POSTED ON 06/27/2014 10:11 PM | UPDATED 06/29/2014 7:06 PM
MANILA, Philippines – Considered a food staple, there is no denying that Filipinos love rice.
Most have it at least 3 times a day. A plate with no mound of steaming rice in sight is considered incomplete. If the Americans have their mashed potato with their roasted meat, Filipino households have rice for their adobo, sinigang or simply tuyo. (Read: How much rice do Filipinos consume?)
The country’s rice "addiction" is seen as an opportunity in the business sector as more restaurants have been offering the unlimited rice option in their menu. From big restaurants in malls to small neighborhood carinderias (eateries), the option has been a good marketing ploy for customers.
But did you know that despite the full stomach you’ll get after getting the most out of the usually P99-unlimited rice meal, your health might be put at risk?
A bad habit
Dr Cecilia Acuin of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) advised against unlimited rice as it does not promote a healthy lifestyle.
“Unlimited rice is not healthy,” she said at the launch of the 8th National Nutrition Survey results on June 26. “You can already tell that when you're getting most from one food group, you do not have a good diet.”
Any food that belongs to the same food group also has the same nutritional value. This means that your body might miss out on more important nutrients if you eat the same thing every meal.
“It's not the quantity that matters, but also the quality and diversity,” she said.
A diverse diet, according to Acuin, is consuming food from different groups, not having the same type of meal in a time period or over-consuming.
As each food group boasts of a unique micronutrient, consequences due to lack of vitamins and minerals can be prevented. This is called hidden hunger and it affects close to 2 billion people worldwide. (Read: Nutrition facts: Hidden hunger)
“Isa sa mga indicators ng magandang diet at pagiging healthy ay ang diverse diet,” she explained. (One indicator of a great and healthy diet is having a diverse one.)
The Philippine Rice Research Institute of the Department of Agriculture suggest that rice should take up only one-fourth of a regular-sized plate.
Filipinos tend to overeat rice by consuming half a regular-sized plate. Because of this, carbohydrates in the body reach dangerous levels that may result to diseases.
Meanwhile, Director Mario Capanzano of the FNRI said that the institute is looking into the possible correlation between the rise of diabetes cases in the country and the unlimited rice trend.
Extra rice despite high price
The price of uncooked rice shot up in recent years. Despite the agricultural nature of the country, we still import our rice. (Read: PH road to rice self-sufficiency)
Low-income communities are considered the driving force behind the high consumption of rice in the country. Long lines can be seen in any place selling NFA rice, a cheaper alternative for those belonging to poor communities to get their meal staple. It even led to the phrase "Parang pila ng NFA rice (It's like a line for NFA rice)" to describe long queues. (READ: Filipinos’ high rice consumption fueled by the poor)
Capanzano advices Filipinos against cooking too much rice per meal as it leads to food wastage. (READ: PH food wastage: Think twice before wasting your meal)
In the Philippines, a person wastes an average of 3.29 kilograms of rice a year or almost 9 grams a day.
“Sa bahay pa lang, malaki na ang nasasayang kaya dapat itong iwasan (At home, we already waste a lot so it’s best to avoid this),” he said. – Rappler.com
Three years ago, T.V. chef Andrew Zimmern proclaimed Filipino food to be the next big thing–but how come it hasn’t really happened yet?
While Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants can be found in any respectable-sized U.S. city and many random shopping malls in the suburbs, it’s just not the case with Filipino food. It’s a little hard to pin down something that originates from somewhere among 7,100 islands hugging a low corner of the South China Sea known as the Philippines. One challenge is, it’s very hard to describe.
Chef Yana Gilbuena is trying. She has a wide smile and a half-shaved head topped by spiky blonde or green hair, depending on the day. She moved to California from the Philippines over a decade ago, at the age of 20, which she admits was a bit traumatic.
“In L.A. I was trying to get on a bus. I thought it was like in Iloilo. You raise your hand and the bus will stop, but no, the bus didn’t stop. My friends told me I had to go to a bus stop. I had the hardest time getting that,” she remembers.
She dreamed of being an interior designer with her own firm in New York, but her first job wasn’t how she imagined it. She couldn’t find good Filipino food anywhere—it was either “high-end fusion or mom-and-pop stuff that wasn’t so fresh”–so she started cooking her own, at first to relieve stress. Later, gaining confidence, she invited friends for dinner parties.
