Hamilton’s Lemon Bar: from Filipino eats to outstanding handmade lemonades

“Kain Tayo!”

Not only does this joyous exclamation translate to “let’s eat!” in Tagalog – a native language of the Philippines – it’s also the name of a recent local food venture that spent the last year bringing the exciting taste of traditional Filipino food to Hamilton, a city where dishes from that cuisine are typically hard to find.

But now, though barely a year old, Kain Tayo has decided to make lemons into lemonade – literally – and shift its focus from Filipino foods to refreshing, handmade drinks under a new name: Lemon Bar.

Before we get to that delicious transition, let’s trace this Hamilton small business back to its not-too-distant beginnings.

The original idea for Kain Tayo came courtesy of Hamilton resident Vuong Nguyen, who decided to try bridging that culinary gap with the launch of Kain Tayo in November 2020; a business that later operated in partnership with Adobo Queen, one of Hamilton’s few restaurants offering Filipino cuisine.

Though Nguyen comes from a Vietnamese background, the idea of basing his small business around Filipino food was partly inspired by his fascination in the similarities between Filipino and Vietnamese cuisines.

“I spent the past 6 months in collaboration with Adobo Queen learning and discovering the many Filipino foods, drinks, desserts, and methods of Filipino cooking techniques, utilizing different South East Asian ingredients in Filipino cooking that felt very close to home with my Vietnamese roots,” says Nguyen.

In a city largely populated by Italian eateries and barbecue joints – delicious as those spots are – the attractive dishes served by Kain Tayo caught on quickly with Hamilton foodies craving something a little different out of the local food scene.

Over the past year, Kain Tayo operated mostly as a collaborative effort with Adobo Queen on Queen Street North, serving modern and flavourful takes on traditional Filipino dishes like Chicken Adobo, Pork Menudo, Kare Kare, rice bowls, noodle bowls, meat skewers, and beyond.

Nguyen was also known to whip up custom dishes for loyal patrons, and expanded the menu to Filipino desserts like the Buko Pandan Salad, made with pandan jelly, coconut, and cream; and Halo-Halo, a traditional cold dessert topped with creamy ube ice cream.

While experimenting with new dishes and expanding his menu for a growing local fanbase, Nguyen also started to toy with his own refreshing takes on a summery staple: freshly squeezed lemonade.

In Nguyen’s hands, though, these quenching drinks are no simple lemonades; that sweet, citrusy base gets kicked up multiple notches with the addition of other fruits and flavours like strawberry, blueberry, mango, peach, or even pumpkin spice.

Best of all, Nguyen’s recipes ensure that these fruity lemonades use only real, all-natural ingredients. Rather than pumping in syrups or other artificial flavourings, he uses freshly muddled fruit that gets mixed directly into each drink to effectively impart those bright, distinct flavours.

The difference is immediately noticeable: Nguyen’s lemonades are as flavourful as they are refreshing, and the adjunct fruits in the lemonade taste ridiculously fresh because, well, they actually are.

Nguyen first launched his sippable creations just a few months ago as part of the Night Market at Hamilton’s Harbourfront in August, where they became a pretty immediate hit with passersby who decided to give the drinks a try.

From there, it wasn’t long before Nguyen was adding more drink recipes to his repertoire – including hot beverages for the colder months – and working to transition Kain Tayo fully into his new venture: Lemon Bar.

A mere few months into his business’ new direction, Nguyen is working to build up a following for Lemon Bar into 2022 and beyond by offering his drinks at local festivals and other events, including private bookings and corporate engagements.

Eventually, the plan is to open a full brick & mortar location of Lemon Bar here in Hamilton; and judging by the quality of his drinks, I’ll bet that the future storefront will be rapidly embraced by the city that Nguyen is happy to call home.

“Being a Hamilton business means an opportunity to not only serve, but to give back to the Hamilton community for all it has done for me growing up,” he says.

Learn more about Lemon Bar by following them on social media.

Images courtesy of Lemon Bar

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