Few Filipino Americans have ever opened a balikbayan box, muses chef Aaron Verzosa of Archipelago, about the giant care packages filled with food, clothing and trinkets sent home to the Philippines from family in the US. But even from the other side, the excitement as relatives pulled out what had been so carefully curated for them inspired the James Beard semi-finalist and Modernist Cuisine alum’s unique pandemic pivot.
Facing the challenge of translating the Seattle restaurant’s nine-course fine-dining journey through the cuisine and history of their community into an at-home experience, Verzosa and his wife, Archipelago co-owner Amber Manuguid, thought back to those 50 pound boxes they lugged with them on so many childhood trips to the Philippines. Filled with physical manifestations of their care and support, the boxes showed them how versed they already were at creating community from far away.
Now they sell their modern version of a balikbayan box to customers both familiar and new to the tradition. Like the ones Filipino workers sent home, Archipelago’s come filled with a curated selection of stuff they think the recipient may like: $90 buys a meal kit for miki noodles with lamb longanisa, vegetables from a Filipino-owned farm, their house-made bagoong (a shrimp and fish paste), a proprietary flour mix, rhubarb jam and other pickles and preserves from the restaurant. “It’s kind of fun,” says Manuguid, “because as a Filipino American, you never get a balikbayan box; you just put them together to bring.”