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February 25, 2010

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Funny, I took my non-Filipino husband to a turo-turo joint in San Diego's South Bay this weekend. As he eyed the dishes, he asked me what they were. I was surprised he went with the kare-kare. As far as explaining Filipino food to him and others, I always rely on this: "It's the original fusion cuisine with influences from Spain/Mexico, America and China and touches on the extremes of the flavor spectrum: salty, bitter and sour."

In my opinion (I used to work in restaurant/hospitality PR), the reason there aren't more Filipino restaurants is because there simply isn't a market for it. Why go to a nice restaurant when you can get the same meal (or better) at your auntie's house (or at the local turo-turo joint)?

I think the growth of Filipino restaurants will follow the trajectory of soul food restaurants. There are few fine dining establishments for that kind of cuisine, but that's because of it's place in the consumers' mindset -- you eat it with family. Soul food is down-home food, much like Filipino food. It will take the "perfect storm" of a classically trained Filipino chef, customers familiar with other regional Asian cuisines, and, more importantly, investors willing to take a risk on the concept. I don't think Filipino food will ever be as popular as Thai or Vietnamese food, but I also don't think that's all that important, either.

i'd always wondered why there are no filipino restaurants out there, and after reading that article, i decided that i'm kind of glad about that. it's true: filipino food is comfort food, nothing fancy or even attractive, and i like the idea that if you want really good filipino food, you won't be able to find it at a restaurant. you'll have to go to someone's home and get the real thing.

filipino cuisine hasn't been popularized or changed by mainstream culture, meaning that when you try the food for the first time, you'll know that this is what it's supposed to taste like.

also, i just can't see anyone ordering ox tail in a peanut sauce off a menu. even though it's my favorite food ever.

When my aunt opened a Filipino restaurant a few years ago, my relatives were really skeptical about its potential for success because:
- "White people won't like the taste" (everything is so extreme - very vinegary, very salty, very whatever flavor you're using)
- "It's not fancy enough"
- "Americans don't eat fish if the head is still on"
- "It's too fatty/greasy/oily for non-pinoys"

And so on and so forth. Interestingly, my boyfriend's family is English-American and they love Filipino food. Go figure.

I'm a Filipino-American, and I've always wondered why there weren't any good Filipino restaurants, no matter where I lived -- be it near LA or in Chicago. The one thing I've realized over time is that no matter how good the Filipino food is at a restaurant, I've grown up eating my mom's kare-kare, adobo, and other Filipino food, and that's my bar for comparison. If it doesn't taste like Mom's, it's not good enough, and I rarely go back. I'd much rather make it home than settle for Filipino food in a restaurant that will never measure up.

I'm a hapa Filipino-American and I've always loved Filipino food. I love this blog because, I'm also trying to reconnect to my heritage through the foods my grandmother (and grandfather, and great aunts and uncles and aunts and uncles...) and my mother prepared. That said, I've not found a single decent Filipino restaurant that has lasted any length of time. I agree with Pamela and others that the bar is set by family - the way they make the dishes and the ambiance and memories that go with it are hard to top. However, the majority of my Filipino family lives in San Diego - and we always go to Conching's in National City. The attraction is not about the food (mediocre on the best day) but its about the buffet and the VALUE - all you can eat lunch for 9.95? Lechon Paksiw, adobo, diniguan, turon, and mungo?

Basically my point is that for first generation immigrants and others who might patronize Filipino restaurants - I believe that the characteristics by which they are judged - quality and value (from a quantity standpoint) - are somewhat inimical to the survival of a restaurant.

However - if the Koreans can have their own "taco" trucks - Why can't there be a Filipino truck with tapsilog, longsilog and Filipino BBQ for late night treats?

@Kraig Kraft: Actually, there is a Filipino food cart/truck -- it's Adobo Hobo in the Bay Area. You can follow them on Twitter via @adobohobo. And I totally agree with you on the San Diego-area Filipino restaurants. The value is amazing if you go to the right place. Maybe I'll try Conching's next time I'm visiting the Mexican side of my family in National City (I'm hapa/mestiza, too).

Congrats on the mention, that's really so cool.

hi marvin
my co-worker actually gave me the article today....lots of good points in the article.

