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Couple bringing Stafford a taste of the Philippines

Area Filipinos hankering for a taste of home—and others who want to experience the country’s cuisine—no longer have to drive to Northern Virginia.

They can order such traditional dishes as lumpia Shanghai, the Filipino version of spring rolls, and buy hard-to-find Filipino snacks, spices and noodles at Bahay Kubo Filipino Cuisine, a new restaurant and grocery in Stafford County.

Owners Elsa and Joseph Clark opened the business at 60 Susa Drive, Suite 101, earlier this month. They named it after the traditional Filipino nipa huts, which are made of bamboo and thatched with nipa leaves. Not surprisingly, the Clarks’ logo features a nipa hut, palm tree and their business’ name spelled out in a typeface that looks like bamboo.

Elsa Clark is originally from Angeles City, former home of Clark Air Base in the Philippines, but moved to Germany and became a medical assistant. She also worked in restaurants, and dreamed of owning her own. She and her husband, whom she met while living in South Carolina, decided to finally make that dream come true after he retired from the military and they moved to Stafford County to be closer to family.

The couple has renovated the former Athalia’s Seafood & Southern Cuisine into a casual dining space where the flat-screen TV plays Filipino shows. Elsa Clark and her staff mainly use her family recipes to create the restaurant’s dishes and sauces. Her lumpia, for example, is mainly meat, whereas some Filipino cooks add cabbage, she said.

Bahay Kubo Filipino Cuisine is open for lunch and dinner, and the Clarks vary the offerings so that repeat customers can find something new on the menu.

Among the choices are kaldareta, a popular Filipino entrée with a Spanish influence that’s often served at special occasions; lechon kawali, a crispy pan-fried roasted pork dish; and pichi–pichi, grated cassava and sugar that’s steamed and then rolled in grated coconut. It can be eaten as either a snack or dessert.

In addition to food items, the convenience store side of the business carries balikbayan boxes, corrugated boxes designed for airline travel. Filipinos living abroad pack them with gifts to bring family, friends and colleagues in the Philippines.

It’s a culturally expected practice called pasalubong, a Tagalog word that means “[something] meant for you when you welcome me back,” according to Wikipedia. It said balikbayan is one of the most distinctive and widely practiced Filipino traditions.

Bahay Kubo Filipino Cuisine is a family-run operation that includes the Clarks’ son, his mother, her brother and a friend, and two cooks. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday when it’s karaoke night. Karaoke is wildly popular in the Philippines.

“The last time we came over [to the Philippines] to visit, was seven years ago,” Elsa Clark said. “Karaoke was everywhere, even on the street.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407