An Outsider’s View of Filipino Food

GUEST POST by Vanessa Famighetti

Vanessa is a freelance travel writer, digital marketer, and passionate foodie from San Diego, California.  As a freelancer, Vanessa travels 100% of the time, exploring sights, sounds, and tastes from around the world. With over 30 countries under her belt, Vanessa has encountered some pretty unique cultures. Although every place she goes takes a piece of her heart, Vanessa is most in love with the countries of Brazil and Austria.

Growing up in Southern California, I’ve always known Filipino culture to be one of the main flavors in our endlessly diverse melting pot. Walking through the mazes of San Diego’s strip mall restaurants, you can satisfy any craving that may have stricken you, from Ethiopian food, to fine French gourmet, to colorful Filipino.

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Halo-Halo

Although you’re definitely able to get your hands on some good Pinoy offerings, the wealth of Filipino food available, especially of a pricier variety, can be tough to come by. Seeing as Filipinos are the largest group of Asian immigrants in Southern California, this realization left me rather puzzled. Why wasn’t Filipino food more prominent in my city?

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Andrew Zimmern, of Travel Channel fame, once predicted that Filipino food would be the next craze in American cuisine, and that it would find its initial footing in San Diego. Although I hope he’s onto something, the proportion of Filipino-Americans to Filipino restaurants seems quite low. Some theories for why this may be range from the fact that Filipinos immigrated to the US in large numbers as trained nurses. This allowed them easy assimilation into American culture and may not have fostered the same necessity for using their cultural and culinary skills from abroad to earn a living in California. Others theorize that it may come down to the fact that no one can make traditional Filipino dishes as good as mom, and so most of the cuisine exists now only within the home. Although this theory certainly requires some further investigation, I can attest to the fact that a bustling Filipino household certainly doesn’t hold back for larger family gatherings and that, if you’re looking to experience some authentic Pinoy cuisine, try to saddle up next to a Filipino friend to bring you over for the next Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) feast.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a best friend with Philippine origins almost all my life. There’s nothing quite like sitting down in the dining room with her family to share some traditional Filipino fare. With the lechon, longanisa, and adobo flowing, I’ve had experiences so much more enriching than sitting down at a restaurant. I’ve been able to sit with them as they tell stories from the islands, swap recipes, and chatter away in their native Tagalog. Although we can’t all be so lucky to have a taste of the Philippines from within, if you’re ever offered the chance, TAKE IT!

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I can’t say why Filipino restaurants haven’t become more of a dietary staple in the lives of Southern Californians. But luckily I have been fortunate enough to explore the culture and traditions of a large, vibrant, Filipino-American family. As time goes on, hopefully Pinoy restaurants will begin to take hold in California more powerfully and, when they do, I’ll be first in line to continue exploring Philippine fare.

xxx

My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project

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An Outsider’s View of Filipino Food

“What’s Missing is Middle Ground Filipino Food” (A Q&A with a Culinary R&D Chef in San Diego)

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Chef Phillip Esteban (Photo credit: Kim Marcelo)

Phillip Esteban is Research and Development Chef of CH Projects, a group that’s set out not just to create restaurants and bars, but “incubators for meaningful interactions”. The company has 12 projects (which they don’t want to call restaurants and bars) in San Diego.

We tapped on Phillip’s food (including a kitchen stint at David Chang’s acclaimed Momofuku Ssäm Bar), and research & development experience to find out what the Filipino food scene is like in America’s Finest City. More on Filipino food and Phillip’s background in this Q&A.

MFB: Please tell us more about your Filipino heritage.

PE: My father is from Mangatarem, Pangasinan and my mother is from Asingan, Pangasinan in Luzon. My father joined the US Navy and helped immigrate our entire family to the US. 

MFB: What was it like for you to grow up in the US?