She gained so much confidence, in fact, that she’s on the verge of wrapping up a tour of the U.S., offering pop-up Filipino dinners in every state. Hawaii is her final stop next month. She calls it The SALO Project. SALO is a derivative of the word “Salu-salo” in her native Tagalog language, meaning big party. “I bring people together over food who otherwise wouldn’t have met,” she says in her video.
She plans the meals and shops in the cities where she creates the dinners, swapping local ingredients for traditional ones in the country’s famous stews. The peanut curry known as kare-kare normally includes oxtail, but she has used shrimp or beef. You can add any vegetable to the spicy coconut stew known as ginataan, she says. “I am trying to preach the gospel of Filipino food,” Gilbuena says.
Chef Cathal Armstrong takes a different route at a white tablecloth restaurant just outside of Washington, D.C. at Restaurant Eve. Armstrong spent a month in Thailand as a U.S. culinary ambassador and fell in love with the Asian style of cooking. Since January, the Irish chef-owner and his Filipino wife, Meshelle, have been offering patrons monthly tastings of his interpretation of Filipino fusion food.
A recent sampling included a Filipino raw fish salad known as kinilaw, Filipino barbecued pork, complete with a runny egg on vinegared rice and several kinds of curries.
Flavor is not the problem with Filipino food. “The problem is that it’s really hard to describe,” says Joanne Boston, a writer turned advocate for the Filipino Food Movement, which promotes Filipino festivals. Basically, you’ve got to know your geography. And you’ve got to get over the potential “ick factor” because yes, there is a duck fetus delicacy that once appeared on the show Fear Factor.
More commonly, she says, “It’s a cuisine that is first Malay. That means lots of tropical fruits, coconut and seafood.”
Then the Spanish came and stuck around for a few hundred years, introducing garlic, onions, spices and adobo–a specific way of preserving meat in vinegar and spices that came in handy in the Philippines’ tropical climate. They also brought wheat, so there are European pastries, sausage and meatloaf, Boston says.
Meanwhile, Chinese and Japanese traders came and went, bringing dumplings and eggrolls (hence the springroll-like Filipino lumpia,) stir-fried noodles (which became Filipino pancit,) tofu and soy sauce. From American G.I.’s, Filipinos discovered the joy of SPAM.
It’s further hard to categorize the food because each region puts its own spin on a dish. “There are 100 million people in the Philippines now, and guaranteed, they each have their own recipe for adobo,” Boston says.
There are pockets of Filipino restaurants in areas where Filipino-Americans are concentrated – New York and San Francisco mainly, but there are a handful of restaurants cropping up in Chicago and others coming soon to Washington, D.C.
But one of the challenges in building a dynamic new restaurant culture in the U.S. is changing Filipino attitudes. “Many will go to another type of restaurant, when given a choice, because they say, ‘”Why should I go out for Filipino food when I can get it at home and it’s probably better?’” says Boston.
April Fulton is the senior blogger for The Plate. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
People will interpret our cuisine the way they like. We wanted this so we have no choice but to deal with it.
By SASHA LIM UY | Nov 18, 2016
It was in 2012 when Andrew Zimmern boldly declared that Filipino food was going to be the next big thing. He went on the record on TODAY.com, predicting, ?Two years from now, Filipino food will be what we will have been talking about for six months? I think it?s going to be the next big thing.?
It is now 2016, the Bizarre Foods host?s deadline has been given sufficient leeway. Since then, Anthony Bourdain has made a return trip, Adam Richman has taken a giant bite of Pepita?s Lechon, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold raved about Max?s Fried Chicken, Margarita Fores has been voted as Asia?s Best Female Chef, Your Local has been featured on Conde Nast Traveler, Mecha Uma has become a Southeast Asia must-try. Zagat included our humble cookery as one of their nine emerging cuisines. Local establishments Antonio?s, Rural Kitchen, Bale Dutung, and Vask have been selected for world?s best lists.
