Serving up culture and goodwill

Start with the ingredients. Prepare them. Cook it and share it with others. These are the steps junior Ethan Tungpalan takes in order to create the food behind FriendlyBento, an Asian Fusion style home restaurant. 

His instagram business account @FriendlyBento first launched July 31, 2020 when he posted his first menu. Some of the food items were sushi, musubi and sushi bake. He focused on making the food healthier by purchasing ingredients with reduced sodium and sugar amounts.

“My favorite part is when I decided to launch. I had started planning with my parents, and they knew that I couldn’t just have one item,” Tungpalan said. “When I was just cooking sushi bake for my family, I felt like I could sell this at a cheaper price. I knew other people could get it at other places, but it was more expensive, so I made it cheaper.”

With the money that he received from the first month, he donated to Saint Martha’s Church (located in West Covina), Casita Orphanage (located in the Philippines) and the Black Lives Matter movement. He decided to donate to each individual charity organization to benefit the world and make a difference in other’s lives. Each charitable organization that he donates to is special to him and he believes that they will help the most amount of people.

“I wanted to show support and be supportive of those around me. If we are going to really have a brighter future, then I need to support others so that they can have a brighter future,” Tungpalan said.

While growing up, Tungpalan did not know much about cooking. What initially started as a way for Tungpalan to learn cooking skills and help his family out in the kitchen grew to a passion that he now loves. By July 2020, he had created a plan to make various Asian dishes healthier by using lower sodium ingredients, cheaper by lowering prices and taste delicious with homemade ingredients.

“My business is all about just being friendly and basically spreading good vibes to others through my cooking,” Tungpalan said. “Cooking is really calming and therapeutic and you’re really doing something you love. I know that the other person is going to receive it and love.”

Tungpalan has received a safe food handlers permit from the Los Angeles county Health Department that allows him to serve food safely. The name for the business was first thought of by Tungpalan as a way to express himself and his food. He chose Friendly because he wanted to be friendly to all customers no matter what and picked Bento because bento is a simple box that food goes in. The box can hold all different types of Asian style food, Japanese, Filipino or even Chinese. He wanted to convey that he made all types of food and the box holds every single one of them.

“It affected me as a person because it positively impacted my life, not only am I cooking to make money but to make others feel good through food,” Tungpalan said. “This has inspired me to cook more than I usually do and ever since then I started the business, I have been cooking breakfast for my family and sharing my passion.”

After practicing how to cook, he decided that he wanted to create a business to help others. He gained inspiration from his older sister who had also created a food company that specialized in baking. The two have worked together to provide food for large parties and family ceremonies.

“My sister sells baked goods, like cookies and cupcakes, and she was really successful. It looked really fun to manage your own small business,” Tungpalan said. “I get to bond with my sister and better our relationship while having fun.”

Prior to starting his food business in July 2020, Tungpalan had started learning how to cook, bake and create a variety of Asian style foods from his mom, dad and sister. Each person in his family had a unique approach to cooking food. He wanted to be able to learn all of them so that he would be able to learn.

“Something that I have learned is that when someone eats a meal they feel better because they eat and they feel happy that someone else made that for them,” Tungpalan said. “I believe that through my cooking that is what I am doing. I am doing a good deed for that person.”

Each item takes 10 to 30 minutes for Tungpalan to prepare and cook. He starts by gathering the ingredients from local stores such as Stater Brothers and Tokyo Central. Next, he prepares the ingredients by washing the vegetables and making the sauce. Then begins to cook each food item that the customer has ordered. Each order varies depending on whether the customer wants different ingredients. After he finishes, customers have the option of either getting it delivered to their house for free of charge or picking it up at Tungpalan’s house. 

“Last year I really didn’t know how to cook. I was getting to that point where I am a junior and I’m about to be a senior and I have to know something,” Tungpalan said. “I decided to take up cooking and started asking my parents how they do and how they make it and basically how they cook. From then on out I decided to experiment and making omelets and just basic dishes.”

Tungpalan learns new skills with every mistake that he makes with the food that he creates. Tungpalan has learned to remain patient with the mistakes that he makes and has gotten communication skills with customers. He has also learned to manage his time while making the dishes.

“Making the food is my favorite because it is so fun to make and the thing about it is that each individual dish so that I can do other things while it is cooking,” Tungpalan said. “Each dish takes a lot of time. Preparing the ingredients before the delivery makes me more responsible to stay on top of my work.”

Cooking is not just a passion but a new way for Tungpalan to express the way he feels. It is also a way for him to pass down the skills that he has learned to the next generation. Each skill that he hones from his family benefits him and the next generation.

“My mom has been cooking for me most of the time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It really just hit me that she could pass me and my sister down something from her. Also, my dad does some cooking sometimes and cooks breakfast,” Tungpalan said. “It really just hit me that I need to learn from her so that I have something that I can pass down when I have kids of my own.”

By Samuel Au, Feature Editor
Photo courtesy of Ethan Tungpalan