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Filipino Food: A Sleeping Giant Has Awoken + story published on Broadsheet

Submitted by on November 12, 2013 – 6:23 pm39 Comments

Note: this is an extended piece on the story I wrote about Filipino food for Broadsheet that again had me thinking, why is it so underrepresented in the foodie mainstream? I wanted to use this post as a way of expanding and talking around the topics noted in that piece.

When a wave of restaurants elevate a cuisine to the next level at the same time making gains in popularity on the big screen, it all tugs at the sleeping giant. They be small nudges, but nudges nonetheless. However, when this happens on a global scale, the sleeping giant is whacked on the head by a mack truck and is forced the wake the hell up! I’m talking about Filipino food.

lechon kawali filipino food

Now more than ever, people are are more open to trying new flavours so I’m predicting that  Filipino food will soon become the next big thing which is why I truly enjoyed writing the piece and gave it a resounding YASSS when I was approached to do it. It has received a huge response so far especially on Facebook with more than 500 likes, over 200 shares and comments to match – all within a day – not too mention an onslaught of emails from avid pork enthusiasts from all over the country. Clearly, there is a demand so why it hasn’t sky rocketed?

Does it need a modern makeover?

I’ll get into this later as a few restaurants are heading in the right direction to capture both the Pinoy community and the masses.

Is it hard to define Filipino food?

In some ways, yes! With Spanish, American and Chinese influences, it can be misunderstood.

Is it all just too complex to cook at home?

Just like many other cuisines, there are recipes you may want to chuck into the hard basket but some of the most popular dishes are simple to make – take Adobo for example.

Perhaps it isn’t marketed in the right way?

In past, yes. I didn’t see much of it in the mainstream media and when I did, it was always about the ‘cliched driven not so healthy side’ of the cuisine rather than showcasing the colourful side shining the torch on dishes that also appeal to the western culture. There is more to it than just Lechon, Adobo and Leche Flan. The right kind of marketing should fill people with a shot of curiosity; enough so that it motivates them into giving Filipino food a go. But I think we’re getting there. Philippine Tourism has increased their efforts to promote the dining scene with the launch of ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines’ portal and over the last few years, Filipino dishes and cooks are seen strutting their stuff on top rated television shows more than ever before both on home soil (Masterchef, SBS Food, Island Feast) and internationally (No Reservations, Top Chef) which has done wonders publicty-wise not only for the food but for tourism as well. According to Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, The Philippines has seen the arrival of nearly four million tourists with a target of five million by the end of 2013.

Like many Aussies, you’ve probably never heard of what Filipino food is all about let alone have had a taste of it,  partly due to the small number of restaurants available – that is unless you have friends in your circle who are ’Pinoy’. If so, you would be all too familiar with their welcoming tradition of sharing their food with you in their home and this is despite not having plans to eat in the first place! One thing Filipinos are known for is their hospitality and generosity especially when it comes to food. My mum never lets anyone leave her house with an empty stomach or at least with containers full of hot food.

bbq pork skewers filipino food

BBQ Pork Skewers whilst on my Unofficial Filipino Food Tour of California (read about it here)

Its success in the mainstream tends to ebb and flow but like the sun, it always finds its way back ’round.

As I mentioned in the story, two critically acclaimed New York based restaurants, Jeepney and Pig & Khao, have both made a name for themselves through their modern take on traditional recipes hitting the right frequency with the Manhattan locals. I recently discovered that  popular Philippine based chain restaurants; Jollibee and Max’s Chicken are set to open new stores in Toronto having already established themselves across the US. To put things into perspective,  Jollibee is the equivalent of McDonalds back home, with more than 750 stores that not only offers the usual fast food fare, but Filipino style sweetened spaghetti (my fav!), golden fried chicken and some traditional rice dishes. I used to wonder how they became so phenomenally huge and right after eating at their stores both in the Philippines and in the US, I knew why. Whether it was indigestion from slurping down my ube shake, I felt it. The Jollibee Bee mascot may have something to do with it as well – brings out the kid in you. For many Filipinos, Jollibee isn’t thought of as just a fast food chain but due to their contribution to the community and their success, they are a symbol of Filipino Pride and for those living abroad, it’s a home away from home.

halo halo jollibee

Halo Halo at Jollibee whilst on holidays in the US

Though Filipino food has caught on more in the US due to the much larger Pinoy population, there are still some worthy eateries and Filipino themed events worth noting.  In Melbourne, we have Dahon Gourmet Tea Lounge known for their signature BBQ pork baguettes and their Lechon Kawali (deep fried pork belly) –  garnering quite a following. In such a short amount of time, Dahon has achieved what many restaurants have found difficult to do – make Filipino food look incredibly presentable without compromising the taste whilst remaining traditional at its core. What started in 2012, Filipino Barbie, organised by Bea Trinidad and the Department of Tourism, brought out the big guns this year hosting a four course degustation by celebrity chef, Sau del Rosario, exploring Filipino flavours at William Angliss Institute.

Also in Melbourne, Filipino BBQ and Street Food specialists; Hoy Pinoy BBQ, will be making their debut at this year’s Queen Victoria Suzuki Night Market and the Good Food Month’s Night Noodle Market – both starting this month! Tip – make sure you grab a couple of their seriously good pork belly skewers glazed with banana ketchup as well as their longanisa sausages.

