The pioneers, the 2nd-gen, and social media: Their role in elevating Philippine cuisine

Consul General Tess Dizon-De Vega with chefs and restaurant owners: A variety of platform and chefs with their own creative ideas pushed Philippine cuisine to the forefront

By Cristina DC Pastor

We love to eat, we have great tasting food, why not invite our American friends to enjoy our favorite food and have a captivating conversation about culture over servings of ‘adobo’ and ‘balut’?

That seems to be the motivation behind Filipino Restaurant Week (FRW), a flagship project of the Philippine Consulate. From May 15 to 22, 18 restaurants in New York and New Jersey will offer their best dishes at a fixed price.

Grill 21 on East 21st Street will offer a Silog brunch for two people for $25, a lunch choice of Bistek, Grilled Pork Belly, or Dinuguan for $25, and a dinner choice of Crispy Pata, Pancit, Bulalo, or Kare-Kare for $35. Appetizers, rice, and soda come with the price.

Ugly Kitchen in the East Village has a Kamayan Night for $35 per person. Imagine how much more enthused your conversation is going to be if you have to explain to your guests why eating with the hands is perfectly OK. And why this dining tradition, at one time considered socially taboo, is now given a trendy revival by some Filipino restaurants in NYC.

Swell Dive will be hitting the ground running, opening FRW for breakfast. This taco joint in Brooklyn will be serving Breakfast Tacos, Chips and Queso and non-alcoholic drinks for $25.

Jeepney in the East Village is including Balut in its $25 per person brunch offering, together with Fried Tripe, Lumpia, Silogs, and its famous Chori Burger, which won NYC’s Battle of the Burger in 2014. For dinner at $38 per person, the meal is a choice of Bicol Express, Inasal Manok or Pancit Malabon.

In Brooklyn, Purple Yam’s FRW menu does not sound like your mother’s everyday home-cooked dishes. Bacalao with Laing, Duck Leg Adobo, Noritaco with Heirloom Rice, Grilled Pork Chop Waray, are just some of them.

Filipino Restaurant Week’s participating restaurants bring their best plates forward during media launch. Photos by Boyet Loverita

Filipino Restaurant Week’s participating restaurants bring their best plates forward during media launch. Photos by Boyet Loverita

“There are now a variety of platforms that showcase street food, home-cooked comfort food, Filipino fusion, or culinary heritage cuisine,” said Consul General Tess Dizon-De Vega during the media launch on May 3 attended by chefs and restaurant owners.

Just as important, she added, are the different chefs “who put their personal stamp, their own creative twist on Philippine cuisine thereby transforming it, making it reach a larger or a more diverse audience.”

The debate over who and what started the so-called Philippine food revolution of the last five or six years continues. Food author and researcher Clang Garcia believes it may have started in San Francisco by a group of second-generation FilAms who gathered chefs around America and served what she called “curated cuisine.”

“They managed to win a lot of attention,” she said at the launch event.

Dizon-De Vega noted that Philippine food may have been elevated before the mainstream by the likes of Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, both celebrity chefs and TV personalities. But credit for the explosion in the popularity of Philippine cuisine goes equally to pioneers, such as Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa of 1990s Cendrillon in Manhattan (and now Purple Yam in Brooklyn), the second-generation restaurateurs like Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney and Maharlika who promoted Balut through an eating contest, and Aris Tuazon of Ugly Kitchen.

“These are the second-generation FilAms who sort of took Filipino cuisine and said, we want to do this, we want to promote, we want to represent (Filipino food),” she said.

Not to be taken for granted are the restaurants, like Max’s in Jersey City, that root for well-loved traditional comfort food. They are equally a big part of the food movement, she said.

Social media has made a huge impact in raising the profile of Filipino food, said Philippe Garcesto, who represented Jeepney and Maharlika at the media launch.

“We’re getting Snapchatted, we’re getting Instagrammed,” he said. “It’s good to see that, good to see our cuisine everywhere.”

Other participating restaurants –

Kuma Inn
Lumpia Shack Snack Bar
Maison Hugo
Megu
Payag Restaurant
Tito Rad’s Grill
Phil-Am Kusina
Noodle Fan
Pinoy Filipino Restaurant
Calesa Restaurant
Sisig City Food Truck

‘Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern’ featured the Philippines on the Travel Channel. ‘Balut,’ or fertilized duck egg, earned a special mention for being weirdly exotic. Photo: The Travel Channel

‘Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern’ featured the Philippines on the Travel Channel. ‘Balut,’ or fertilized duck egg, earned a special mention for being weirdly exotic. Photo: The Travel Channel

Copyright © 2017 The FilAm



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