There's not really any decent sit down Filipino places in San Diego. Everything is pretty much 'turo turo' style. The closest thing to a nice Filipino place would be Ben's 1615 (near the half course golf course in National City) - but it's more of a Filipino fusion place.

Plans last year for Masarap, a higher end Filipino restaurant near the Gaslamp fell through and they went under a month after they opened in early 2009.

I am a mestiza born in Manila long ago. I love Filipino food. I am always trying to find a restaurant. I live in San Jose area and all you find is Goldilocks. Terrible food. Found a place in a place called Last Chance off highway 280. Their pork adobo was fantastic. My daughter's husband loves the food. There has never been anyone who has married into my extended family that has not liked the food. So where are the restaurants. I have been to a few but it is always cafeteria style. It is hard to cook it for one person. None of my family live close by to go to for food. I cook it but as I said it is hard for one person. I need some places in the San Jose area to go to. Help.

In one of Anthony Bourdain's episode of No Reservations where he featured the Philiipens he said that Filipinos adapt to their new home easily and assimilate to the new culture, that's whey there is no distinct Pinoy fare. Others say that there is no 'filipino food' per se because it's really a mix of all cultures that influenced us. or maybe it is a combination of both, with the Filipino being malleable and adapting to his/her surroundings. But of course I am just blabbing, hahaha!

I love your blog because you put Filipino food on centerstage.

I am also trying to do my part. I've been sharing Filipino recipes in my blog with a contemporary take. Im trying to to do my share to introduce readers to sumptuous Filipino food beyond the "turo-turo" setting.

Malou Nievera

sorry I misspelled PHILIPPINES...

Pinoy food isn't really for fine dining as it's not "glamorous" nor "dainty". You look at kare-kare, mechado, adobo, menudo and it all looks the same even though each one tastes differently. Also, it's not very heart-healthy (but neither is traditional French food) and its kinda hard to present something to the public that has a big sliver of fat clinging to it the way a lot of pinoys like it. And like Lorena above said, it's very similar to soul food. It's best enjoyed with family in somebody's home. So, it's ok that there's no proliferation of pinoy restos like Chinese, Japanese or Thai places. It's not like it's in danger of going extinct anyway. ;)
P.S. Congrats on being quoted, LA Times is a big deal, even though it's only a short paragraph. :)

Found your blog through that LA Times article. I'm so glad I live near Cerritos where there are a few joints that supply my Filipino Food fix.

I do think high-end Filipino is possible - it's only a matter of time. Pork Belly Lumpia? I'm down. Chicken Adobo crostini? Someone please make this happen. :P

All foods can evolve and maintain a degree of authenticity. Congrats on your LA Times love!

I love Filipino food but haven't been able to find many places in my area.

I think the problem is that turo turo restaurants don't appeal to Americans and fine dining (Filipino) restaurants don't appeal to Filipinos. So, for many Americans there isn't an introduction to the cuisine that would make them try the food in an upscale setting, and on the flip side, most Filipinos would complain about the prices of a high-end restaurant, even if the food was better or had a different take.

In 35 years I've seen 2 restaurants try and both have failed. One, Calesa in Orange County in the 80s put a Spanish take on the presentation and lasted a couple of years mainly from American interest. In the 90s, I ate at one in LA, La Brea I think, and Filipinos wouldn't even go in because they charged normal entree prices for their version of Adobo.

I'm Filipino, and I don't know many Filipinos who would pay say $7 for Chicken Adobo crostini or $10 for Pork Belly Lumpia.

Hey Marvin. Glad to read that you were mentioned in that LA times article. I was interviewed for that piece too and I remember telling the writer that for me, a good Filipino restaurant is one that serves as close to my own Mom's cooking as possible. Of course, nothing ever is good as my Mom's food, but if I can't get her food, I want a good substitute.

I actually ate at Yi Cuise when it was still open and even had the Crispy Pata and while it was good, it felt a little gentrified to me and that didn't suit me at all.

Anyway, for those of you who are interested, please check out my Filipino food write-up at the link below:

http://pleasurepalate.blogspot.com/2009/04/foodbuzz-24-24-24-filipino-food-beyond.html

Do you think Cristeta Comerford, the Executive White House chef, makes adobo for the Obamas? She is in a great position to promote Filipino cuisine.

