Have y’all seen that Adobo Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe going around social media lately? The brain behind that iconic recipe (and many others) is Abi Balingit. Abi’s baking journey started with the Food Network shows she watched when she was young. They made her eager to recreate the desserts she saw on the screen, and now Abi has grown into a talented recipe developer, blogger, and cookbook author. Whether you find her recipes on social media, her blog, or her new cookbook, one thing is clear — Abi has a knack for creating recipes that are innovative, mouth-watering, and reflective of her experiences as a Filipino American. I got a chance to speak with her about her journey, her process, and advice she has for budding foodies.

Photo courtesy of Abi Balingit

Spoon University: Are there ways you’ve seen your Filipino heritage and/or Asian identity shape your relationship with food and your journey to where you are now?

Abi Balingit: More recently, being able to read more cookbooks from Filipino and Filipino-American chefs from across the diaspora and also from the motherland was a huge inspiration for me. Growing up, it's hard because I feel like some people have baking idols, like Martha Stewart and Claire Saffitz, for example, and they're white women. There's a lot of white people in the food space that are big figures, so I think it was hard when I was a kid to see representation that looks like me. It's more recent, but now there are people in the Filipino food space that have been able to inspire me to do what I'm doing now.

SU: Most of your major online food writing started with your blog, the Dusky Kitchen. What would you say is your favorite part of having a blog like that?

AB: I used to blog for my school newspaper, The Daily Cal at UC Berkeley, so blogging to me is very innate; it's such a carefree, easy form of dialogue to have with people. I know writing a piece in a newspaper or in a magazine takes time — you have to contact people, get it approved, and get it sent out — so something like a newsletter or blog expedites all the creative ideas that you're having. I think there's a lot of power in being able to speak your thoughts.

I'm so grateful for people who are posting recipes on their blog because it's such a democratizing process if you don't have money for cookbooks. That's how I was when I was a kid — I didn’t really have disposable income to my name, so I was learning through websites like Allrecipes and other community recipe websites. All these random bloggers that would come up taught me how to bake things that my mom couldn't tell me or show me how to make, and I'm really grateful for the Internet and especially blogging, and being able to take part of it and to learn from the platform.

SU: Moving to your most recent work, now you have your own cookbook, Mayumu. What’s the story behind the title?

AB: “Mayumu” means “sweet” in Kapampangan, and my parents are both from Pampanga, so I wanted a book title that is representative of my family background. I had a zine in July 2019 that was called “Flipped: Matamis,” which means “sweet” in Tagalog. So having a full-on book, I wanted it to be so much more of a representation of me and solely me. A lot of people don't know what that means even if you are Filipino, so it’s fun to be able to educate even with just one word.

SU: You have a lot of really cool recipes in your cookbook! What are your main sources of inspiration when developing recipes?

AB: Sometimes it's dictated by ingredients I want to use — maybe I want to use calamansi because I want something refreshing. Sometimes it's like, “Oh, I really miss strawberry shortcake bars,” or something else very nostalgic from growing up, and then I make adjustments and additions to it.

Lately inspiration gravitates towards not just dessert, but also savory dishes as well. For example, I have a recipe in the book that's sampalok tajin snickerdoodles, and that's inspired by sinigang. I love a good sour salmon stew, but maybe it’d be really cool to translate those flavors into a cookie. It's a fun challenge to be like, “What could work even if it doesn't sound like it could work?” And sometimes that fails, and that's okay. But the act of trying and seeing how that can play out — that’s the fun of being in the kitchen, and the fun of baking is to kind of stretch those limits.

SU: Your cookbook is a big deal for Filipinos, because our culture and flavors are not often taking up this kind of space. How does it feel knowing that you and your work are getting so much recognition now?

AB: It means the world to me, and I don't think I get tired of hearing the good things people are saying about my work, no matter from who it is, but especially coming from other Filipinos — not just Filipino Americans, but Filipinos in the whole diaspora and the whole world. It's humbling, and it's so great to be able to take up space in this way with something that I really, really believe in, because it’s a challenge for a lot of authors to get the vision that they want across, especially with representation still being so little.

It’s super cool being able to have so much of my life in this book. My family history and my immigrant parents and their stories are also in this book, and it’s very heartwarming when I hear that people do read the stories in between recipes, and that they identify themselves with my story and find commonality. I feel like that was so rare for me growing up, and so it is nice to give that to people and to pave that path for myself and also a whole generation of younger Filipino Americans who maybe also want to write a cookbook or write a memoir. So I'm very grateful and it's very special for me to do this.

SU: Do you have tips for anyone who's thinking of entering the food media space, whether that be a blog, starting a social media account, making a cookbook, etc?

AB: I think my biggest advice is to bake for yourself, first and foremost. I feel like if you're not baking things you like, or you want to eat, or you want to share with other people, then it becomes hard to authentically keep going in your career. You don't want to make things for views or for likes or for engagement. Maybe sometimes it feels like that is the goal, “Oh, if no one sees this, what's the point?” But, if you start from within first and ask yourself this question of, “What is the food I like to make, regardless of anyone's opinion about it?” I think that makes the best kind of food that you can put out, and then people will recognize that and people will see that.

SU: And now looking back, is there any advice you'd give to your younger self?

AB: I would tell them, “Don't feel so pressured if your life isn’t the way that you planned out to be when you were a kid.” I’d say to be less rigid, because you just don't know what opportunities will come through or what will fall into your lap.I don't think baking and being a cookbook author was something I expected or pursued seriously until three years ago. And it's fun to see where life will take you.