For Filipino families, giving a Balikbayan Box is a tradition of sending gifts overseas to loved ones.
These symbolic boxes are unique because they are often a representation of migration and travel experiences. For instance, snacks or food you ate on a trip, household items from your new home, or even a piece of worn clothing that is meaningful. Items aren't always "new" but they are special in that they were passed down through the family.
In the Philippines, the holiday season starts in the months that end with "ber" - which means the gift giving begins as early as September!
This month, we're proud to feature some of our favorite Filipino owned small businesses and present this Balikbayan Box from our Tuk Tuk family to yours!
Chef Anthony (Tito Boy) Ayatin
His purple hued hair and infectious smile may reel you in, but his swaggy stamp on Filipino cuisine will imprint your belly and heart forever. San Diego native, Anthony Ayatin affectionately known as “Tito Boy” or “Uncle Boy” in his mother tongue of Tagalog is taking the SoCal food scene by storm. In the streets of Paradise Hills (a suburb of National City) where he grew up with a large Filipino and Latinx community, Anthony charmed his way out of trouble and into the kitchen. He claims his superpower is being a fountain of youth; idyllic, playful, embodying a childlike sense of wonderment. That curiosity led to experimentation in the kitchen and with a remake of a simple burger (one of his fave foods). Anthony recreated the iconic American dish with a Pinoy twist, a purple bun and a longanisa patty. An Ube milk bun to be exact. Ube, a sweet purple yam originally found in the Philippines has a mild texture and is often mistaken for taro. However, this standalone ingredient has been the inspiration for many Filipino desserts and the star of many Instagram feeds. Tito Boy’s Ube Burger became just that. With a simple post, the internet went wild. The burger went viral and Anthony’s phone started blowing up.
In the two years since his Ube Burger debut, he’s gone on to feature at events such as Crafted, an exclusive invite only monthly dinner hosted by local creative agency, Basic. Edible San Diego had the privilege of serving his creations at a private event, and most notably he won the award for Best Overall Dish at 2019’s Chew the Scene, a launch party for San Diego Asian Film Festival, the largest and longest running Asian film festival in the United States. It was here he served a Vietnamese inspired dish, banh cuon, filled with sisig, a Filipino sizzling pork belly, that solidified his desire to pursue food full-time.
Here, Christy, our founder, sits down with fan favorite Tito Boy to find out just what makes him so damn lovable:
Christy: Tell me about your upbringing.
Anthony: Thankfully I’ve been surrounded by loving family members and friends my whole life. My parents are immigrants. I had older cousins who helped orient me to American culture. They were teens in the 90s and I was just a five year old, they showed me the ropes. They influenced my upbringing, they are why I love food. My auntie would cook bomb ass food all the time, she was the head chef in our family. She passed in 2016, I wanted to be just like her. I've never felt like heartbreak like that in my whole life. Every time I have an event, I always pray to her beforehand.
Christy: Would you say she's your inspiration?
A: Yes, I was so close to her. She was my second mom.
C: Did you ever get into trouble? Southeast San Diego is known for being a rough neighborhood, isn’t it?
A: Not really, I got jumped a couple of times. My oldest friends are from when I was ten years old. A lot of us grew up with immigrant families so we were looked down upon from the greater San Diego community. We gravitated toward each other, we protected each other. My friend ‘family’ is very important, having that gang mentality is essential. Growing up in Southeast San Diego, you’re surrounded by it (gangs). It’s just a natural part of your environment. Gangs weren’t there to hurt you, they were out there to protect you.
C: How do you use food to represent your culture?
A: It transports you.
C: What sets you apart from other Filipino Chefs in SD?
A: A lot of my inspiration comes from rappers. If I think like a chef, then I’m not thinking any different. Think Iike a rapper.
C: Your cooking style?
A: I like dirty cooking. Homestyle, not fancy, family style. It’s how you bring people together.
C: Your fashion style?
A: Presentable but edgy. Can clean up well, throw on a big hat and make people turn their heads. Someone told me that I reminded them of Pharrell.
C: YES! The Filipino Pharrell. That’s a big compliment.
C: If you could cook for anyone (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
A: Oooh that is such a good question. Meaning, who the hell do I wanna have a conversation with while I cook? Definitely someone I look up to. Maybe Pharrell, Kendrick, J Cole, or Kanye.
C: Where do you see yourself in the next year?
A: I wrote in 2016 on my mood board that i would have a Filipino restaurant in 2021.
C: In 5 years?
A: Have many burger outposts, SF, LA, NYC. Also, traveling and eating in the same way Anthony Bourdain did. I like to travel because I like to be uncomfortable.
C: What do you like to do when you’re not cooking?
A: In San Diego, just hang out and drink with my friends. In a diff country, city — outdoor experiences, hiking, exploring.
C: What are you most proud of?
A: Being able to say this is what I wanna do, and proving that I’m doing it. Following through, keeping your word, loyal — it means good character.
C: How can people find you?
A: Instagram @titoboyproject
Well damn. You heard it here first y’all.
Follow Tito Boy’s adventures, show him some love and devour his food. If you're ever in the San Diego region, make sure to hit him up and grab one of his famous sandwiches before they sell out!
Website:Tito Boy Project