own right, not merely as an exotic novelty.

With creative adaptations and beautiful photography highlighting vibrant plating styles, Nora aspires to elevate perceptions of Filipino cooking from humble homestyle to high culinary art deserving a place on the world stage.

She also wants to share her rich Filipino cuisine knowledge on the American table, making it more accessible for everyone. At its heart, Recipes by Nora exists to connect people near and far to the joy, comfort, and cultural riches of the Philippines through its most passionate medium — authentic and innovative Filipino dishes with global appeal.

By sharing nuanced regional fare and forgotten gems, Nora ensures both proud Filipinos and curious foodies can easily discover and appreciate this special cuisine wherever they may be.

Recreating Filipino Food in a Foreign Land

Ingredient Challenges

Ingredient Challenges

One of the main ingredients Nora struggles to find in the US is calamansi. This unique and beloved Filipino citrus adds a signature tart and aromatic flavor to many dishes.

To replicate its distinct zest and tropical notes, Nora experiments with blending different citrus fruits and sometimes even uses bottled calamansi concentrate, though it’s not quite the same as fresh.

Equally challenging to find is fresh young coconut meat, similar to the scarcity of fresh ube in the US. While these ingredients are staples in the Philippines, they are rare commodities abroad.

For dishes that require the rich and creamy texture of coconut, Nora often uses canned coconut milk as a substitute, though the depth of flavor from fresh young coconut meat is truly irreplaceable.

Filipino Ingredients Unavailable in the States


  • Tiny lime-like citrus native to Southeast Asia
  • Brightly colored green or yellowish when ripe
  • Calamansi are extremely tart yet balanced citrusy flavor from high citric acid content
  • Used extensively in Filipino cooking to perk up savory and sweet dishes
  • Challenging to find fresh outside the Philippines due to the difficulty of importing live citrus plants

Fresh Coconuts:

  • Ubiquitous ingredient, with all parts of coconut used in cooking and drinking
  • Coconut water – Tropical refreshment directly from young coconuts
  • Coconut milk – Richer and creamier texture from freshly grated coconut meat
  • Coconut meat – Distinctive toasted or fresh flavor, unlike packaged shredded coconut
  • Canned just doesn’t compare to the nuanced flavors derived from fresh coconuts

Fresh Ube (Purple Yam):

  • Tuber crop with vivid purple flesh from anthocyanins
  • Subtle sweetness balanced with lightly starchy texture
  • Fresh ube vibrant color fades slowly when cooked, unlike in frozen varieties
  • Prized for use in native desserts like halo-halo, bibingka, and pandesal
  • While frozen is available, fresh is hard to source with true vibrancy and fresh flavor

Unique Greens and Vegetables:

  • Specialty leafy greens thrive in Philippines’ tropical environment
  • Kangkong – Crisp, hollow stems and spinach-like leaves used widely in soups
  • Taro Leaves – Heart-shaped leaves bring richness to dishes when cooked
  • Sweet Potato Leaves – Mildly sweet with hints of bitterness, versatile ingredient
  • Difficult to cultivate outside the tropics, limits fresh availability in the US.

Tropical Fruits:

  • Exotic, little-known fruit crops of the Philippines are impossible to find fresh outside the home country
  • Atis – A sweet tropical fruit with cream flesh and black
  • Guyabano – With a spiky green exterior and soft, white fibrous pulp, known for its sweet-sour flavor
  • Lanzones – Has a yellow to light brown skin and translucent white flesh with a sweet and tangy
  • Without commercial farming in the US, these must be sourced elsewhere

The Role of Adaptation

While dedication to tradition is important in maintaining a cuisine’s cultural integrity, Nora understands the necessity of adaptation to make Filipino cooking accessible everywhere.

Locating authentic specialty goods presents challenges abroad, so she initially experimented extensively to find versatile substitutes preserving unique Pinoy flavors.

For example, calamansi is crucial but limited outside Southeast Asia. Nora tests various citrus blends to replace their floral sourness, settling on lemon juice as an excellent compromise.

Similarly, bagoong alamang or shrimp paste is replaced using readily available version in jars for those unable to source the authentic condiment.

Beyond direct substitutes, Nora creatively reimagines recipes when certain ingredients prove prohibitively difficult to obtain. Unable to find fresh ube, Nora turns to purple sweet potatoes as a close alternative.

