WACO, Texas (FOX 44) – Lunar New Year kicks off on Sunday – and this means celebration, family and an abundance of food! There is one popular Filipino dish which is beloved by so many – and proves the reason the way to someone’s heart is always through their stomach.

In every Filipino gathering, there is a staple dish that stands out from the rest — the lumpia. Its crispy exterior and savory center makes it one of the most popular dishes of the Philippines.

The inside is filled with a mixture of pork, cabbage, and other veggies — all wrapped up in a fried filo wrapper. It’s served as an appetizer, main course — and even a snack.

Emma Lenkar is a line cook at East Market and Goods, and she showed FOX 44 how to roll the perfect lumpia. 

“We have to roll the {wrapper} first, then [the sides} and then continue [rolling],” she says. 

Tim Kulkarni is the co-owner of East Market and Goods — the first Asian grocery store in Waco. He says there is a reason this bite-sized piece of goodness is such a hit. 

“Usually, it’s a family venture. Everybody gathers around. Everybody makes a whole bunch at once. You talk the latest gossip and all those other things,” Tim says. “That’s how we show love to each other. That’s how we communicate.”

Just like the lumpia has a little bit of everything inside each bite, Joni Navarra Kulkarni — Tim’s wife — and co-owner of East Market and Goods says, “Some people will think, ‘Oh, hey, where is this Chinese ingredient?’ But little do you know that little a Chinese really is also used in a Vietnamese or a Hispanic or a South African meal.”

Their goals include celebrating diversity and family — and not just immediate family. In fact, the founding of East Market stemmed from a need to help out its extended family — the Waco community. 

“We heard the same thing from pretty much everyone in our communities, ‘Oh, I have to go so far to be able to cook and bring my heritage home, or share our culture with others.’ And, you know, my wife, and I just kind of looked at each other and were like … ‘It’s one of the things that we can fix for our community,’” says Tim.

Lumpiang Shanghai, or fried ground pork meat, in spring roll wrapper.

This power couple is also doing their part in the Asian community by hosting the 2023 Lunar New Year Festival in Waco – with live performances and over 30 vendors in attendance. 

“Not only are we just promoting the Asian community, we’re also really promoting and celebrating the diversity that is growing in Waco,” says Joni.

“And it’s celebrating the New Year wishing good fortune on you and your friends and family. Always food,” says Tim.

The Lunar New Year celebration, the “Year of the Rabbit”, kicks off on Sunday, January 22, at 6500 Woodway Drive — from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. MG Montemayor will be the emcee. There will be a lumpia-eating contest, where contestants will get ten minutes to eat as many lumpias as possible.