PE: I was born in San Diego, California. I’m a first-generation Filipino here in the United States. When my grandfather moved here, he experienced racism because of the language barrier. He did not want his grandchildren to experience that so I and all my cousins were raised as English speakers. As a consequence, we did not become fluent in Tagalog or Ilocano. However, we kept all our traditions and we were always surrounded by food. One of my earliest memories as a child was learning to cook and bake with my grandmother.

MFB: What was the first job you held in food? 

PE: My first job in a professional kitchen was at The Firefly Restaurant in the Dana Hotel, Mission Bay as a prep cook.

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Photo credit: Find it in Fondren

MFB: Please tell us about your role as Research and Development Chef at CH Projects. 

PE: The R&D chef role within CH Projects is ever evolving. Beyond creativity and menu development with our chefs, I also focus on company culture, development of the young cooks, and leadership with our growing management teams. 

MFB: Please describe the Filipino and Filipino food scene in San Diego?  

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Photo credit: Sandiego.org

PE: The Filipino food scene in San Diego is filled with “point point” joints. There is a young group of Filipino Chefs who are working diligently to bring our culture to the forefront of cuisine. To be frank, my only concern is that the Filipino culture is also rooted in finding deals and discounts. Why would the Filipino community pay $20 for a “Pork Belly Kare Kare” appetizer at an upscale restaurant versus paying $20 at a “point point joint” and feed your entire family? In contrast, either Filipino food is very simplistic in presentation or too fine dining. 

What is actually missing is middle ground for simply plated food, in a space that is aesthetically pleasing and designed for the general public.

The great thing about San Diego is there are many Filipino Chefs that are doing extremely well within the community and are working towards developing our cuisine in the US. It is exciting to see what will unfold in the next few years!

MFB: Describe your perfect Filipino meal.

PE: Nothing beats a home cooked meal. Kare-kare, a traditional Filipino dish of braised oxtail stew with peanut butter sauce is my favorite. But I have had amazing modern Filipino meals too. Qui Restaurant (by Chef Paul Qui, Filipino and Top Chef Winner) in Austin, Texas, (now Kuneho), had a well-executed, Filipino inspired, tasting menu.

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Mais con hielo (corn kernels with shaved ice) at Qui Restaurant, Austin (Photo credit: A Taste of Coco)

Connect with Phillip Esteban:

Instagram: @phillipesteban

(Named one of the “Top Five Food-Related Instagrams To Follow Right Now”on San Diego Eater)

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“What’s Missing is Middle Ground Filipino Food” (A Q&A with a Culinary R&D Chef in San Diego)

The Return of a Filipino Food Event that Sparked Public Attention in the U.S.

* an excerpt from the interview with the Filipino Food Movement’s VP posted on April 21, 2016

Oct. 15,2016 is the return of Savor Filipino, the big Filipino food event launched by the Filipino Food Movement that woke national interest in 2014. This year’s theme is “buksan”, meaning to open – a call to the public to open their minds and their palates to various chef interpretations of Filipino dishes that will be offered at the event.To be held at The Overlook Lounge in Oakland, California, tickets are priced at $64 – $199.

We asked the co-founderand VP of the Filipino Food Movement what she considers as her accomplishments and frustrations as a Filipino food advocate.  But first, a brief personal introduction: US born to Filipina mother, Joanne Boston-KwanHull, lives in Daly City, south of San Francisco. Filipinos makeup the biggest population in Daly City that this tongue-in-cheek, hyperbolic claim is often told:

“You know why it’s always foggy in Daly City, right? Because all the Filipinos turn on their rice cookers at the same time.”

 Joanne presents herself as a 9 to 5 employee at a medical accounting firm in San Francisco and a 24/ 7 Filipino food advocate. She spearheaded projects, such as Project Adobo and kapaMEALya, and is the Vice President of The Filipino Food Movement (FFM), a non-profit, community-driven organization to help mainstream Filipino cuisine.