She tweaks her dishes to capture the unique taste and vibrant color of the original Filipino yam. Through such explorations, Nora discovers that achieving balance, rather than perfection, should guide interpretation.

This spirit of pragmatic adjustment while maintaining cultural connections resonates beyond Filipino cooking alone. Her adaptations empower home chefs worldwide to prepare dishes evoking memories of the Philippine islands using local supermarket staples.

By tweaking proven recipes to suit modern lifestyles, Nora also ensures treasured culinary traditions remain relevant to new audiences.

Above all, Nora believes the heart and soul of her cuisine lies not in rigid fidelity but flexible evolution. Only through respecting both tradition and necessity can one truly globalize Philippine flavors as she strives to do.

Audience Reception

From comforting classics to innovative twists on Filipino street food, the Filipino-American community has warmly embraced Nora’s mission to preserve their culinary traditions abroad.

Families enjoy recreating childhood memory-evoking meals using her tested recipes. Younger Fil-Ams also gain exposure to regional specialties from their ancestors’ home provinces.

Meanwhile, foodies of all backgrounds explore her creative and approachable adaptations. She incorporated locally sourced ingredients with abandoned curiosity and newfound appreciation for Pinoy cuisine. Feedback indicates Nora is helping elevate Filipino food from an underrated niche to an exciting global cuisine deserving of wider recognition.

Intrigued comments on Nora’s social media include appreciation for new-found favorites like Kare-Kare and Chinatown-style Lumpia. With her artful photos and approachable recipes, Chef Nora Reyes aims to catalyze a global renaissance celebrating the Filipino culinary identity.

Chef Nora’s Most Popular Dishes

Signature Dishes

Air-Fried Lechon Kawali

One standout is Nora’s Air-Fried Lechon Kawali. This twist on classic Pinoy lechon kawali achieves crispy, crackling skin using an air fryer instead of deep frying. The pork belly is first boiled until tender before being sliced and air fried until the skin turns golden brown. No marination is needed for this easy weeknight recipe.

Leche Flan

Beyond its melt-in-your-mouth texture and harmonious balance of flavors, Nora’s Leche Flan recipe encapsulates nostalgia for Filipinos abroad. It was one of the first desserts she learned from her mother as a young girl in Naga City.

For many overseas Filipinos craving a taste of home, one bite of this leche flan transports them back to cherished memories and comforts of childhood. Today, the flan remains a favorite for Nora to introduce new fans to familiar Philippine desserts with its approachable and classic preparation.

Beef Salpicao

Nora’s rendition of Beef Salpicao has been well-received by her followers. Using choice cuts of beef sautéed with garlic, she aims to strike a balance between tradition and her own culinary flair. From Lechon Kawali to Leche flan, Nora’s takes on classic Filipino dishes offer both familiarity and a fresh perspective, solidifying her place in the world of Fil-Am cuisine.

Forgotten Classics

Forgotten Classics

Taho is one of the most ubiquitous street foods you can find all over the Philippines. Taho vendors are a common sight, carrying large aluminum containers of ingredients suspended from bamboo poles.

The simple combo of silky tofu, chewy sago pearls bathed in a sweet brown sugar syrup called arnibal provides the ultimate portable breakfast or snack. Its addictive flavors have made taho a beloved childhood treat for generations of Filipinos.

Must-Try Recipes from Nora’s Kitchen

Pancit Bihon

This Filipino rice noodle stir-fry is made with thin rice noodles and predominantly savory sauce rather than sweet. A blend of soy, and calamansi, imparts distinctive flavors. The noodles are cooked in a flavorful mixture of proteins and vegetables. Pancit Bihon or Pancit evolved from Chinese lineages but took on a unique culinary identity through adaptation to local ingredients over centuries.

Adobong Puti

Also known as “White Adobo“, this chicken or pork stew gets its name from the lighter shade of sauce compared to traditional soy sauce-based adobo. The tangy flavor is brought by the Filipino vinegar made from cane or coconut.

Pork belly simmers until meltingly tender in this intensely aromatic concoction that highlights garlic’s transformative properties in Filipino cooking.


A popular Filipino street snack, Turon or banana spring rolls features bananas wrapped individually in thin lumpia wrappers or pastry sheets, then deep fried until crispy and golden brown. The banana filling becomes soft and sweet within the crisp wrapping.

