We spoke to the men of So Sarap about food, fashion, and influence. Read our exclusive interview with the Filipino entrepreneurs from NYC.
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Nothing compares to Filipino street food. It’s colorful, tasty, and a little bit weird. No matter where you go around the world you won’t find anything like it. For instance, Turkey’s kebabs are incomparable to the Philippine’s isaw. Even the common fish balls of Southeast Asia have a different flavor in the Pearl of the Orient. But, it doesn’t stop there. Apart from acquiring the taste of authentic Filipino food, one must also be able present it in proper Philippine fashion for the full experience.
What’s dirty ice cream without a colorful push cart? Or, kwek-kwek without it’s enticingly orange color? That’s why when we saw Filipino street food being done correctly in New York, we were blown away. Three men, impeccably dressed in street fashion, went the whole nine yards. They’ve got their colorful pushcart, a variety of authentic street food, and all the sawsawans you would find in your local ihawan.
Apparently, this was the work of So Sarap, a Filipino Street Food Pop-Up Vendor in New York City. They offer popular Filipino dishes, such as: fish balls, taho, isaw, balut, penoy, ice candy, and much more. The men behind the business are VJ Navarro, Sebastian Shan, and their chef, Virgilio Navarro (VJ’s Father). So Sarap was a pandemic baby that began in the summer of 2020 during a global crisis.
“Once the pandemic struck, NYC restaurants closed and I was laid off from work. I knew that I had to find the silver lining from my situation, and that was when I knew it was the perfect time to bring all of the ideas I’ve had brewing for a Filipino Street Food Pop-Up into fruition,” says Navarro. Since then, they went viral online and were featured in local and international news outlets. Luckily, we were able to connect Manila and New York to get an exclusive interview with the boys of So Sarap. This is their take on food, fashion, and influence.
Filipino cuisine on the streets of New York
The New York scene openly welcomes Pinoy food because of the deeply rooted history between Filipinos and Americans. The Philippine influence has crossed boundaries many years ago when America colonized the Philippines. A few years later, Filipinos started to emigrate to America seeking better opportunities. What we’re seeing now is merely the evolution of a cross cultural exchange.
MEGA Man: Are there a lot of places to eat Filipino food in New York?
VJ Navarro: Yes! There are plenty of Filipino restaurants and cafes in NY. There are authentic filipino restaurant in Queens and Filipino fusion in Manhattan.
MM: What do Americans think about Filipino Street Food?
VN: There are not that many filipino street foods in America so our goal is to share the taste of it. For those who have tried our street food, they would give us great reviews and became our regular customers.
Street fashion with a Pinoy touch
Something that the Philippines and New York have in common is their huge admiration for streetwear. Although they may be for different reasons. The Philippines because of its huge market in basketball and New York due to the influence of two particular boroughs: the Bronx and Queens. Somehow, the men of So Sarap were able to marry these two into one big collaboration.
MM: We noticed your sense of style in the photos that went viral of So Sarap. Who were you wearing in the photos?
VN: Since we are surrounded by talented artists such as Aj Lavilla, a Filipino artist from New York, we came out with ideas to collage all the iconic memories from products, shows and heroes from 80s and 90s in the Philippines. Our model was wearing a So Sarap sample button up from our 2021 summer collaboration with Aj Avila.
MM: How would you describe your style? Do the boys of So Sarap have the same aesthetic?
VN: The 90s Filipino street vendors played a very big role in our concept. Even though we would wear basic white tee with our logo, we made sure to incorporate tsinelas, woven hats or the morning glory face towel.
MM: Do you dress like this on the daily while serving for So Sarap?
VN: Yes! Our plain tee with So Sarap logo and Tsinelas for the summer. Sometimes I would wear other small Filipino businesses’ brands to promote.
Cross continental influence
The men of So Sarap made going viral look so easy. Just a few months after their launch, they were able to garner over a million likes and shares online. This boosted their sales tenfold with customers lining up to get a taste of Filipino street food. Now, they’re looking forward to the next step for their business.
MM: How did your business change since being recognized globally on the internet?
VN: We became busier in inquiries however it made us feel more driven to work harder. I am overjoyed knowing that our kababayans are proud of what we are doing.
MM: Are you planning to expand the business to other states?
VN: We are currently in the process of doing more pop ups outside New York because of the overflowing demands from different states.
MM: Do you plan on bringing the business to the Philippines?
VN: Absolutely! We would love to bring So Sarap to the Philippines. Instead of Filipino street food, we will present a fusion of Filipino and international street food.