Romulo?s has expanded to London; Jollibee has opened in Queens. The Filipino Restaurant Week in New York is now on its second year. Pinoy chefs like Dale Talde, Paul Qui, and Leah Cohen, as well as restaurants like Maharlika, Purple Yam, Lasa, Manila Social Club, and Bad Saint (and more) have been tastefully brandishing the Filipino flag on their menus. Ube (known to the rest of the world as "oo-bae") is a shining star.
The Migrant Kitchen, a documentary series produced by Life & Thyme, has unofficially established Los Angeles as the hotbed for Filipino food 101. Its second episode, ?Barkada,? which highlights Chef Charles Olalia?s Ricebar and Chef Alvin Cailin?s Unit 120, led Eater to conclude: ?In Los Angeles, the conversation surrounding the flavors and dishes of the Philippines knows almost no bounds.?
It would appear that Filipino fare has been trailblazing through the ranks. Have we, to paraphrase a Washington Post headline in 2015, at long last, arrived?
Ask us early this year and we would’ve ended the discussion with a safe almost, but yes. In fact, Filipino food has made it. If anything good came out of Bon Appetit magazine’s controversial halo-halo recipe this August, it is the confirmation that we have indeed arrived; we’ve gotten big enough for the world to assume they understand us—enough to freely interpret our flavors and intentions as they wish. We have become public domain.
Becoming a free-for-all is a notorious part of success. Like every other "it" thing, we will be scrutinized, ripped apart, but at least, the goal has been achieved. The world is ready for our cuisine. But there lies a more important question: are we ready for the world? Are we ready for people to put popcorn in our halo-halo?
The same month that Bon Appetit published their loose interpretation of a revered Filipino dessert, they also hailed Washington-based Pinoy haunt Bad Saint as the second-best restaurant of the year. With a menu that the magazine described as “one of the country’s most exciting,” Bad Saint features chicken inasal, ampalaya, ukoy, bilo-bilo. It sounds like a table at your tita’s piyesta, but the young visionaries behind this gem are peddlers of more modern tastes. Their ensalada comes as a vibrant plate speckled with dragon fruit, the lumpiang shanghai is boosted with cornichons, the adobo is bright yellow and heavy on the turmeric.
On the opposite coast is Maharlika, the restaurant that Conde Nast Traveler declared as a New York can't-miss. There are the usual suspects: beautifully fried butterflied daing, sunshiny longsilogs, kare-kare with vibrant bokchoy. It is, however, the ube waffles with fried chicken that have garnered serious fans; the pancit palabok made extra special with a dollop of uni; the creamy laing replacing spinach in the Eggs Benedict; the balut in aluminum pails presented with the servers shouting as if they were on the street. What’s tradition back home has turned into an effective kitsch in a setting like New York.
When Gold wrote about Lasa, a pop-up Filipino joint, for the Los Angeles Times, he sang praises for the way it captured the spirit of modern Filipino cooking. “[Chef Chad] Valencia’s cooking captures not just the joy of delicious, super-fatty party eats, but the extreme regionality of the dishes in the Philippines’ zillion islands,” he notes, commending the lightness and the balance in both composing the menu and the actual dishes. Blazing examples of such skill include a Caesar salad spiked with patis instead of anchovies; a pinakbet-bagnet with smoky pur?ed eggplant, bagoong, and powder made from dried ampalaya; a cassava cake version of tres leches.
There are much more shocking endings than Chef Laudico’s though. Early this year, Chef JP Anglo quietly turned his edgier Rockwell haunt, Kafe Batwan, into another branch of his crowd-pleasing Negrense-Filipino eatery Sarsa, trading his honeyed, ramen-inspired, Madrid Fusion-approved batchoy for something more traditional and less sweet. While Kafe Batwan had its own cultish following, more of the guests who stepped inside the Anglo-marked premises were in search for the chef’s straight-up specialties.
Chef JP is hardly conservative when it comes to cooking Filipino food. He fried some chicken, served it with a tart sauce, then rechristened it into a version of sinigang. He wrapped up his famous chicken inasal and rice in a sheet of tortilla then called it a burrito. Capitalizing on that effect, he then came up with bite-sized spring rolls on Sarsa’s third birthday. Tender beef ribs are served with a savory cream, like a non-sizzling but true-to-flavor play on sizzling bulalo. It isn’t orthodox, but the chef knows how to tread the line between practical alterations and established flavors.