You know why?

Simple.

It's because Filipinos are terrible entrepreneurs in North America. Few Filipinos open up businesses, and when they do, they don't try to make it the best that it could be. Oftentimes, a Filipino restaurant is put up to mediocre standards, with Christmas lights and karaoke and all that bunk. Very few actually plan and intend for their food establishment to be more than just turo turo. Even here in Canada, the main supplier of Pinoy goodies puts up mediocre products that Filipinos go for because they have no other choice and because they're used to mediocre stuff anyway. It's absolutely annoying and frustrating.

Even in the Philippines, you have all these chefs doing fusion stuff. But has Philippine cuisine been elevated to the highest level it could be elevated to? I mean the classics here. IMO, not yet. And yet we don't strive to make it the best that it can be without turning to other embellishments.

Even growing up in LA with some close Filipino friends , I have never been really acquainted with the food. Your article makes me wonder too why it hasn't become nearly as popular.

Maybe there hasn't been that ONE Filipino dish to bring it out into the limelight like Thai has Pad Thai, Chinese has Chow Mein, and Vietnamese has Pho...

Just thinking.

@beth: you brought up a really good point. in my neck of the woods, the filipino places serve mediocre food, have bad, really inefficient service and worse, you have to put up with the blaring karaoke sounds and filipino tv.

i usually end up at the thai place which is a block from all these flip places in queens, ny. only an intense craving for dinuguan could make me patronize a filipino place.

To me, mainstream doesn't mean catering to Filipinos. Filipinos will always prefer home cooking. Period. Mainstream means having the food accepted by non-Filipinos. One big issue I see is presentation (even I question eating food that sits in a buffet and gets heated up in the back) but I know that's just how it's done in Filipino turo-turo places. I've watched many non-Filipinos walk in to a restaurant, peek at the food and walk out because it just doesn't LOOK good. Also to be "mainstream" - I think the focus should be on dishes that everybody can like right off the bat. Something already familiar and approachable, like Filipino BBQ, lumpia, adobo and pancit. Diniguan on the other hand might be a little to adventurous to be mainstream. If all a restaurant did was serve these dishes, present it in an appealing way and then market themselves right - you might actually see people ponder pancit instead of pad thai for dinner.

Honestly, I feel like we're just at the cusp of Filipino food becoming the new haute cuisine. I realize in some regions of the US, it's been the bee's knees for a while, but to see pancit be ordered in the middle of Nebraska -- that would be awesome, no? The way we're seeing Korean cuisine being fused with other styles to help familiarize the general population with flavors and ingredients, Filipino dishes may experience a similar fusion to get it onto more people's radar, but I truly feel like it's literally around the corner. And this blog will totally be at the epicenter of the Cool Filipino Food Revolution!

I think it's a few things...
- One is that it's not in general "beautiful" food. Stews, homey lovely braises and the like aren't very pretty to look at. It's the reason that for many years French peasant food wasn't found as often as "fine" French food at restaurants. But - as we all know - those foods often have the best flavor.
- Secondly, I think it's a presentation thing. If Filipino food were presented in the way that The Slanted Door did for Vietnamese food it might find many takers. But mostly when I've had it, it's been cafeteria style. More like a dive than a white tablecloth place. And with food that's been prepared earlier and sitting around. Not a big selling point for me. I like dives, but cafeteria style food and buffets...no.
- Thirdly (and as a white chick I hate to say this) but Americans in general are afraid of fat. Yes, it's what makes everything taste yummy. There's no substitute for a really good pork belly curry or the like, but it's a hard sell to a fussier customer. And, at least from my limited exposure to Filipino food, it tends to be a little bit more fatty than some other cuisines. I see this as a positive, but perhaps it's hard to make the sell.

I really want Filipino food to make a place on the American dining scene. From what I've tasted it is yummy, and deserves more attention. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and even here it's hard to find and not great. I'm very thankful for your blog as I am learning so much about the cuisine, and finding it very tasty.

(Congrats on the mention!)

There cannot be an extended discussion on Filipino cuisine without an emphasis on the role that seafood plays (I love pork, but I think baboy this and baboy that is overrepresented even as majority of the Philippine population can't even afford it). The often bland crustaceans in the United States can't do justice to our dishes.