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Joanne Boston-KwanHull

I quote from the FFM website, text that resonated with me and I’m sure would resonate with most Filipinos around the globe too:

We believe that the story of our culture, and indeed ourselves, is programmed into the DNA of each ingredient, no matter where it is grown; each dish, no matter how it has evolved; and each cook, no matter where he or she may come from. “

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MFB: As an advocate of Filipino food culture, what do you consider as your biggest achievement? Biggest frustration?

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Photo Source: The FFM

Sous Vide Pork Adobo with brocolli rabe & fried mushrooms by Chef Jerrick Figueroa at Pampalasa Restaurant in San Francisco.

JBK: I would have to say that Savor Filipino (the country’s first Filipino Festival) was our biggest achievement and frustration. It was a triumph because 30,000 people came to the event! This was the first Filipino food-focused event ever held in San Francisco. Being part of the steering team was a great learning experience. Again, it took a lot of hard work, lots of late meetings and sleepless nights. We noticed a lot of things before, during, and after the event:

1) Filipino chefs were eager to work with us during this event and they did not hesitate to collaborate with each other. This was great to see.

2) Patrons were saying that the prices were too high. It almost made me think that they did not believe value can be put into Filipino food. We had top-notch, nationally known chefs cooking dishes that can appear in a white table cloth restaurant. Yet, there is this ridiculous belief that Asian food – especially Filipino food – should be “cheap.” At this event, we had quality ingredients made by quality chefs. Nothing cheap about that.

3) There are still people who cannot let go of the fact that Filipino food is evolving before our very eyes. Filipino food is special to our chefs because it is so attached to their memories and families. They like to pay homage to a moment in time or even a person in their life through a dish that they fashioned themselves, but was motivated by a traditional Filipino dish. Old school believers do not like that. I highly doubt that the Filipino food from 2010 is the same as the dishes in 1910, 1810, 1710, and 1610. Sure the evolution came over a course of centuries, but now there is a fear that the integrity of the dishes we know and love will be lost if it is customized too much. That’s totally understandable, but we also have to understand that we can respect the traditional and give room for the contemporary at the same time. Change always comes with time.

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Photo credit: Savor Filipino

 

MFB: What is your advice to the global Filipino diaspora who would like Philippine cuisine to be globally recognized?

JBK: Be present. Go to Filipino events. Go to family parties. Cook the food. Do anything that will potentially teach someone about the cuisine. Share it on a blog. Take photos. Teach a class. Cook a dish for your friends from a Filipino cookbook. We need to expose the food. All the while, we need to keep an open mind.

We shouldn’t judge someone else’s adobo or afritada because it will never be exactly as how you grew up with it. We shouldn’t write off anyone else’s dish just because it doesn’t look or taste like your mom’s. Enjoy it for what it is. If we constantly compare our standard to everyone else’s version, we will be disappointed majority of the time.

A lot of people tell me that because there is this competitive spirit in Filipinos, it will be naturally hard to impress each other. This is why people refuse to eat out and prefer to have Filipino food at home. If they choose to eat out, they’d rather eat Japanese, Italian, Indian, etc. This can be why there is a lack of restaurants.

MFB: What’s your goal in the next few years?

JBK: It may not be a goal that will be accomplished by me, but I hope that there is constant Filipino representation on mainstream television. I hope there will be a go-to figure that will educate the general public about the dishes. Another goal I have been holding is to open a Filipino culinary culture center somewhere in the Bay Area. I live in Daly City – one of the most Filipino-dense cities in the country. I would love to open one near there. It would be a place where we can have workshops, wine tastings, pop-up dinners, chef seminars, classes and so on. The sky’s the limit! My general goal is to have Filipino food recognized as a delicious cuisine that isn’t automatically linked to Fear Factor.

*Joanne Boston-KwanHull is one of the contributing authors of our upcoming book, My Food Beginnings – a collection of Filipino food memoirs.

The Filipino Food Movement  on social media:

Instagram: @FilipinoFoodMovement

Facebook: The Filipino Food Movement

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The Return of a Filipino Food Event that Sparked Public Attention in the U.S.