For Filipino Americans, there’s no color more delicious than Ube purple

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A box of assorted ube treats from San Francisco’s Buko Bakes, one of 23 vendors that will be at this year’s Yum Yams festival. (Buko Bakes)

When Gemma Ballesteros opened her Filipino bakery Marley’s Treats 11 years ago, she says, her ube-flavored cupcakes weren’t particularly popular.

Of course, ube was a nostalgic taste for American Filipinos. But influencers had yet to give purple sweet potatoes the title of most instagrammable food. And they certainly hadn’t yet become such a sensation here in Northern California that event planners would be inspired to organize not one, not two, but Three separate ube festivals on consecutive weekends. Literally.

“It’s become a real craze,” says Ballesteros. It is not for nothing that the branding for its Hayward bakery Bend over hard in ube’s distinctive brilliant purple hue, which itself has become a marker of cultural pride and identity for many Bay Area Filipinos.

It is in this context that Kapwa Gardens, the Filipino cultural district SoMa new outdoor event spacehosts second “celebration of all things ube” yum yam, Saturday, April 23. This year, 23 different vendors will be decked out in their bright purple finery, split between Kapwa’s main courtyard and an adjacent alley (dubbed “Ube Alley”). As well as the usual array of halo-halos and ube cookies, donuts and ice cream, a number of savory options will be on hand: ube on a hot dog, or as part of the more Filipino American fusion plates –chicken lumpia with ube waffles. If you have someone in your life who would kill for a pair of ube-themed earrings, this is your kind of food festival.

(We might as well go ahead and designate April as National Ube Month while we’re at it: Yum Yams follows on from last weekend. Ube Festival at Tracey. And, for the truly dedicated ube super fan, this will serve as a warm-up for next weekend (unrelated) Ube Festival in San Francisco’s District Six.)

Two ube cupcakes, ube pandesals and ube flan cheesecakes, on a white background.
Ube cupcakes, “flandesals” and ube flan cheesecakes – all from Hayward-based Marley’s Treats, where ube desserts are by far the most popular items. (Marley’s treats)

Kapwa Gardens general manager Marissa Macayan acknowledges there is a certain trend in the current ube craze – that the purple tuber is “really in its time right now”. At the same time, she insists the cultural significance of ube for Filipinos through the generations. “If you grew up eating halo-halo, you’re going to feel some kind of sensation when you take your first bite of it. [an ube dessert]Macayan says. For her, anything flavored with ube always conjures up memories of crushing ice with her family over the summer.

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