A Filipino food revolution in Amsterdam

And it starts on the street, where it should, as Kalye is set to make its mark with food, culture, and dreams as its pillars

By Ieth Inolino Idzerda

KWENTONG KALYE Business partners and 'Kalye boys' Mike Morales and Paulito Rondolo

‘For me, it’s home. It’s the kaldero on the table. There’s nothing beautiful about it. It’s practical and you enjoy the flavor. It’s good because you grew up with it.’

It was an unusually sunny autumn morning in Amsterdam with the cloudless blue sky and the sycamore trees almost down to their last remaining leaves. 

I thought it was the perfect weather to meet up with the two Pinoys behind Kalye, Paulito Rondolo, 40, and Mike Morales, 41, at the park in the neighborhood. Well, the sun had once again fooled my tropical brain, thinking my quilt jacket and wool scarf could protect me from this three-degree Celsius weather. The Kalye boys knew better, with Paulito being born and raised in the Netherlands and Mike moving here with his family when he was 14. They arrived in thick winter jackets, gloves, and beanies under their hoodies. 

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL Traditional Filipino lumpia made by Mike Morales

The Dutch government has certain rules about people gathering during the corona pandemic and an outdoor interview was our safest option. We took a seat on a bench drenched in morning dew, discussing if we should speak in English, Dutch, or Tagalog. We decided to just mix words, whichever came in handy. 

In my four years in Amsterdam, I’ve always been on the hunt for an amazing Filipino restaurant, café, or eatery. There are two outside Amsterdam but they weren’t quite what I was hoping for. It was not until recently that somebody posted on the Facebook group “Filipino Expats of Amsterdam,” asking for Filipino restaurant recommendations that my search was narrowed down. One comment mentioned Kalye and I knew I had to find out what it had to offer.

In true Filipino fashion, Kalye offers combo meals for pickup and delivery every Saturday starting with your choice of protein—adobo chicken, lechon pork belly, BBQ chicken and BBQ vegan—followed by your staple carbs such as pandan white rice and pancit bihon, then veggies in the form of chopseuy, and what would Filipino meals be without condiments and sauces like papaya atchara, spicy vinegar, banana catsup, and Mang Tomas sarsa? Who can forget about the side dish? There’s the ubiquitous lumpiang shanghai, along with lumpiang togue and chicken lollipops, to complete the meal. 

‘For me, it’s home. It’s the kaldero on the table. There’s nothing beautiful about it. It’s practical and you enjoy the flavor. It’s good because you grew up with it.’

If food is a vehicle for memory, these are the ones that bring back Paulito and Mike to their childhood. “When I taste Filipino food, I taste home. It takes me back to my mom’s kitchen and the big table at my lola’s house,” intimates Mike. “We grew up with all this food that gave us a happy feeling. When I think about chicken lollipop, I recall my childhood. This food selection works for us because we have a reference of how it should taste,” adds Paulito. 

What makes Kalye special is that, aside from its Instagrammable dishes, it also provides the experience. Every delivered meal comes with a personalized note from the Kalye boys who give instructions on how to properly reheat the food, as well as a short introduction to Filipino food. Each bowl comes with a banana leaf for a full-on kamayan experience should you choose to eat with your hands, and a Spotify barcode that leads to the Kalye Dreams playlist of hip-hop cuisine and ‘90s R&B. “We want to give you the experience. We try to get you back home, where your nanay was, where your lola was. In a family setting. And when you take the first bite, ayun na. You get chills,” says Mike.

Thirty to 40 percent of Kalye’s customers are Filipinos who understand and appreciate its food. But what about its Dutch and other foreign customers? “We had to tweak how it looks. Filipino food is not that pretty. That’s why the colors should be popping and all the flavors need to be there—sweet, sour, spicy. Because these are all new flavors to them. So anybody who tries our food goes, wow, and it looks nice! It has to be appealing to the eye and, of course, it should taste amazing. These are key elements to make people more aware of our food because they cannot place the Filipino cuisine. Our standard for food is higher. Dutch people don’t really have a cuisine so they don’t have layers in their dishes,” explains Paulito.

KAMAYAN ANYONE? Pinoy boodle fight, a must-try on Kalye's list of catering services

Often misunderstood (how to explain dinuguan) and sometimes misjudged (looking at you, balut), defining the Filipino cuisine has always been a challenge in the international scene. And maybe that’s where the problem lies. There is no one word or one dish to identify our food. Because more than the food, it’s the personal experience and shared memory. 

“For me, it’s home. It’s the kaldero on the table. There’s nothing beautiful about it. It’s practical and you enjoy the flavor. It’s good because you grew up with it,” says Paulito. 

While the Kalye boys are on a mission to make Amsterdam and its surrounding area familiar with Filipino cuisine share their genuine love of food and their Filipino heritage, they have not forgotten their other passion—sneakers. 

PINOY TASTE Adobo Kip Combo

One of the pillars of Kalye is their love of the sneakers culture. In fact, Kalye food was supposed to be introduced in their sneaker event in March last year. It was obviously canceled due to the pandemic. Paulito and Mike hope that they will be able to launch the Kalye sneaker event sometime this year together with their plans to join the Rollende Keukens food truck festival in Amsterdam. They also have dreams of scaling up, starting with the lumpia being available for sale at supermarkets in the Netherlands.

Until then, together with the other Filipinos in Amsterdam, we’ll get our weekly dose of Kalye food that all at once triggers and cures our homesickness.