There's also the twisted issue on what's offensive to the palates out there:
stewing in full-sodium soy sauce? offensive.
no herbs? offensive.
big streak of fat? offensive.
(deep-)fry-ups? offensive.
fish with the head and all the bones on? offensive.
stewing in vinegar? offensive.
fish with the awesome, awesome skin on? offensive. yucky.
unpeeled prawns? eww!

and so on. It's tiring. For now I'm content with Filipino food being a secret joy of those lucky enough to have Filipino friends or spouses, until someone can do Filipino food right in a restaurant.

Oh, man--my carelessness ate my first comment. ;)

First, thanks for posting the link to the bichu-bichu recipe. Several months ago, I spent days trying to Google up a recipe for "bitso-bitso." Utter fail. One of my unties makes a version with taro--a row of nuggets skewered onto a skewer and served in all its purple glory. Holy YUM. At least now I'll be able to find base recipes to figure it out since the recipe she gives me is the typical "Filipino vague" of all Filipino moms.

Thanks for opening the discussion on the absence of Filipino food outside of turo-turos and mom&pops. Both of those places can be intimidating when you have zero basis of what the food is like, and restaurant owners often have trouble explaining what the food is like. Food served on steam tables doesn't always look appealing, especially the very brown mystery stews that often have a good quarter inch of fat on top. Veggie options are woefully sparse--which is my way of saying that not enough places serve laing! Coincidentally, I've often described Filipino food as being the soul/Southern food of Asia, where chicken adobo is the fried chicken and laing is the collard greens. ;) I strongly suggest that people wanting to further the cause hold a lumpia drive. I usually host a Filipino dinner at least once a year, and it involves having my guests roll the lumpia. It's fun for them, and they always love the outcome. Lumpia really is our flagship dish, too. I've known a lot of people who, upon learning that I'm Filipino, will fondly reminisce about an old neighbor or a friend's mom who was Filipino and would make these amazing things called lumpia--"do you know how to make them?" Oh yes, yes I do. =D

Congratulations on the mention.

I agree that its really an uphill climb for Filipino food to be accepted by the "mainstream" because us Filipinos alone are also very picky with our own dishes. I know my family is. My cousins will not eat any other dinuguan but that cooked by our lola. We will not eat any other leche flan but our own. Because how other people make it is just different and thats basically the same attitude as everyone else's.

It is indeed comparable to soul food/comfort food so comments such as "its not the same as my mom makes it" is going to be far too common to hear. So, assuming we bring non-Filipinos to Filipino restaurants and we Filipinos make that comment, we ourselves are not helping promote our cuisine into the mainstream.

Plus, with the size of Filipino families, people will not see us at high-end Filipino restaurants because its going to come out more expensive than just cooking at home.

But, I am still hopeful for it because it is one cuisine that is worth introducing to the world.

Great post! I often wonder why I don't see more Filipino cuisine around, but I don't have a good explanation for why. Lets get the word out and Pinoy Pride =) and who knew there were so many prominent Filipino chefs!!


Honestly, any (Western) vegan/vegetarian would be very exasperated, looking for vegan/vegetarian food in the Philippines. I've had many experiences where Filipinos would serve fish or chicken, with the almost mocking question: "So you're a vegetarian? OK, then this fish/chicken would be perfect for you."

Do fish in the Philippines grow on trees? :p

Even "vegetable" dishes in the Philippines have obviously non-vegetarian ingredients (fish sauce and shrimp paste). And they're used in quantities that offend and overpower the Western palate. The Thais and Vietnamese--they use pungent ingredients in very subtle amounts.

Hey, not this western palate! I love me some fish sauce...

And as for Thai food, try some northern-style fermented "sour sausage", or larb with salted crabs, or southern fish innard curry, or fermented "sour" fish fried up crisp. I've eaten and cooked all of these and much as I love their pungency and fantastic taste, they are NOT subtle. But that is real Thai food, not Pad Thai made with ketchup. Don't get me wrong, I like a nice pad thai as much as anyone. But most of the Thai food found in the US is an overly-sweet, bland, pale reflection of what you get in Thailand. Or what you cook if you choose to cook it yourself.

Again - viva fish sauce and shrimp paste!

