There is no shortage of possibilities for Clevelanders who enjoy Asian cuisine. If you're among that crowd, you've likely sampled your fair share of local Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Thai restaurants. But despite a flourishing Filipino community in Greater Cleveland, Filipino restaurants are much harder to come by.
Yet Filipino food is certainly worth a try. It's distinguished by bold combinations of sweet, sour and salty flavors. Proteins including chicken, pork, beef and seafood are central to the cuisine, along with fresh fruits and vegetables. Hearty stews are popular, often served with rice. Most preparations include a generous measure of sugar, resulting in dishes that typically are more sweet than spicy. Filipino meals are commonly delivered all at once, with mealtimes being informal, communal affairs centered around the family kitchen.
One authentic and tasty spot to try this cuisine is Mely's Kainan in Parma. It's a Fil-Am cuisine carry-out spot, offering favorites such as Beef Kaldereta, Filipino Beef Steak and vegetable egg rolls. The menu changes daily. All of the restaurant's dishes are prepared by chef and manager Mely Gregorio.
Now in her late 70s, Mely has a long history in the kitchen. Her interest in cooking developed years ago, as a housewife living in the Philippines. When her oldest son Edwin was grown, he joined the U.S. Navy and married his wife Anita. The couple was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, and Mely joined them there to help raise their growing family. While living in Japan, Mely not only cooked for her family but also for the community of Filipino expats who enjoyed her tastes of home.
When Edwin's job was relocated to Ohio, Mely joined her son's family once again. At first, life in Cleveland took some getting used to. "When we first arrived it was winter," says Mely. "I didn't do anything! It was too cold. I just watched television and crocheted." After a brief stint in Pensacola, Fla., to live with her sister, Mely returned to Ohio and settled in with Edwin and Anita's family. She also took on a job as a cook in a nursing facility, but always most enjoyed preparing her Filipino dishes at home.
In 2012, Mely retired from her nursing home job and took over as chef and manager at Mely's Kainan. "I'm 77 now," says Mely. "But still, I love to cook. Even on Monday — and that's my day off!"
Mely's Kainan welcomes a diverse clientele, although Mely says Filipinos make up a strong majority of her regulars. They often order catered meals for local Filipino community meetings and events. "Sometimes Americans think they won't like Filipino food but once they taste my cooking, they realize that they do," says Mely. "So we get all kinds of customers."
5382 State Rd., Parma, 216-741-1332, letseat.at/MelysKainan.