I sat silently at the last row of hard plastic seats, flanked on both sides by strangers who spoke what sounded like Mandarin. I pulled out my boarding pass for my connecting flight and examined it under the dim, yellow lights.

China Airlines Flight CI0008.
Taipei to Los Angeles. September 7.

It hit me. It finally hit me. What I had been preparing for and looking forward to for months was now real. It was now unfolding.

For days, I was preoccupied with a flurry of sendoffs from family and friends. I met friends from work, friends from school, friends I had not seen for years. I was surrounded with family who wished me well, who teared up while wishing me well. I was showered with so much attention, so much affection. Then, suddenly, I was alone. I felt strangely alone while I waited in the crowded terminal, while I waited to board a plane that would take me to the biggest adventure of my life.

Fifteen years have slipped by since I came to America, since I was fresh off the boat, fresh off a China Airlines Boeing 747-400. I had two grand in hundred dollar bills, tied together by a rubber band and stowed surreptitiously in a pocket in my pants. I had a passport and a student visa. I had a suitcase packed with my best clothes. With family photographs and mementos. With Hallmark cards. With Tupperwares full of my mom’s chicken and pork adobo, and beef tapa [tah-pah], frozen so they would last the long trip.

I had dreams. I had plans. Finish graduate school and find a job. Start over. Start again. I didn’t think I would stay. But I did. I’m happy I did.


Beef Tapa Recipe, makes four servings

1 lb sirloin or ribeye steak
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Slice beef across the grain into 1/4-inch thick strips. Whisk together salt, sugar, and freshly ground black pepper in a small bowl. Rub beef with salt and crushed garlic and refrigerate overnight in a sealed container.

Before cooking let steaks rest at room temperature for over an hour. Fry steaks in oil in a pan over medium to high heat until done, turning only once to give the steaks a good sear. Serve with sinangag and fried eggs.

Tapa is so simple to make so splurge with the best cut of grass-fed beef you can find. It can be made ahead of time and frozen in Ziploc bags. Make sure to let the meat completely thaw and rest at room temperature before frying.


Beef Tapa

  • Anonymous

    I love this story. And I love how your mom packed you a care package of meat and chicken!! Now that’s love! I for one am very glad you made the trip! Your beautiful photo helped me make up my mind about what to make for our weekend feast- tapa. This one looks less sweet than the one my dad made. Thanks Jun!

  • natzsm

    I love TAPA!

    I miss how my maternal grandmother used to make. She dried it by simply hanging the marinated or spiced beef near the stove until it was dry. It was like beef jerky. Back then, I do not know whether she understood food handling or food safety but no one ever got sick. I have been wanting to try this drying technique but am afraid I might poison myself!

  • Row

    Lovely story, Kuya Jun! Thank you for the tapa recipe… I haven’t tried making my own yet, but now I will. :)

  • http://www.confessionsofachocoholic.com/ Bianca Garcia

    And what an adventure it has been! I haven’t had tapa in so long, and now I have a huge craving for tapsilog. Thanks for the recipe, Jun.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Bianca! Yes it has been quite an adventure!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    I have yet to try making tapa jerky-style. I guess a dehydrator is the best (and safest) way to make them. I’ve read in Amy Besa’s book that they dry them using electric fans in their restaurant in New York.

  • Rover Radar

    Memories from growing up: the salted beef was dried under the sun (on a meshed wire?), then fried later – just before lunch, or dinner.

  • p0lst3r

    Before following your recipe, I did a little research and found so many variations. Some use citris or vinegar, some use soy sauce instead of salt (some both), some dry the beef. Most in common is the garlic, sugar and pepper – I guess that’s the core of tapa.

    I ate tapsilog at a couple of restaurants to gear myself up for it. I tried a friend’s frozen prepackaged beef tapa (was ok).

    Now … ready to go with another of Jun’s recipes.

    But then at the last minute, on a whim, I substituted kangaroo fillet for the beef. Roosilog! Not sure if you’ll smile or shake your head at this. Given kangaroo is so rich (like venison), your simple recipe actually worked perfectly. It’s ultra-lean meat so we really only ever cook medium-rare or rare to avoid becoming tough. But I think Filipino tapa is a perfect way to prepare roo, especially for those who want their meat cooked through.


  • Anonymous

    Hmmmm…nakakalaway ( yummy).

  • Jean

    Got an invite for a Christmas potluck, I’m planning to bring a Tapa Roll, using Vietnamese rice paper.

    Having doubts for not making tapa for almost 2 decades due to availability of prepared Bulgogi which has similar taste to tapa, I searched reliable Filipino blogs I follow. Please thank your
    mom for helping you recreate these recipes. Your blog has endearing stories, and this one tops them all.