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Abi Balingit Makes Ulam-Inspired Desserts in ‘Mayumu’

Adobo Chocolate Chip Cookies? There's a recipe for that in Abi Balingit's "Mayumu."

The late chef, writer, and journalist Anthony Bourdain once said that Filipino food will be the next big thing in America—a culinary prophecy that seems to be on the brink of coming true. After all, which food publication has not extolled the sweet-salty and garlicky goodness of Pinoy adobo? The bold flavor profiles of sisig? Or the earthy, nutty, richness of kare-kare

That said, it’s worth noting that the majority of stories on Filipino food are centered on our cuisine’s savory offerings, with more attention given to the likes of balut compared to our vibrant selection of sweet treats. 

Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed by Filipino-American baker Abi Balingit and published by Harvest aims to change all that.

More than just a cookbook, Mayumu—also the Kapampangan word for “sweet”—is a celebration of the Filipino-American experience. The 288-page volume is packed with remixed recipes (think: Adobo Chocolate Chip Cookies, Rainbow Fruit Polvoron, Kare-Kare Cookies, Buko Pie Lollipops, and Halo-Halo Baked Alaska) as well as essays centered on Abi’s heritage and identity.

Asian woman Abi Balingit wearing a colorful apron and sun earrings.

GIST caught up with Abi, who shared the challenges of recipe development, her favorite ingredients, and how she turned an iconic Pinoy ulam into a dessert. Here is our full interview:

GIST: How did Mayumu start? What inspired you to create this book?

ABI BALINGIT: Mayumu started as a proposal closely modeled after a zine I made called Flipped: Matamis. I wanted to write a cookbook that also served as a memoir to document my life. Making Filipino-American fusion desserts was what I became known for when I started my blog The Dusky Kitchen, so it was a joy to expand those recipes and concepts into a full-sized book.

What was the process of developing and conceptualizing Mayumu like?

Before writing, there was a lot of brainstorming and taking notes about my favorite desserts, the ingredients I wanted to showcase, and the personal stories I wanted to tell. When I started the recipe development process in January 2022, I had to really buckle down and aggressively stick to a schedule of recipe trials because my first manuscript was due on May 1st. I think the process was most like juggling multiple balls in the air, and at some point, doing a mixture of baking, writing, and editing all at the same time.

You tapped into your experience as a member of the Filipino diaspora when creating the recipes for Mayumu. Did that make it more challenging to develop the recipes?

It was a bit of a challenge to make sure every recipe was well-balanced, but I think it was also nice to have a wider range of flavors and concepts to take inspiration from. I grew up eating both traditional Filipino and American desserts, so it made sense to combine the two worlds because it felt most true to me.

I loved the idea of using Marca Piña soy sauce but also bay leaves like in a traditional adobo.

Were there any recipes that were especially fun or challenging to develop?

I had a lot of fun coming up with all the recipes in the kitchen and documenting them on the page. However, it was really the Chai Leche Flan that was the most challenging to develop for me. Adapting my dad’s leche flan recipe to get a consistently silky texture required testing a slew of techniques. I had to make it about five or six times. And the recipe calls for 10 egg yolks, which meant each bad batch felt like an expensive failure. Luckily, my friend Meghan’s grandmother was kind enough to give her chai masala recipe, so that part wasn’t difficult at all.

Filipino dishes are cropping up on many best-of lists as of late. With Mayumu, what’s the one thing you want non-Filipinos to understand about Filipino cuisine?

I hope that non-Filipinos understand that Filipino cuisine is so unique and varies so much across the motherland and diaspora. There is such diversity in our dishes that it’s crucial to try everything with an open mind, and ideally food from different regions.

There is such diversity in our dishes that it’s crucial to try everything with an open mind.

What’s the backstory behind the Adobo Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and how did you develop it?

Adobo’s main ingredient—soy sauce—was something I wanted to use in a dessert. After tasting other umami cookies like some recipes calling for miso, I loved the idea of using Marca Piña soy sauce but also bay leaves like in a traditional adobo. A touch of vinegar is included in the dough as well as peppercorns on top. I just love how all the flavors meld together. It was important to me to have a signature chocolate chip cookie recipe in the book, so I’m glad it worked out.

What is your most used or favorite Filipino ingredient and why do you love it?

My favorite Filipino ingredient is nata de coco because I love the chewy texture of each cube. I feel like I could eat a jar of it by itself! I always need it on hand for my go-to cold desserts like fruit salad and halo-halo.

You’re given the chance to convert one traditional ulam into a sweet treat, Mayumu-style. What would it be and why?

It would be so cool to convert kaldereta into a sweet treat because I think the dish has such a great combination of savory flavors with the addition of olives and liver. I think there’s potential to really play up the sweetness of certain elements like the carrots and tomato, too, but maybe it’d work best in some kind of bun.

Mayomu cookbook with photo of a Filipino dessert on the cover

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