Sinigang na Salmon

Salmon replaces the usual meat in this tamarind-stewed soup, imparting a lighter touch. Tomatillos, okra and bokchoy complement the fish, whose delicate flesh soaks up the whole stew’s bright, lip-puckering tartness and savory umami from tamarind.

Ube Kalamay

A cherished Filipino delicacy, Ube Kalamay is a sticky rice cake reminiscent of the well-loved Espasol. Crafted from glutinous rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar, it’s enriched with the vibrant hue and distinct taste of ube (purple yam). Cooked to a dense, chewy texture, its traditional toppings are latik, or caramelized coconut curds, amplifying its flavor profile.

Through Nora’s rendition, home chefs and food enthusiasts gain a deeper appreciation of this classic, encouraging them to recreate and savor a piece of Filipino dessert tradition.

Additional Must-Try Recipes

From vibrant Escabeche to comforting Arroz Caldo, home cooks learn versatile techniques exploring Nora’s blog. The restorative Arroz Caldo soothes body and soul with its nourishing chicken and rice porridge flavored with ginger and green onions.

Nora’s site rewards adventurous eaters exploring lesser-known delicacies from across the Philippine archipelago. Bicol Express is a specialty of the Bicol region in southeastern Luzon. This spicy stew features tender pork simmered in a creamy coconut milk-based broth flavored with siling mahaba. Bicolanos are popular for their tolerance of heat, and the Bicol Express dish certainly showcases their love of spice.

Lumpiang Gulay

These fried vegetable spring rolls are a testament to the diverse culinary influences in the Philippines. Lumpiang Gulay is crafted with a mix of fresh vegetables.

It is enveloped in a thin wrapper, then fried to a crispy golden finish. It’s a delightful and crunchy appetizer or snack that’s a favorite in many Filipino gatherings. Through Nora’s rendition, the essence of this beloved Filipino dish shines, inviting diners to indulge in a bite of tradition and flavor.

Beef Tapa

A quintessential Filipino breakfast staple, tapa is beef that has undergone marination overnight in a sweet-savory sauce of soy, sugar, and vinegar before pan-frying.

Many Filipino families and carinderias (small eateries) serve beef tapa with garlic rice. It also has a fried egg on the side – known as tapsilog, one of the most notable Filipino breakfasts.

Pork Asado

This Filipino braised pork dish comes in two distinct versions. The Chinese-inspired variant featuring soy sauce and star anise, and the traditional Kapampangan rendition enriched with tomato sauce. Both styles offer irresistibly tender meat. And each pairs wonderfully with the savory braising liquid, making it ideal to accompany with fluffy rice.


Nora’s journey from a small town in the Philippines to becoming a leading authority on accessible Filipino home cooking abroad is a testament to her immense passion and dedication to culinary heritage. Through creativity, pragmatism and cultural connectivity, she has introduced treasured Pinoy traditions and regional delicacies to households everywhere.

Chef Nora Reyes continues innovating through new recipe developments that push boundaries while respecting tradition. Whether inventing healthier recreations or fusing influences for adventurous palates, she ensures Filipino flavors evolve accessible for generations to come.

Her amazing site “Recipes by Nora” remains the premier online resource. The site explores the boundless diversity and global potential of this Southeast Asian cuisine.

For those wishing to embark on their own culinary discovery of the 7,641 islands, Chef Nora Reyes invites you to browse her extensive archives.

They are teeming with beautifully illustrated tutorials. From pantry staples to obscure delicacies, each recipe captures the heart. And not only that but also the soul of distinctive regional cultures through vibrant flavors tested for home kitchens abroad. New visitors and seasoned chefs alike are sure to find inspiration on their journey across Philippine cuisine.

By creatively adapting treasured dishes and introducing obscure specialties, Chef Nora Reyes ensures Filipino cuisine enjoys renewed appreciation among all people. Whether recreating flavors of home or uncovering new culinary gems, her message of cultural sharing rings loud and clear.

Readers are encouraged to explore Chef Nora Reyes’ site for approachable recipes celebrating the profound legacy of Pinoy cooking worldwide. So, head to today and get cooking with Nora. Bon appétit and mabuhay!

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TAGS: Filipino food
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