When Christeta Comerford became the head chef at the White House, I'd hoped there would be an increased interest and attention to Filipino food. Maybe a few more restaurants would open. I'm still patiently waiting! Meanwhile, I'll cook my pinakbet at home.

I wonder too why our cuisine is not as known as other Asian cuisine...I think it's about time the world knows about Filipino food..they don't know what their missing..Our food is just as good as the Italians or Thais or any other cuisines...it just needs to be discovered..I think..Maybe more Filipinos should create a food blog and post mouth-watering Filipino dishes :D

The thing is that first rate Filipino ingredients, particularly fruits and veggies, are very difficult to find here. Case in point, Filipino garlic, the most pungent I've yet tasted, is non-existent Stateside. Until the Philippines becomes a tourist destination, in every meaning of the phrase; sight, taste, smell, texture, and terroir, then it will remain indefinable. A case for appelations then, in its broadest definition (i.e. Pampango longanisa is nothing like Pangasinan longanisa).

There are keepers of the flame here in NYC. Purple Yam in Brooklyn has had good reviews. Check it out.

You can't insist on Westerners accepting Filipino food while at the same time refuse to change some recipes. Westerners now claim to love the "real" pungent flavors of authentic Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese etc food--however, these cuisines were accepted in the West not overnight, but very gradually. Immigrants had to tweak their cuisine before venturing out to more "authentic" recipes.

I think Filipino chefs should start by introducing non-intimidating ingredients first, such as sweet mangoes from Cebu or Ilocano garlic. Then move up to more ingredients such as different bagoong types. To introduce Pinoy food to Westerners, cooks should serve their pancit "al dente" and not soggy, etc--when in Rome, do what the Romans do.

Congrats on the mention Marvin! Thanks for sharing this.I'm hoping someday Filipino dishes would get the recognition it deserves :)

I guess Filipino food is a melting pot of different cuisine blended into one. There are so many influences from other countries who conquered the Philippines. But although Filipino cuisine is still climbing up the ladder with the levels of Thai or Vietnamese food, we are making Filipino food accepted by international standards. But you're right when you mentioned we do have regional cuisines that offers different variety of a single dish itself. Some Filipino food are not meant to be served fine dining but it can be done. I still believe that Filipino food will reach that stature.

Ararahghg. What pisses me off is that just because something is "unpopular" or "uncommon" doesn't mean there is something wrong with it.

Filipino food is undiscovered!!!

Its so easy to say negative things about Filipino food because it isn't a "popular" o well-known cuisine on this planet. But how can you help Filipino cuisine be popular on this planet if all we do is say things like "its peasant food", "its too diluted", "its too hearty", or it has "no individuality" or "uniqueness", its only "home-made"... etc...

If you love Filipino food (which im sure you do) SHARE WHY! And if someone doesn't see your way, fine. Its their prerogative. But you have yours... your love of Filipino food. SHOW IT! Share it! Stop judging and "trying to figure it out." Start sharing what you already know is beautiful about it.

I love the pink colors I find in the bagoong of pinakbet, the distinct flavor of bangus fat, the crazy hairs on a sweet rambutan fruit, the orange batter on kwek-kwek, the redness of isaw, sabaw ng balut... etc...

Especially as Filipinos, we are "ambassadors," and "marketers" of our culture and cuisine. It doesn't help to tell others why it isn't popular. Its best to just give it to them and have them judge for themselves.

End rant. haha

I attended a food writing seminar with Scattergood a couple weeks ago, looking forward to reading her article.

And I just returned from Chicago, ate at Sunda on my last visit, it was terrific.

Maybe Filipino food is the NEXT hot cuisine?
LL

I think that most of the Filipino food served stateside is a bad representation of the real thing. Haven't orderd pork adobo in a restaurant in quite a while for fear of what I might get. Have you been to Makati City lately? Most of the high end restaurants are Italian, Japanese, French, or American. It's difficult to find many higher end Filipino restaurants unless you are willing to venture out to say Gilligan's over by the Mall of Asia. Which is one of my favorite places to eat sisig and sip on a San Mig. More food bloggers need to write about traditional Filipino food so I'll try to find an authentic recipe and post one myself.

Filipino food are great, But you are right I cannot find a good resto here in new york..

