Text and images by Jennifer Fergesen
This Italian city is home to Europe’s most varied Filipino food scene.
Yum plates its pancit palabok to resemble the popular Italian dish spaghetti con gamberoni.
On a quiet street near Milan’s Don Giussani Park, Italians sit at an intimate, low-lit restaurant and deftly twirl noodles around their forks. These noodles are as precisely plated as they are at pasta restaurants around the city, but they’re made of rice and glossed in a paste of smoked fish flakes and crushed pork rinds, key ingredients in pancit palabok.
Across town at a city park that evening, after the school kids leave the basketball courts and jungle gyms, Filipinos take over and set up street food stands, domino games and DJ tables. They grill meat skewers on charcoal, hawk balut from Bologna, and sell bitter melon and long beans they grew in their back lots.
These are just two of many points on Milan’s Filipino food map, which ranges from high-end spots like Yum to hip takes on street food like Lomilan. It’s no wonder that Milan is home to so many Filipino restaurants — the city is home to about 40,000 Filipinos, making them the largest immigrant population in the city and one of the largest Filipino communities in Europe.
Here are a few spots to get a taste of Manila in Milano.
Lomilan's Nico Bola, 28, is one of five friends who started Lomilan after losing his hospitality job in 2020.
Lomilan: Lomihan sa Milan
In the pandemic doldrums of 2020, five friends who worked in Milan’s hospitality industry found themselves unemployed as restaurants and hotels shut their doors. To keep themselves sane, they got together to make lomi — the rich, comforting chicken noodle soup associated with eastern Batangas. Over time, they perfected their recipe, making the thick egg noodles by hand and decking the bowls with toppings like pork belly and fried chicken skins. They sold the lomi on Facebook and hand-delivered it around the city.
In April 2021, that side hustle became Lomilan, a casual restaurant in Milan’s diverse NoLo district. With exposed brick walls and accents of black and gold, the business attracts a young crowd, especially Italian-born Filipinos in their teens and 20s who crowd the tables drinking gulaman and Aperol spritz.
Lomilan’s lomi comes topped with chicharrones,
eggs, pork belly and other decadent extras.
I’d argue that the lomi, seductively decadent, could hold its own against any bowl of ramen that people queue up for in Tokyo. The five co-owners, all young men in their 20s and 30s, have not found it necessary to return to their hotel jobs. “When bad things happen, there’s always some good that comes out of it,” says co-owner Nico Bola, 28.
Husband-and-wife team Ann Christina Taglinao and Nicolo Mincioni serve Italian-inflected Filipino snacks, light meals and drinks at Minta.
Not far from Lomilan by the Piazzale Loreto, Minta evokes a postcard of sunny village life — but whether that village is in Italy or the Philippines is up to interpretation. Italian wine bottles and jars of preserved tomatoes are stacked along one wall, and Filipino woven baskets hang on the other. Pretend garlic and chiles, which belong equally in either place, are strung from the ceiling.
The hybrid vibe is intentional, says Ann Christina Taglinao, who moved from the Philippines to Italy when she was 7 years old and co-owns the business with her Naples-born husband, Nicolo Mincioni. He is a longtime restaurant chef and dreamed of starting his own business. “This was his dream, so it became my dream,” says Taglinao.
Minta’s cassatella-like fried mango pie is an homage to Jollibee’s peach mango pie.
Mincioni reigns in the kitchen and reinterprets Filipino flavors through an Italian lens, with cohesive results. His pancit canton with shrimp recalls spaghetti con gamberoni, the noodles fresh and subtly seasoned. For dessert, he makes a fried mango pastry that’s an homage to Jollibee’s peach mango pie, but far better — delicately crisp and dusted in a snowbank of powdered sugar, it’s as good as Sicilian cassatelle.
YUM's Qwek-qwek arancini are encased in a yellow-hued risotto, like the saffron-scented risotto that Milan is known for.
YUM: Taste of the Philippines
Milan’s most formal Filipino restaurant is located in a tree-lined neighborhood in the center of Milan, just a kilometer from the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Unlike most Filipino restaurants in Italy, it attracts at least as many Italians as it does Filipinos — a feat in a place that’s so enamored with its own cuisine.
The hushed, date-ready atmosphere probably lends to this, as do the Italian inflections on Filipino dishes. Qwek-qwek, the luridly orange street food, here comes in the form of arancini, the quail eggs encrusted in yellow-hued risotto. The pancit palabok is at once entirely Filipino and entirely Italian, each familiar ingredient calibrated to the balance of flavor and texture that characterizes the best pasta dishes.
Owner Marvin Braceros is about as close to a celebrity chef as Italy’s Filipino community has. He also owns a branch of Yum Milano in Makati (temporarily closed as of January 2023) and one in Malta, another Mediterranean country with a large Filipino population.
(left) A vendor sells pumpkin, eggplant and chicharrones while working through her second liter of beer; (middle) Vendors sell siomai, halo-halo and other street foods at a block party in Milan; (right) Author Jennifer Fergesen samples balut raised in Bologna at a Milan block party.
Secret Block Party
On warm weekend nights, a nondescript city park near a metro station becomes an impromptu barangay fiesta. This is one of the first places Lomilan debuted their wares before opening their brick-and-mortar. They still show up occasionally, among other vendors hawking street foods like pork barbecue, siomai and mami out of bicycles or the backs of their vans. You can also buy balut here (some of the tastiest I’ve had outside of the Philippines) and homegrown vegetables like pechay and alugbati. The basketball courts fill up with folding tables where old men focus on card games and dominoes, and a few people even set up karaoke systems. The signs are in English, but the spoken languages are exclusively Filipino — dialects ranging across the 7,000 islands.
Many of Milan’s Filipino population work in hotels, restaurants or in homes as domestic laborers, and block parties like this one are among their only chances to socialize and relax among their compatriots. Some of the party’s features — selling food cooked at home, gambling in public — aren’t exactly legal, but authorities look the other way as long as they don’t cause too much trouble. Still, a crackdown could happen at any time, so one of the vendors at the party asked me not to identify exactly where it’s located. If you take the time to mingle in Milan’s Filipino community, you’ll probably end up being invited anyway.