It is difficult to talk about elevation and progression without touching on authenticity. But Chef Myke Tatung Sarthou, at his new Filipino restaurant, Agos, sums it up pretty well for us.
"What is authentic anyway? Filipino cuisine is made up of influences. Kamoteng kahoy, those other root crops that take up a chunk of Filipino food came from the Galleon Trade. If it’s grown here, then that should be Filipino enough." Perhaps this obsession with authenticity should be redirected to integrity instead.
It’s tough to “elevate” any cuisine that is rooted in tradition, but TMG’s Abba Napa reminded her chefs to never lose sight of the fundamentals of Filipino flavor. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Every liberty we took with a traditional Filipino dish wasn’t to change it that it becomes unrecognizable. It’s to enhance what makes it so good to begin with. She tells us about their best-selling watermelon sinigang, conceptualized by co-founder Eli Antonino. “It doesn’t change the DNA of what a sinigang is. It still satisfies everything you look for in the soup.”
Not everyone has the skill to do this—to look forward but still be anchored in the past. Certainly, there’s no condoning a halo-halo with gummi bears, but there are other, more acceptable ways to update Filipino food.
Consider it an improvement not an amendment. “French techniques involve serving hot food hot, cold food cold, soft meat soft, crispy skin crispy…," explains Zaguirre. Consider the beef pares in front of you. It looks like what you’re used to, tastes even better than what you’re used to. Does it really matter if it's confit?
This snobbery for revisions feels unwarranted. On the one hand, we’ve accepted that difference is what binds Filipino cooking together. We can’t unite and support one kind of adobo because we have unconditional loyalty for whatever kind is stewing in our personal kitchen. We know the cooking at one friend’s house will be different from our own. Ironically though, when a restaurant comes up with something slightly different, we turn up our noses.
“All Filipino households have their own ‘best’ recipes from titas, lolos, lolas. My concern at that time was how we would entice our guests to come back,” says Zaguirre. Locavore understood that they had to exercise caution in navigating through a clientele that already harbors “homegrown” favorites, impressing them enough to want to eat Filipino food from beyond their own kitchens. The solution was to come up with a characterful menu, make it something distinctly Locavore.
“It’s like when you have guests in your house, you make your own version of pasta or roast chicken.” Put that way, it’s hard to be argumentative.
Napa looks for balance. Old school will always be craved, but novelty is what makes us turn to look. She inputs, “Modern interpretations are exciting and fun and they showcase talents, but it may not necessarily be an everyday dining experience.” Manam may very well be on their way; their crispy sisig is already the stuff of habits.
Geography is why our bloods boil when someone tries to play with Filipino food. We’re too close to home—heck, we are at home. It’s understandable that we shake our heads at a brand new way of presenting pinangat. We know it well and we can detect an impostor as quickly as we can sense something is out of place in our bedroom. There’s nothing wrong with it, which is why we don’t believe “improvements” are necessary.
But nobody said anything was wrong. We wanted Filipino food to make it big. We clapped our hands whenever a major critic or international publication gives us a rave review; we fed it to every international influencer that we thought could spread our flavors. Finally, we’ve stopped being dare food, we’re no longer the cuisine for thrill-seekers who can stomach bird embryos, congealed pork blood, and ox brains (it sounds very French when we say it like that). Wake up. The lines of locale, color, and culture are being blurred everywhere else. Food, included. Right now, the world is looking at in-your-face flavors: fermented, pickled, fiery-hot, and Filipino cuisine is stepping up to fill the need. Elevated Filipino food is happening—and killing overseas.
This global triumph that we patiently craved is leading to that turning point: when chefs who didn’t grow up with lolas cooking tinola will attempt their own version. We’re protective. We get it. It’s as if we’re safeguarding our family values. But the person who invented the milkshake isn’t rolling around in his grave with the gaudy fashions we’ve been bestowed upon the humble drink. Who are we to wage a war against some gummi bears? Filipino food will evolve. We've given it away and we can't take it back anymore. It will acclimatize to the palates of wherever it goes next. As other cooks try to decipher it or, we daresay, appropriate it, it will develop a new kind of history. We just have to deal with it. Let them cook whatever we want because no matter what the rest of the world does, everyone knows the best Filipino food is still the ones at home. So pat yourselves on the back. Relax. We've made it.