There is something instinctual about Filipino food. Those of us who grew with the hapag-kainan were taught not to to question the superiority of the Filipino dish—but not by indoctrination. Instead, it is a slow romance with the milieu of viands, staples, and desserts placed on the table day after day. Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil said it best in her essay, “Where is the Patis?” — that in no other way, “the Filipino loves his country with his stomach.”
But because Filipino cuisine is so second-nature, it is easy to take it for granted. For many years, the local food scene has been dominated by other world cuisines and a never ending slew of fast food. Filipino cuisine, on the other hand, was often relegated to the home, some carinderias, and a handful of lucky buffet places. Elsewhere, however, it is a different story. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly Filipino cuisine got its claim to fame. Nonetheless, it soon found its audience beyond its origins. Much of this success stems from the Filipinos themselves. Some would say this is partly due to the vast majority of Pinoys who’ve made their home overseas. But another part of this success could be attributed to those who have strived to bring it to the international stage.
In the Philippines, for instance, there are a number of establishments and chefs that have brought our cuisine to greater consciousness. One may look to Chef Glenda Barretto, whose prowess in Filipino cuisine has touched many a-country and has served many an international celebrity. Or take Antonio’s, the consistent Miele Guide placer and one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants. The Filipino population in the States has also brought rise to chefs looking to spread their roots through food. “A younger generation of Filipino-American chefs have embraced their culture and are proudly supporting a Filipino food movement,” says Joshua Lurie, FoodGPS.com founder. In many cases, these chefs started cooking other types of food, and have returned to the foods of their youth. In L.A., look to chefs like Alvin Cailan (Amboy), Chase and Chad Valencia (LASA), and Charles Olalia (RiceBar) for helping to advance Filipino food’s cause.”
The familiarity that has kept the cuisine from breaking out in its own country of origin is what made it click outside of it. Filipino cuisine, after all, is all about making do with what you have while being able to satisfy others, be it a customer, a loved one, or one’s self. It is blending in the simplicity of the familiar with an innate hospitality—which beyond food, echoes something more personal. To partake in Filipino food, then, is not mere immersion. It is community building, a camarederie of the belly, where taste is on par with the relationships formed because of it.
And perhaps this is the key to understanding Filipino food’s emergence in recent years. One culinary’s culture, with all its primality, can tell a lot about its country of origin. And connection is a concept that runs deep in Filipino cuisine, be it with other people, or one’s roots. For it to grow further in popularity on the international stage, then, does not merely signal superiority. But something greater: the triumph of the familiar.