Hillman City’s critically-acclaimed Filipino fine-dining restaurant Archipelago has been closed ever since Washington’s stay-at-home order was implemented in March. But it’s now introducing a take-home option that stays true to its roots. Starting this afternoon, the restaurant will offer Balikbayan Boxes, which co-owner Amber Manuguid describes as a “mix between a meal kit, a CSA box, and an unpacking of culture.” Each large box for pickup at the restaurant will contain fresh vegetables from local farmers, pork, seafood, and a few other pantry staples, as well as some of the stories and history behind the food.
Balikbayan boxes were historically meant for Filipino expats and overseas workers to bring remittances back home. “It typically would contain everything from foodstuffs, gifts, clothing and much more — things from the States you couldn’t get in the Philippines,” says Manuguid. Here, they will contain produce, meat, fish, and some fermented goods, with add-ons that include cuts from Archipelago’s whole animal butchery program, fish, and wines from Filipino-American producers (the wines can be purchased separately as well). Everything aims to be in keeping with the restaurant’s sustainable philosophy, right down to the packaging, which includes compostable plastic and reusable jars.
The boxes are a central element to Archipelago’s new Mahabang Buhay experience (which translates to “long life” from the Tagalog language) — different take-home offerings that the restaurant is rolling out gradually as it adapts to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. All the products are sourced in the Pacific Northwest, and the various bundles will rotate seasonally (some Mahabang Buhay items to come will not need to be ordered with the box). A portion of the proceeds will go to support local organizations, such as the Filipino Community of Seattle’s Senior Meal Program.
Since sit-down tasting menu meals remain on pause by necessity in Archipelago’s tiny dining room — and with the future of chef’s counters in doubt, generally — this is a way for the restaurant to retain its roots as a destination that educates diners, as much as it feeds them. The stories behind each of the restaurant’s well-crafted Filipino-influenced dishes were an integral part of each meal served by Manuguid and her husband, 2020 James Beard Award-semifinalist chef Aaron Verzosa. Now they will be done in a different format.
“The hope is that the experience acts as a kind of window into our restaurant to give patrons a feeling of being a part of the process,” Manuguid says.
Ordering is open each Wednesdays at 2 p.m., with pickup windows on Fridays and Saturdays. Cost and availability will depend on market prices and farm inventory, but in general prices will range from $75-$90, and each box feeds up to four people.