pinakbet: fill your belly, warm your heart

Courtney Takabayashi
October 05, 2023

While Heather Roylo shares a special baking tradition with her mother, she also has fond memories in the kitchen with her father. “He loved to cook,” says the web senior technical business analyst at HMSA. “He was an artist by heart – a singer and songwriter, a painter, and cooking was another form of self-expression.” After he passed away in 2020, Roylo used cooking to keep his memory alive. “I miss him,” she says. “But when I can recreate his dishes, it’s like he’s still here with me.”

In honor of Filipino American History Month, Roylo, who’s half Filipino on her dad’s side, shares some of her favorite childhood memories as well as her father’s pinakbet recipe, “It’s one of my favorite comfort foods because it’s so easy and tasty,” she says. “Pinakbet reminds me of my dad. It fills my belly and warms my heart.”

Roylo and her father, Charles. Photo courtesy Heather Roylo.

A festive family
Roylo’s earliest food memory is of a party at her paternal grandparents’ home in Poamoho Camp, a small village in Wahiawa. “My grandparents, who came from the Philippines to work on the plantation, loved throwing parties!” she says. “When I was five, I remember that they got a whole pig and roasted it over an open fire. They attached a car steering wheel to turn the spit.” Roylo remembers her grandfather turning the steering wheel for hours. “Once the pig was cooked, they brought it into their house,” Roylo says. “And all the kids were grabbing meat and eating it! It was so delicious.”

Roylo (in pigtails) with her paternal grandparents, older brother, and parents. Photo courtesy Heather Roylo. 

The love language of food
Since both of her parents enjoyed cooking, it’s no surprise Roylo started cooking as a teen. “When it came to food, my dad wasn’t the type of person to follow recipes,” she says. “He’d add a bit of this, a little of that, and taste, taste, taste. And he had a gift because everything he made turned out wonderful.”

It's fortunate that Roylo’s dad was skilled in the kitchen because he loved cooking for others. “My dad grew up the youngest of 12 children,” she says. “And sometimes he’d go hungry because there wasn’t any food left. This shaped his attitude toward people and food.” The first thing her father would ask anyone who came over was, “Did you eat?” And no matter what the answer was, he’d prepare something. “He was so generous,” Roylo says. “Feeding everyone was his way of showing that he cared.” 

Roylo family portrait. Photo courtesy Heather Roylo.

On the menu
While some families may be too busy to sit down for dinner, Roylo’s family always made it a point to gather for family meals. “It was a time to catch up and bond over home-cooked meals,” Roylo says. “Some of my favorite meals are Filipino dishes like chicken kalamungay, pork mongo beans, pork watercress soup with shrimp, chicken long rice, and of course pinakbet.”

For the longest time, Roylo couldn’t figure out the ratio of vinegar and patis (fish sauce) for pinakbet. “I kept experimenting and trying different combinations,” Roylo says. “And when I finally found the perfect ratio, I knew my dad would be so proud of me.”

Charles Roylo enjoying a hearty bowl of pinakbet. Photo courtesy Heather Roylo.



  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 lb. pork, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 slices ginger
  • 3 Tbsp. patis (Filipino fish sauce)
  • 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 bittermelon, seeded and sliced
  • 2-3 long eggplants, cut into 3-inch wedges
  • 1 small bunch long beans, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 1/2 kabocha, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (leave skin on)
  • Shoyu (optional) 

Add oil to a large saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Brown pork, then add tomato, onion, garlic, ginger, patis, vinegar, and water. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer about 45 minutes until pork is tender.

Add remaining vegetables (don’t stir!) and cover. Increase heat to bring to boil again, then reduce heat to low. Simmer 20-25 minutes until pumpkin is fork-tender.

Stir gently until combined. Remove ginger. Serve over hot rice and top with shoyu, if desired. 

Watch Roylo in action
Check out our video of Roylo demonstrating how to make pinakbet as she shares memories of growing up Filipino. 

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