Food can be an incredibly emotional vehicle for nostalgia and tradition. It can also be a way to explore and understand our own personal histories. The latter is the case for Geraldson Chua, who spent over 10 years working in magazines and start-ups before launching his own line of Filipino spreads and treats. Chua, who served stints at WWD and Esquire, started Pika Pika in 2021. “I spent a lot of time telling other people’s stories and hadn’t had a chance to tell my own or come to terms with it. I had to unpack that, and the best way I could do so was through food,” Chua tells me when we meet in late August.
Filipinos form the third-largest group of Asians in the United States, according to the 2020 census—so it was only a matter of time before supermarkets and specialty food stores bore witness to an increased interest in Filipino ingredients and flavors. Ube (a yam known for its purple color that has a subtle flavor of vanilla and pistachio) and calamansi (a sweet-and-sour citrus fruit that resembles a lime) can be found in Trader Joe’s ube pancake mix and Zuzu’s calamansi sparkling cocktail-in-a-bottle. But none of the products Chua saw on the market actually delved into or celebrated Filipino culture. “There has been a recent commercialization of these flavors; only a small number of people realize they’re even Filipino,” Chua says. Educating consumers and ensuring Pika Pika is connected to the Philippines, as a result, has become a central tenet of his brand. Pika Pika’s products currently on offer, the coconut spread and calamansi marmalade, reflect the Philippines’s rich cuisine—and its melting pot of neighboring cultures and past colonization.
“We always say that the Philippines has the first fusion cuisine because there are so many influences: Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, South Asian,” Chua says. The result? Dishes that are rich and dense with flavor, and hard to categorize or pin down. “Those nuances make me excited to tell our stories, it’s what I’m most interested in. I can imagine that other Filipino-Americans who grew up here are also eager to understand more of what Filipino food is. But if the only access they have to their culture is through the lens of colonialism, then how will they be able to fully get into their heritage?”
Throughout the process of making each spread’s flavor, Chua has made a point of working with other Filipino food makers, sourcing many of his ingredients straight from the Philippines. He is also planting pili trees (a type of buttery tree nut native to the Philippines that is a healthier alternative to peanuts) on family owned land with the help of local farmers.
Chua’s own story begins in Manila, where he was the oldest of four children in a multigenerational household. He remembers knowing at a young age that he and his siblings were different from other members of his family—they were creative kids in a home where the emphasis was always on science and math. He also knew he was queer in a country where members of the LGBTQ+ community have little legal protection and are often targets of aggression. So when his parents presented the family with the idea of moving to the United States, Chua saw it as an opportunity, at 18 years old, to expand his world. “I was out with friends, but at home it was the opposite. Moving [to the U.S.] was an opportunity for me to be gay inside and outside my home, and I couldn’t say no to that,” Chua adds.
Chua and his family moved to New Jersey in 2007 and began the difficult, but at times exciting process of assimilation. Chua enrolled in the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and a few years later, landed his first magazine job at Esquire. Through it all, Chua was always searching for ways to merge his Filipino culture with the work he created.
“The pinnacle of the immigrant story is finding your footing. But at the end of the day, I’ve realized that my footing is in the in-between spaces, the blurry lines between two worlds,” Chua says. That space, between an American market and the Philippines, is where Pika Pika exists. “Food is a way to introduce people to our culture,” he adds. “For me, it’s about inviting more people to the table. There’s room for everyone.”
Pika Pika’s coconut spread and calamansi marmalade are available for pre-order on the Pika Pika website. The coconut spread is also available for purchase in-person at Southeast below Essex Market in New York .