It was a typical gray San Francisco summer morning.  I was walking down 24th Street in the Mission with my camera and lighting gear in tow.  I was on my way to La Victoria to photograph Hapa SF, William Pilz’s popular Filipino food truck.  I was looking forward to meeting and working with William, a talented and down-to-earth chef who worked at Citizen Cake before launching Hapa SF three months ago.  And, obviously, I was looking forward to photographing his food, which I am a huge fan of.  Hapa SF is what I think modern Filipino food should be — locally and sustainably sourced, refined and sophisticated with clean and bold flavors that remain faithfully Filipino.

It was a quarter till eight that morning and there was absolutely no sign that the sun was going to break out of the clouds anytime soon. I love lots of natural light in my photographs and I was a bit worried that there wouldn’t be enough light for my shoot.  As I stepped in La Victoria’s bustling kitchen, I quickly spotted a window behind the huge refrigerator next to William’s kitchen space. The light from the window would be perfect, I thought. We rolled the heavy refrigerator out of the way and flushed a table with a beautiful butcher block-esque top against the window.  It was actually a good thing that the sun had not come out yet since the summer fog diffused the light perfectly.  I set-up an additional light and a couple translucent diffusers, and hooked up my MacBook to my Canon to complete my makeshift studio.  In the next few hours, William cooked and plated while I styled, photographed, and desperately controlled myself from reaching in and grabbing the handsome plates of Filipino food staring temptingly back at me.  There was the plate of colorful pinakbet, stewed eggplants, biter melons, tomatoes and other vegetables  — a Filipino ratatouille;

HapaSF Pinakbet

the plate of sisig, thrice-cooked, lime-soy-and-shallot-seasoned pork shoulder, cheeks and jowls, with steamed rice and poached egg;

HapaSF Sisig

and the plate of ukoy, crunchy red and yellow beet and mackerel fritters with lime, soy and vinegar.

HapaSF Ukoy

We continued the shoot the following week inside William’s burgundy-colored taco-truck.  I drove down to Brisbane, 15 minutes south of the city, and met William in his taco truck stationed next to Curry Up Now, an Indian food truck, in a parking lot not far from the Brisbane Marina.  I also met Jose that day.  He is William’s trusted sous chef of many years.  I had not been inside a taco truck before and so it was a treat to actually climb in one.  The kitchen did not feel cramped at all perhaps because everything was efficiently and optimally arranged — two giant rice cookers (one for white and the other for brown), pots of chicken adobo and sisig, a deep-fryer for lumpia, a portable gas stove for pancit, and a clean, narrow work table flushed against one side of the truck for plating and garnishing.  William and I leisurely chatted while I snapped photos.  But at a quarter till noon chaos ensued.  Chaos of the good kind, of course.  Organized chaos, I thought. Orders kept on coming, one after the other without any break.  I wanted to lend a hand so badly but I knew I was going to screw something up if I did.  And so I stood in one corner, watched and admired William’s and Jose’s graceful rhythm in the kitchen.  It was absolutely a treat.

The organized chaos eventually tapered off around one in the afternoon when the last order of sisig was plated and handed out through the taco truck’s small window up front.  It was one of their busiest Wednesdays, according to William.  Within an hour they would be loading up their taco truck again with more adobo and sisig to prepare for a gig in the city that evening.  Then it would be another lunch gig the following day and Off the Grid at Fort Mason two days after.  William could not be more thankful that people are enjoying and embracing his food.  I told him he definitely deserved it.

William Pilz

To view my photographs and to learn more about Hapa SF visit the website here.

Experience these Filipino dishes in San Francisco in Hapa SF’s first pop-up dinner at La Victoria this Saturday, August 14th.  It will be an evening showcasing modern versions of classic pulutan dishes — Filipino small plates typically served with ice cold beer and enjoyed in the company of friends and family.  Click here to view the complete pulutan dinner menu.

  • Tess (Out of the Ktichen)

    Absolutely beautiful. Okoy…pinakbet…all in a gorgeous montage of photos. You should really think about doing a book that showcases foods from the Phillipines. I would be the first in line to purchase it ;-)

  • Jun Belen

    Oh Tess, you are so kind. Thank you so much. I’d love to do a cookbook! It’s in my to-do-list! :-)

  • katie o.

