Not too long ago, my cousins and I got together for dinner at Pig & Khao, a Filipino/Thai fusion restaurant in the Lower East Side. Filipinos are a proud bunch, so we jump at the chance to support one of our own – provided, of course, it comes with a discount (thanks Google Offers!).
Our conversation quickly turned to Filipino food, specifically its lack of presence in the food world. Many other Asian cuisines have hit it big – Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, etc. – and our food is way better than theirs! Why isn’t the Philippines sharing in the limelight? Here’s what we came up with (then the rebuttal, because there should be no excuses!):
1. Lack of presentation. Most existing Filipino food establishments are “turo-turo” style, which is basically cafeteria style service. You get in line, grab a tray, pick your carb of choice and 2 viands to go with it, the server slops it onto your Styrofoam partitioned plate, and shoves it to you across the smudged plexi-glass window. Sound appetizing? Only if you know what you are ordering. The food is just sitting there in steel vats with liquid fat skimming the tops of all of them. You can’t tell if it’s pork, chicken, beef, or just vegetables because it’s all some kind of shade of brown and goopy looking – and it’s not even labeled! (Fish is served whole so no problem identifying that one.) It all looks too intimidating to the untrained eye. One theory we came up with is that non-Filipinos are hesitant to just try Filipino food because of the way it is presented.
The Rebuttal: Filipinos are everywhere. Seriously, check your surroundings. I have 2 within 25 yards of where I am sitting right now. We are so prevalent that we’re sure most non-Filipinos (in this example, I’ll use a white man) have at least one Filipino connection. And if the white man ever visited his Filipino friend’s house, Mama Filipina surely force fed the white man some Lumpia Shanghai. And he loved it. They always love it.
Conclusion: There are plenty of Filipinos out there to introduce non-Filipinos to our food. Regardless of its looks, the taste alone should keep people begging for more.
2. Filipinos want comfort food, not fine dining. Like most home-cooking, everything is the same but different. You and I grew up on chicken adobo, but yours tastes slightly different (aka, mine is better). Why should I go to a fancy restaurant and pay big bucks for home-cooked food, when I can just make it at home!
The Rebuttal: This might be a valid argument for someone who actually knows how to cook Filipino food. Of the three of us sitting at P&K having this discussion, not a single one of us cooks Filipino food. And even if we tried, the sad truth is it always tastes better when Mom (or Yaya) makes it.
Conclusion: Mom and Yaya, open a restaurant!!
3. Filipino food is too fatty. We ordered only the Filipino dishes at P&K and this is what we had: fried pork skin, sizzling pork head and ears, and pork belly.
The Rebuttal: Pork has been enjoying a glorious renaissance ever since hipsters started eating it. People will now eat almost anything with bacon in it – bacon ice cream, bacon donuts, etc. Hipsters also made popular the concept of “nose-to-tail” eating, which means it is very cool to eat every part of the pig, even his ears. And because hipsters are usually so trim in their skinny jeans, nobody ever questions their cholesterol levels.
Conclusion: The more fat, the better.
4. The last and most reasonable explanation – Filipinos have tried to open nice restaurants, but they quickly fail because all their patrons are their friends and family who expect – you got it – a deep discount. We didn’t have a rebuttal to this one.
In the end we decided that with all it has going for it, (plus the universal appeal of Manny Pacquiao) it is just a matter of time before the rest of the world discovers that Filipino food is a worthy cuisine all on its own. We tossed around the idea of starting a Filipino food truck to drum up some buzz. Between the three of us, we could handle the accounting, marketing, and IT needs of our little business. Now just to find someone who actually knows how to cook…