In the Washington, DC’s Filipino community, the name Chef Evelyn Bunoan is very familiar. In fact, she has a devoted following of locals who show up regularly at her modest grocery store—Philippine Oriental Market & Deli, or as her friends call it, POM—in the town of Arlington, Virginia. And at lunchtime, even starting about 11:30 a.m., hungry customers start lining up by the front door, waiting for Bunoan and her husband, Oscar, to open up for the lunch service. Within moments, the inside is jammed with the hungry—and by 2 p.m., the steam table trays are virtually empty.
Always passionate about cooking, native Filipino Bunoan grew up in a very devout Catholic household in Manila with parents who loved cooking and baking. So it is not surprising that she learned the basics as a child. “My mom was the best cook,” she said, adding that she prepared healthful foods, and rarely served red meat, but instead seafood dishes. And her father was a professional baker. In fact, one of his breads, the very special Filipino bread, pan de sal, is one she makes and sells on request.
When she moved to the United States, she continued her cooking, taking courses at the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in London. She now holds a degree as a Master French Chef. Although she had a daytime job, she wanted to take her cooking to a different level, so she purchased POM in 1978. “I bought the store during Holy Week,” she said. “Most Filipinos don’t work then.” And as a devout Catholic, she observed Lent, and opened her market after Easter Sunday.
After two years in operation, she decided that her next step would be to offer freshly cooked food for service in the store and for carryout from her well-stocked refrigerators. Her cooking became instant hits, and not surprisingly, Bunoan has received numerous awards, especially from Filipino groups. And for years, she frequently catered parties for the former Filipino ambassador.
And her customers really love her specialties, including lechon (roast pork), lumpia (spring rolls), chicken sisig (lemon pepper chicken), pinakbet (braised mixed vegetables with shrimp paste), beef caldereta (spiced beef stew) and her tempting desserts, from puto (steamed rice cakes) cassava cake made from yucca, and bibingka (rice coconut cake).
But for Bunoan, the most important part of her life is living her faith as a humanitarian. Bunoan and her husband established a foundation called CHEW (Cancer Help Eat Well) Foundation. As she explained, she was inspired to do when she watched her very close friend die from cancer. So to serve those in need, she cooks and delivers healthful meals to cancer patients who are too sick to cook. Many of these she has known for years, and Bunoan has found an important way to make a difference through her cooking. “They are just like family,” she said. “They say to me, ‘You cook just like my mom. You cook like you care for us.’” And she does care.