    I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never tried Filipino food, but after seeing your shots day in and day out, I know I have to.

  • Jun Belen

    Hi Katie,
    Don’t be embarrassed. Filipino food in the US has not been that stellar until now. There are more and more chefs and food entrepreneurs reinterpreting it to make it more appealing to the Western palate. When you come visit, I’ll treat you to my favorites here in SF!

  • MissTdJ

    Have you ever considered making prints to sell? Your work is LOADS better than stock prints I’ve seen in poster shops. It would be SO cool to have artsy prints of Filipino food, ingredients, iconic products (Rufina, Datu Puti, etc) to hang in my kitchen, my sister’s kitchen, my mom’s, my aunties’…

  • Jun Belen

    Brilliant idea! I have something cooking up but those iconic pinoy products sound like a great idea! Jufran, of course. And Birch Tree!

  • katie o.

    And sadly, I’ve never been to San Francisco either! ACK! I grew up with a number of Filipino transplants. Hmm, now I’m mad they never cooked for me. :)

    And whenever I do get out to your side of the states, I’ll definitely take you up on that offer Jun.

  • Jun Belen

    Anytime, Katie. It’ll be cool if you can come visit!! San Francisco’s a fun place for good eats!

  • Jean

    Gosh, all the food looks beautiful, all so nicely plated. Love the dilis in a glass like that! :-) I never even knew there was a filipino food truck in the Bay Area. That sisig looks awesome, well, so does everything else!

  • iya

    ang ganda!!!!!!!! :D love the pinakbet photo!

    i shall bring you to lime 88 for some streetfood na pinasosyal the next time you’re here in manila.

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Iya. I’m so glad I worked with William. He is a very talented chef! His food is not only pretty but very creative and tasty, too!
    I’m now looking forward to my next trip to Manila!!

  • Pepy @Indonesia Eats

    I’m blessed living in the capital of Canada’s Filipino community. Easy to get access for SE Asian fruits and veggies.

  • RavieNomNoms

    What gorgeous presentations all these dishes have!

  • Thella

    wow that’s a nice way to present filipino food :) from simple pinoy kitchen dishes to something gourmet :) fantastic

  • skip to malou

    these are gorgeous photos. Im so glad that our food is beginning to be noticed. i think it’s about time. BTw, I want to take food photography lessons from you.. so galing.
    Pinoy food scene in SF is far better off than here.. I will be there in September, which place should i visit?

  • Annapet

    You never disappoint! Oh,and the I recognize some tomatoes on the plate.

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Malou! We should schedule a tweat-up of some sort when you come visit in September… let’s keep in touch. There’s plenty of choices here for Filipino food plus there’s the vibrant San Francisco dining scene, too. And hey, let me know when you want the photography lessons!

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Annapet! Looking forward to having you back here in the Bay Area! BTW, about the tomatoes, we haven’t started our tomato garden yet. We got sidetracked and planted lettuce and a lemon tree. There’s just so much I want to do and very little time!

  • Cristina

    OMGosh! Your photos turned out beautiful and lovely lighting. It’s challenging, but rewarding, to photograph and style food that you just want to reach out and taste. Looks like it was a successful and fun photoshoot!

  • Liren

    Nothing makes me happier than to see our food captured beautifully like this! From the preparation to your photography – this is how Filipino cuisine should be appreciated! Beautifully done, Jun! I would love to shadow your lessons with Malou, too!

  • CarolineAdobo

    I am loving how Filipino food is being reinterpreted in a modern way. It’s very exciting time, I am glad to be witnessing it. Kudos to chefs like William Pilz for paving the way.

    Oh, I want in on that photography lessons, too please! :)

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  • Valerie Martinez

    I really love the modern fusion of these local Filipino foods. Thanks for sharing this site.

    It really makes me proud being a Filipino. We Filipinos do really have a great and rich taste when it comes to foods. Here is also a site that promotes Filipino foods.