As a Vietnamese who has tried Filipino food numerous times, I agree with wasabi prime. The dishes taste pretty much like other Asian home-made cuisines but they certainly lack the presentation and character. In today's health-conscious society, people just run away quickly when they see greasy bites.
I do not believe that Fillipino food isn't popular because people can get their ethnic food at their aunt's or grandma's house nor the lack of entrepreneurship. Other Asians also have a strong family tie and prefer to eat their homemade food at home as well.
If Flllipinos somehow can find a way to promote their cuisines such as introducing healthy dishes, presenting the food in subtly artistic ways, distinguishing them from originally influencing cuisines etc. people will embrace it. Vietnamese dishes are, after all, a fusion of many origins as well - native, French, Chinese, ancient Champa, etc. We just mix and develop them into a distinctive style to suit our taste and surrounding environment.

As a full-blood Filipino that's American-born and raised, my take is that Filipino cuisine doesn't have the same marketing potential as the pioneering Asian foods.

Because I see it as food made by the masses and for the masses, Filipino cuisine naturally resists haute-ification and will remain an esoteric cuisine for the near future.

Every dish from the Philippines has its roots in other culture's food, and I think the average American diner will be confused. One could even argue that there can't be "classical Filipino training," just classical Western techniques and presentation applied to Filipino recipes. [Alternatively, every mother and grandmother (and now even men) who learned by apprenticeship from their elders could be considered "classically trained," but those techniques are no way formalized or structured the way French techniques are.]

Many of the posters here seem to be from the West Coast (but I see you too, New York), where they take for granted the visibility that Filipinos have. In the Southern states (Georgia specifically), Filipinos are still very much under the radar... someone always knows one, but we're never really seen. In this market, Filipino cuisine would be lost or confused under the general banner of "Asian" food. For whatever reason, down here I see Japanese and Thai restaurants flourishing (and even the odd Korean and Indian place), but between those four genres, Filipino cuisine has no unique niche. Supply chain is also a large hurdle, and would require a lot of adaptation of local ingredients. The costs of shipping authentic agricultural products and producing certain items here would be pretty hard on any new business's bottom line.

Finally, echoing other posters here, there is no unified "Filipino brand" to sell to America, because Filipino culture and history is so very intertwined with others, even today. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does present a barrier to marketing and brand identity.

Somebody somewhere will have the right idea at the right time, but that time is not now (although we're not short of great ideas).

I think that a Bacolod Chicken Inasal/ Mang Inasal chicken has a great potential in the western market. And Lechon Cebu too.

Guys, if we want to see our cuisine "assimilate" into the west. We need also to support our own culture to help promote it elsewhere.

Media and advertising has a great impact on what we think tastes good and what's not. You know what I mean?

I got interested of japanese food because of sushi. Vietnamese has thier famous spring rolls. Thai has curries and noodles.

We should start off with one good dish that will introduce us to the market out there. And they will slowly get curious of the filipino cuisine as a whole.

What are the rich pinoy businessmen doing out there?

@Tony Campagna
Abe at Serendra/Mall of Asia is a great filipino restaurant. I would say that it is my favorite Filipino restaurant. And i mean that.
If there is an Abe restaurant by the place where I live now, I would sure come to visit that regularly. I hated Adobo actually and thought that it is very vinegary but when I tried their lamb adobo, I loved it. I just couldn't explain how good it was.

On the other hand, there are some really good restaurants in the seaside dampa as well serving good filipino food.

HI!

I REALLY FIND IT IMPORTANT THAT THE AUTHORS OF THIS LA TIMES ARTICLE READ THIS REACTION. IT COULD SHADE LIGHT TO SOME DOUBTS OR COULD HELP FILIPINO CHEFS UNDERSTAND MORE THE INTRICACIES OF FILIPINO CUSINE. I AM ALSO HOPING THAT YOU POST THIS TO YOUR BLOG FOR FILIPINOS TO READ AND APPRECIATE THEIR NATIONAL/REGIONAL FOOD. I JUST COPIED FROM ANOTHER BLOGGER BUT I DID INFORMED HIM ABOUT IT. MARAMING SALAMAT!

