Growing up in the Philippines, Nikki Evangelista never had the opportunity to help her mother and grandmother prepare meals. “In the Philippines, we have really small kitchens, so there was no room for more than one cook,” she explains. “My job was to wash the dishes.” Nikki was 13 in 2011 when her family moved to Simpsonville, where, thankfully, their new kitchen accommodated more people. That’s where her passion for cooking took root.
Although Evangelista’s background is in visual arts rather than culinary arts, she now puts her creativity where her mouth is through dinner pop-ups that spotlight her native dishes. Encouraged by family and friends, Nikki began doing small pop-ups in 2019 under the moniker takám, a Tagalog word meaning “to crave something delicious.”
She started out offering Filipino pastries, cookies, and desserts last July at her first event at Savereign in the Village of West Greenville, thanks to the plant shop’s owner, AJ Arellano, who offered his space for the evening. Takam’s first dinner pop-up followed in September at Junto coffee shop in Taylors. With help from her mother and her Filipino friend Elisabeth Watkins, a baker at GB&D, Evangelista hosted a traditional Kamayan-style meal where all the food is laid out on the table and diners eat with their hands.
That led to pop-ups at The Whale, Sweet Sippin’, and Bar Margaret, and it wasn’t long before Evangelista’s experiments with Filipino food had won an enthusiastic audience. In March and April, Takam held sway at Bar Margaret until the pandemic hit. When restaurants reopened in May, Chef Alex George invited Nikki to hold weekly dinner pop-ups at GB&D. Every Monday night for the foreseeable future—until Evangelista fulfills her goal of establishing a permanent base for Takam—she will be taking online orders for pickup at The Commons.
Salty, sweet, sour, and funky is how Nikki describes the cuisine she grew up eating. Balancing these flavors is key to Filipino cooking, a mashup of Spanish, Chinese, Southeast Asian, and American influences. “What makes our food Filipino is the funkiness of common ingredients like bagoong (fermented shrimp paste), pinapa (dried fish flakes), patis (fish sauce), and brined eggs,” she says. Garlic, onions, and ginger compose the Filipino equivalent of mirepoix (the diced vegetable base for many sauces in French cooking technique), while vinegar, soy sauce, and coconut milk form the backbone of pork, chicken, and seafood entrées.
Takam’s founder considers chicken adobo, with its pungent braise of vinegar and soy sauce, to be comfort food. The national dish of the Philippines, adobo is served at her pop-ups alongside garlic rice and tasty pork and cabbage lumpia (fried spring rolls). Evangelista’s ube tacos—made from a type of purple yam grown in the Philippines—were inspired by blue-corn tacos she tasted on a trip to Miami. Ube, in the form of jam, also flavors crinkle cookies for dessert.
For Nikki, Takam is all about sharing the Filipino way of life through food. “In high school and college, I used my culture as a subject in my art,” she recalls. Now she uses food to make that connection, and her dishes are so good that she often sells out in an hour. “It’s amazing to me that we’re the ones who are sharing this food—and we’re getting so many folks to join in the party.”
Follow Takam’s events on Instagram at @takamgvl or at facebook.com/takamgvl.