Non-Filipino customers may not appreciate that Rustica Pega, owner of Formosa Filipino Restaurant, hails from a province celebrated throughout the Philippines for its culinary achievements. Pampanga is renowned for its fermented sauces, preserved pork and cured crab meat.
Formosa Filipino Restaurant
Where: 650 D. College Park Road, Ladson
When: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed all family holidays.
More info: 569-3399; no website
But customers who don't know their builg (mudfish) from their tugak (frogs) are increasingly flocking to Formosa, and ordering boldly.
"You'd be surprised by how many Americans eat our food," says Pega, who immigrated in 1980. "Especially with the Internet now, when they have our menu, and they have their iPhones, they can sit here and look things up."
Beyond the standard chop sueys and sweet-and-sour dishes, there are a number of lesser-known items on Formosa's menu that might require translation, including asado siopao, the Filipino version of Chinese steamed buns; tocino, a cured pork that frequently appears on brunch tables; and kaldereta, a long-simmered beef stew thickened with liver. Pega's desire to serve unassimilated comfort foods inspired her to open Formosa in 2003.
"I used to work for my family, but they don't do those dishes," says Pega, a niece to the women who opened The Oriental Cuisine. Pega credits her aunts with introducing lumpia to Charleston; she asked their permission before setting up her own dining room in a small Ladson strip mall.
Formosa is intentionally homey. The round tables are covered in wrinkled vinyl tablecloths printed with flowers, and the room has a slightly tattered, overstuffed look that's synonymous with grandmother's houses. The seating is arranged to favor groups, as Formosa isn't a typical destination for solo diners (although Pega makes sure they feel welcome, too.)
"It's just a family thing," Pega says. "It's like home cooking. There's nothing fancy about it."
What to eat
Formosa is the sole local source of dinuguan, a coal-colored stew of offal and pig's blood. Mildly spiced, Formosa's estimable version is distinguished by relatively pliant innards and a well-considered spark of vinegar.
Formosa Filipino Restaurant is known for its dinuguan (front) and sisig (back).×
Rustica Pega is the owner of Formosa Filipino Restaraunt on College Park Road.×
The Formosa Filipino Restaurant is on College Park Road.×
Rustica Pega, the owner of the Formosa Filipino Restaurant, delivers an order to customers on a recent afternoon.×