Claude Tayag's Reaction to LA Times Article
Friday, June 04, 2010
I would to share to you Claude Tayag's email

"Below is my rejoinder to the LA Times article "Filipino Food: Off the menu" which came out last Feb. 25, 2010. I'm afraid it will not see print as it is too lengthy (the maximum is 150 words). Anyway, I'd like to share it with those who'd care to read it and maybe, just maybe, one day it will reach those concerned like the "letter in a bottle" swept by the currents of cyberspace. Pass it around with my blessings.
Mabuhay ang katutubong lutuin!"

Claude
_____________________________________________


May 7, 2010
The Editor
Los Angeles Times
202 West 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012-4105, United States

Dear Sir:

In defense of Filipino food
This is in reference to the article, Filipino food: Off the menu (LA Times, Feb. 25, 2010, by Amy Scattergood) featuring Filipino chefs working in Los Angeles who the author says grew up eating Filipino food although the cuisine “has yet to assimilate into mainstream culture, much less their restaurants.”

Ms. Scattergood, for instance, quoted Filipino-American chef Andre Guerrero who, by the way, I commend for being voted Los Angeles’ Top Chef by the Los Angeles Times magazine, as saying, “I love it. I grew up eating it. But how does it fit into what we do? It really doesn’t.” Yes, I agree, Filipino food doesn’t fit into what Chef Guerrero does, but how could it otherwise when he has little familiarity with it, having left the Philippines at a very young age? And subsequently, having been professionally schooled in Western/Continental cuisine, his expertise is limited only to such cooking and does not include Filipino cuisine, no matter if he says he grew up eating it and to what degree of authenticity, I wonder?

Another Filipino-American featured is LA-based food blogger Marvin Gapultos who describes Filipino food as “regional (and) we don’t have one unifying dish; there’s adobo, but there’s about 7,000 ways to make it.” Does one unifying dish like hamburger or hotdog make a national cuisine any better? I would like to stress that having such a diverse culinary heritage certainly puts the Filipino at an advantage. Filipino food offers so much variety and nuances in taste and flavor and the diversity is an asset rather than a liability. In Asia, for instance, Singapore owes its cuisine to the Malaysians, Indonesians, Chinese, Indians and Nonyas who have settled and intermarried in the little state, and yet Singaporeans have successfully marketed an indigenous cuisine, all their own, internationally.

Author Scattergood remarks that the “diversity of people, landscape and (Philippine) history … is reflected in the haphazard etiology of the food.” To that, may I say, rather than dwell on the differences amongst the people, geography and the different foreign cultures that have colonized and influenced the Philippines, why not focus on the similarities that bind the country together?
Another LA-based Filipino chef Rodelio Aglibot says we probably have “one of the least understood cuisines: are we Pacific Islanders? Are we Asians? There isn’t a defined identity.” The Philippines holds a unique position as the only country in Asia influenced by both sides of the Pacific – from its neighbors in the region and India, and Mexico and other parts of the Americas during two and a half centuries when the Galleon Trade flourished. Add to the pot, Spain and the United States, and you have a vibrant mix of all these cultures, which rather than confuse, give modern-day Filipinos a particular personality who is comfortable with himself and, at the same time, at home with the rest of the world.

Mary Jo Gore, a Filipino chef instructor at Pasadena’s Cordn Bleu who was also featured in Scattergood’s article, seems to have a problem with aesthetics when it comes to Filipino food. Such food, she was quoted as saying, “is comfort food (and) visually, it’s not very appealing. It’s stewed, and brown, and oily and fried.” I beg to disagree. It is only as unappealing, brown, oily, and fried as one makes it. I’ve eaten some really greasy American and Chinese food in Los Angeles and New York. Go deeper South within the US and you would find some of the greasiest grub on the planet. I invite Ms. Gore to come to Manila and I will personally treat her to some of the most gorgeously-prepared toothsome Filipino dishes here, far from the unappealing stewed, brown, oily and fried fare of her recollection.

Ms. Scattergood mentions the notion in her article that “if there are 7,000 adobo recipes, then only one of them is the one you grew up with.” To say that there are 7,000 such recipes is an understatement. Truth to tell, there are as many kinds of adobos as there are Filipino households. To treat adobo as a dish is incorrect. It IS a cooking technique, that is, it is the braising of any meat (chicken, pork, beef, quail, duck, venison, seafood, etc.), or vegetable in vinegar, garlic, black peppercorn and bay leaf, with regional variations or personal preferences in adding soy sauce, achuete (annatto or Mexican achiote), coconut cream, lemongrass or turmeric. It can be made like a saucy stew, or thickened with chicken liver, or the adobo-cooked meat may be pulled apart to be deep fried into crispy flakes.

