Filipino-run store in Beacon commands large online presence
By Alison Rooney
Lured by the exterior description of “Filipino-Oriental Food Mart” a peer into the window of Pinoy Outlet revealed well-stocked shelves of goods from areas throughout Asia.
Vast quantities and varieties of dried noodles vie with items not often seen in these parts like jars of sugar palm fruit and papaya pickles. A cook’s dream of essential Asian condiments — fish and chili sauces, white vinegars, sambals, curry and shrimp pastes and coconut creams — comes to life with row after row of different brands from all corners of Asia, in the small, but comprehensive store.
Spend a little time within, and you’ll experience a mini parade of nations as a steady stream of customers comes in, some browsing, but many with particular purchases in mind; during a recent short visit two young Indonesian women came in and bought an assortment of things, proffering a vanilla-wafer-like taste — and quite delicious — dessert.
Also shopping was a Filipino nun from Mount St. Alphonsus in Kingston who said her favorite item was the fish. Last year, accompanying another nun who was dropping off a book at nearby Howland Library, she spotted the storefront and made a beeline for it. People of Thai, Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Indian heritage frequent the store as well.
Whatever the request is, Valerie Jelski is likely to be able to satisfy. Jelski, who hails from the northern Philippines, is the manager, there weekdays (someone else handles the weekends) to help customers and also to fulfill the large amount of online orders, which constitute the bulk of Pinoy Outlet’s business.
Jelski says the largest Filipino populations in the U.S. are found here in New York and New Jersey, along with California, Washington State and Oregon. The word pinoy, in fact, originally meant a Filipino living in the United States, but has come to be used as a general term for Filipinos, expatriates and those still living in their homeland.
The storefront, which has been open about four years, has a tremendous web presence and ships all over the country, including packages sent to the military. Jelski says people find them simply by searching for “Filipino products” or simply “Asian products.” Those visiting the store in person come from reasonably far afield: Albany, Connecticut, Middletown and beyond. As Jelski says, “We have the most products and are cheaper” than other stores in the region.
Some discover the store simply by walking or driving past it. “We have lots of people from the city,” Jelski says, “who move here to Beacon, spot us and are thrilled because they say ‘I used to get this in the city and never thought I would find it here.’”
Asked what the most popular items stocked were, Jelski said, “If you consider Americans, it would be the sweet chili sauces, but Filipinos head straight for the fish sauces, the noodles and the packets of snacks which remind them of home. On the other side of the sauces are the Philippine-manufactured syrupy gels and puddings, colorful, beckoning, slightly mysterious jars of things like lutong bahay (tapioca pearl sago in syrup) and pulang kaong (sugar palm fruit) which conjure up another era, or at least another climate zone.
On weekends Pinoy Outlet offers prepared foods: cooked fish, hot noodles, snacks cooked with glutinous rice. Freezers in the back room of the two-room store contain everything from siopao (re-heatable steamed buns) to suman malagkit, (a sticky rice cake treat) to hopia baboy (meat pastries) to wrappers for spring rolls and every kind of dumpling.
There is a range of sausages and meatballs, too, along with whole, dried fish. Bins of fresh vegetables include bitter melon, which Jelski suggests cooking with tomato, onion and garlic. There are also quail eggs, which, hard-boiled and peeled can be used to make kwek-kwek: the eggs turned into balls, fried in an orange batter, eaten with lots of vinegar. Jelski is happy to give cooking advice for anything found in the store.
In a smaller freezer in the front, desserts abound: Saba frozen bananas (which can be microwaved) and langka (jackfruit) and guayabana (soursop) ice cream alongside macapuno (a special type of coconut) ice cream. Also on hand are beauty products such as Likas papaya herbal soap.
Pinoy Outlet also functions as a place where money can be remitted to the Philippines and as an acceptance and receiving point for Balikbayan Boxes, a cargo shipping service between the U.S. and the Philippines. They are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except for Wednesday; summer brings extended hours. Pinoy Outlet is located at 303 Main St., in Beacon. For more information call 845-765-0227 or visit pinoyoutlet.com.
Photos by A. Rooney