Mesa Madre: Bringing the taste of Filipino home to Beijing

by Paula Jhea Sison
Mesa Madre restaurant Beijing
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In the Philippines, we have seen Binondo Food Trips trending all across social media with people recommending Chinese restaurants at Metro Manila’s Heart of ChinaTown. But did you know that we’re also making our homey cuisines known in Beijing?

The global pandemic did not stop Filipina businesswoman Gemmicah Grith Argonza, known to her family and friends as Gem, from introducing the flavors of the Philippines at the center of Beijing in China.

With the idea of opening a small bakery cafe, Gem started distributing the home-baked sourdough bread loaves riding her bicycle across the city. What she did not expect was that this idea would eventually become the birth of the Filipino restaurant – the Mesa Madre.

Mesa Madre restaurant Beijing

Gem Argonza together with Mesa Madre staff. Photos from Mesa Madre.

From the Spanish terms that largely influence the local language ‘Mesa’ and ‘Madre’ which means table and mother respectively, Mesa Madre carefully prepares each dish like how a mother prepares the food on a family’s table – with love and care.

Taste of a Filipino Home

“It has been my dream to have my own business since I was young. My whole family is in the hospitality industry and I grew up seeing them do their profession,” Gem told SEA Wave Magazine.

Growing up in a Filipino household that loves cooking especially during festivals and gatherings, Gem took inspiration from her mother who used to work at restaurants and her father who worked as a bartender and embraced the culture of cooking.

Mesa Madre restaurant Beijing

Some of the best selling dishes in Mesa Madre – (From left to right) Pork Adobo, Longganisa, Halo-Halo, Bicol Express, and Tuna Kilawin. Photos from Mesa Madre.

A one-of-a-kind restaurant in Guomao’s busy central business district, Mesa Madre offers a wide variety of our favorite Filipino dishes including Bicol Express, Adobong Baboy, Chili Carnerreta, Halabos na Hipon, Longganisa Platter, like Kinilaw na Tuna, and Ensaladang Talong together with our all-time summer go-to dessert, the Halo-Halo and local beers, San Miguel and Red Horse.

Mesa Madre also features Gem’s signature Sourdough bread that comes in two different flavors – Mesa Original and multi-seeded bread.

A mix of heritage, culture and experience, Mesa Madre’s menu also includes western picks like tagliatelle bolognese, cookies, and wine.

During special occasions like the Philippine Independence Day, Mesa Madre joined the celebration with a special curated menu including Pinoy favorites bibingka and pancit canton.

In an exclusive interview with Gem Argonza, she mentioned that she wanted to bring the enthusiasm and high-spirit of the Philippines to Beijing.

“People in the city cannot travel abroad [during the pandemic] and I see this as an opportunity to open a Filipino restaurant. I want them to know that they can feel the fun and vibrancy of the Philippines through our food and service,” Gem shared.

The culture of a Filipino home also transcended not only to the customers but to the rest of the Mesa Madre staff as well. Gem shared that she often showed videos and told stories about the Filipino community to Mesa Madre chefs and employees.

Through what Gem calls the “Brown Paper”, Mesa Madre continues to conceptualize new and seasonal flavors and dishes from different cultures to their customers.

“We don’t only sell food, we sell an experience. We want to make sure that people see the food nicely presented and taste good, and feel the warmth of the people serving them,” Gem shared in a separate interview with Journey with Jenny host Jenny Ybanez.

A Mix of Culture and Values

Mesa Madre restaurant Beijing

A colorful mural showcasing Filipino and Chinese culture. Painted by Gem’s close friend, Blanca Rosa Rasmussen. Photos from Mesa Madre.

With a colorful mural highlighting the Chinese and Filipino culture, Mesa Madre aims to introduce the culture of each country through the restaurant.

The facade of a restaurant immediately gives a welcoming feeling with vibrant elements that can catch the eyes of bypassers. While inside, customers can feast their eyes with Chinese ornaments and Filipino decors.

Mesa Madre restaurant Beijing

The exterior and interior of Mesa Madre. Photos from Mesa Madre.

Aside from the friendly staff, fun, and sincerity that Mesa Madre offers, the cozy combination of the two cultures created an atmosphere that both locals and tourists can enjoy and come back to. Mesa Madre hopes to bring the feeling of Philippine holiday to its customers as they dine at the restaurant.

Facing Challenges and turning the tables

Learning the Chinese language became a huge challenge for Gem but that did not stop her. With the will to learn the language and the help of her closest friends in Beijing, Gem managed to immerse herself in the culture and language as days passed by.

“The toughest part of opening a business was getting customers. In the beginning, only friends come. Good thing, we have a lot of friends,” the Pinay businesswoman said.

During the third wave of the pandemic when most of the people in China cannot go outside and most businesses shut down, Mesa Madre also resorted to what she called, Waimai, or food delivery to cater the orders of her growing patrons.

“In the beginning months, we had more foreigners, western and Filipino combined. But as the words spread and we joined the top restaurant in a Chinese food rating platform, we slowly became more popular with the Chinese people,” Gem shared.

When she was asked about her advice to people who want to pursue a career like Mesa Madre, Gem encouraged them to commit and to face failures with heads up.

In an earlier interview by the CGTN, Chinese locals and other foreigners expressed positive feedback for the Filipino food served at Mesa Madre. Some of them even cited their favorite item on the menu including pork belly adobo, sourdough bread, kilawin, and longganisa.

“I like the tuna salad [kilawin] here. The fish is so fresh, and the side dishes are so unique that can’t be found elsewhere,” one customer said.

Another patron commented, “I’ve tried a lot of different versions of longganisa but nothing compares to the one here in Mesa Madre. My husband is Chinese and he loves Filipino food as well so whenever we miss Filipino food, we come here together or we have [the food] delivered.”

In late 2022, Gem made the deliberate decision to move to Hong Kong to be with her family, especially her daughter as she learns and discovers the world.

New Beginnings for Mesa Madre

Mesa Madre restaurant Beijing Jessica Chen

Jessica Chen, the new owner of Mesa Madre. Photos from Mesa Madre.

The restaurant is now managed by her long-term friend and business partner, Jessica Chen, who also helped her Gem in humble beginnings in Beijing. While Gem started the business in terms of introducing the Filipino cuisine, Jessica managed the Chinese marketing for Mesa Madre. Their great teamwork led Mesa Madre to where it is today.

In an interview with Jessica Chen, she mentioned to SEA Wave that more customers from different backgrounds started to know more about Filipino food and culture because of Mesa Madre.

“The environment of the restaurant is very homey and the service is very cordial which gives the customers the feeling of home. I want to continue in that way – always bringing the best healthy and fresh food to the customers,” says Jessica.

Apart from the Mesa Madre, it was revealed to SEA Wave that a twin brand, “Bintana” will open very soon serving more Filipino food in Beijing

Mesa Madre restaurant Beijing

Opening soon is Mesa Madre’s twin brand – Bintana. Photos from Mesa Madre.

Visiting Beijing anytime soon? Check out Mesa Madre located at Jianwai Soho (Eastern Side), Building 7, Shop 717 in Chaoyang, Beijing, China. If you want to know more about Mesa Madre, click on their website at

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