This versatility makes it the most popular and well-loved Filipino comfort food, along with sinigang, a clear-broth soup dish made sour with certain kinds of local fruit which, again, is used depending on the region or season when such fruit is available.

The sense I get as I read Ms. Scattergood’s article is that the Filipino-American chefs she interviewed seemed to be apologetic and/or ashamed of their cultural heritage. I wonder, could their having adapted to and excelling in the Western way mask an inordinate desire to belong and be accepted in the Western mainstream, leaving them at risk in forgetting their provenance (Ang taong di marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay di ....)? They have been away from the Philippines far too long to even claim they eat “Filipino” food at home.

Aglibot asked rhetorically, “Why hasn’t Filipino food assimilated? Because it’s still assimilating.” On a final note: Filipino cuisine is “happy food.” It is meant for sharing, just like most other Asian cuisines which are served family style. All said, in spite of all the political turmoil and economic setbacks the country has been plagued with since time immemorial, Filipinos are found to be the happiest people in Asia, and the 6th happiest in the world (World Values Survey, 2004).

At this point, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite any or all of the Filipino-American chefs interviewed in the article to share a meal with me at Bale Dutung and reacquaint themselves with the food of their childhood and how it has evolved in these current, contemporary times. Ms. Scattergood, you’re very much welcome to come, as well. The tab is on me.

Truly yours,
Claude Tayag
Bale Dutung, Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines
Labels: Insights

who cares if filipino food doesn't go mainstream? who cares if other races don't flock to it? to me it is good. that's all that matters.

Most Filipino stores or shops selling Philippine products are located in the North Shore. Stores like Silver Bell LIMS and sell products in the Philippines. shop in Panmure KA Toto is a pure Filipino store. Try Googling their address.

As some of the cooks deduced in the post, perhaps Pinoy food doesn't fit into the pattern of good food.

Greetings All,
I’m a restaurant owner “ADOBO Island Tucson, AZ” with a Chemical Engineering back ground. I appreciate all your comments; this will help me to move forward in making our Filipino dish mainstream. It took me three years to come with an equation for a Filipino Restaurant Franchise that will be Healthy, FIRST CLASS service, FIRST CLASS meals, HUGE portions, and TOP QUALITY ingredients for $6.25. The restaurant is open and doing well.  I designed to diversified (Caucasian, Latino, and Filipino) my team and we all have the same goal –To make a successful franchise that is unique, healthy, and fun. It has been a success but we continue to pursue perfection in the menu, customer service, and the ambiance. Nevertheless, I had been getting great compliments from other cultures and local Filipinos.
Off course, making a contemporary Filipino Restaurants made some traditionalist upset; however, I explain to them that food is just one piece of a puzzle that made Philippine culture great: HOSPITALITY, BIG SMILES, and THE FEELING THAT YOUR PART OF THE FAMILY made my restaurant’s such a party every time I open my doors.
I ran this business with pure passion and a mindset that I am representing all Filipino that is eager to introduce their culture to their friends, so I make sure that my place is 100% sanitize and continue to have an OPEN kitchen policy, which is, I took off the kitchen door so people can see that the kitchen is immaculate and we take cleanliness and organization seriously.
In conclusion, I am a visionary and will continue to work on making Filipino Cuisine Mainstream, Healthy and Visually Appealing.  I’m excited to announce that a second restaurant in Colorado will happen within two years. Please visit me on Facebook under ADOBO Island.
Thank you and hope to see you soon.
Jean Martin
Adobo Island, CEO

I found your website because I was craving for Filipino food and my mother has been far too busy to make us a family dinner anytime soon.

I spend hours and hours here and have thoroughly enjoyed your post. Though I'm not a Chef of a food blogger, just introducing Filipino food to friends is not easy. Why is it not as popular and mainstream as Thai or Vietnamese?

That is the million dollar question. It really is more complicated than just the food being good!


oxo,

ML
TWENTY YORK STREET
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