Sydney-based La Mesa, is another popular restaurant who even has a spot on their menu labeled ‘not for the faint hearted’ reserved for tasty but not exactly highly nutritious dishes from Sisig (you don’t wanna know) to Dinuguan (you really don’t wanna know…) but not to fret, quintessential dishes like  Kare Kare (oxtail in a peanut stew – recipe here) and Sinigang na Hipon (prawns in a tamarind based soup) are available too. One event not to miss out on that’s put on by Shangri-La Hotel is the Flavours of the Philippines think all you can eat Lechon, Pancit palabok (rice noodles with shrimp sauce topped with crisp fried pork rinds), Chicken Inasal, Leche Flan (crème caramel), Maja Blanca (coconut pudding with sweet corn) and of course, the king of desserts; Halo Halo. Need I say more? Although, one dish that I wish was on more menus is Chicken Tinola; a hearty chicken soup made with garlic, ginger, lemongrass, sweet corn and bok choy represents the more lighter side of the native cuisine.

Nothing beats an endorsement from Anthony Bourdain

Filipino food is the kind of soul food that makes you smile, comfort food when you need it the most.  Treasured moments like these are found as you chow down on Lechon – suckling pig that’s spit roasted for hours over charcoal beds resulting in a crispy glazed and glistening crackling revealing only the most juiciest of meats. Known for his love of Filipino food, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, had named Lechon ‘the best pig ever’ on his television show, No Reservations when he traveled to Cebu. So if you’d like to make an impression at the next house party, give Amalia’s Lechon Cebu a call and you too can rock up with a 20KG crispy pig. It’s safe to say that dishes like Lechon are partly responsible for pork being the most consumed meat in the Philippines. Don’t stand in the way of Filipinos and their pork.

IMG_3610.JPGImage credit:

…The Filipino version of afternoon tea minus the ribbon sandwiches…

I’ve been inundating you with so much pork talk, you must be wondering if there are any dishes without pork in them!  My favourite part of the day and a daily tradition that Filipinos look forward to the most is Merienda which means ‘snack,’ taken in between meals either before lunch or in the afternoon. Merienda isn’t your typical snack time where one would quickly scarf something down whilst watching TV, but is seen as a chance for family and friends to get together and chat about their day. It’s the Filipino version of afternoon tea minus the ribbon sandwiches.

Popular back home during Merienda time  is Banana Que (recipe here) where saba bananas – a firmer variety- are coated in sugar, fried until it caramelises and forms a wonderfully sticky and crispy shell and is then skewered on a bamboo stick. Other snacks include Empanadas (brought in by the Spaniards) and spring rolls deep fried to a golden crunch made up of prawn and pork known as Lumpiang Shanghai (recipe here). A clear favourite of mine is Pandesal; soft, slightly sweet small bread rolls best served warm with DRENCHED in butter. YASSS! For Filipinos and the like, a daily commute to  Masarap Bakery in Braybrook is a common ritual often bringing back hot Pandesal by the dozen. All their breads are baked daily including the sweet brioche; Ensaymada.

banana que

So there you have it – Filipino food 101 and its current state of play.

I’d like conclude this 1679 word post by saying whilst Pinoy restauranteurs continue to act as the lighthouse for people to find out more about the native cuisine, the most important thing for us to do is to support them. I mean come on, who the heck can resist deep fried pork belly anyways?!

Kain na tayo (let’s eat)!

What-is-Filipino-Food-Anyway-Food-Drink-Broadsheet-Melbourne 2013-11-09 19-07-52

My story published on Broadsheet

Broadsheet was the perfect platform to spread the word about Filipino food to the masses, especially to the foodies in Melbourne. Though it was a slimmed down version compared to this post, the aim was simple –  to introduce my favourite cuisine (not biased much? lol)  and provide ways in which readers can engage with by telling them where to get it around town and yasssss, where to get a 20 KG Lechon! People seemed to have really connected with the story as it reached the #1 position on the top 5 most popular stories for days! Eep! And yep, the feast pictured below was shot during  the photo shoot at Filipino food master’s HQ; Dahon Gourmet Tea Lounge in South Melbourne. Update 13 Nov….Sadly, Dahon will be closing its doors on November 24th  so if you want your Lechon Kawali fix, I’d suggest heading down there pronto. Personally, I’m going to miss their true to Filipino style hospitality and of course, their wonderfully presented dishes. *I cry*

What-is-Filipino-Food-Anyway-Food-Drink-Broadsheet-Melbourne 2013-11-08 19-26-18

The tragic events that have taken place back home nearly prevented me from posting this but it was something that was said by many tweeps on twitter that gave me the inspiration to keep on pressing on and finish writing it, that read – “We Filipinos are stronger than any typhoon”
My prayers go out to everyone affected and am hoping that my relatives are safe also. With communication lines down, it’s the unknown that’s the hardest to deal with. I’m trying not to think about the fact that it is the strongest typhoon to hit earth this year and can’t help but feel for the people back home who have had to endure yet another major calamity in a span of a year.
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