I have strong opinions about the Filipino food industry. Yes, strong opinions.
Here’s a fact that surprised me on our last trip to the Philippines in 2009: upscale, trendy and mouth-wateringly wonderful Filipino restaurants do exist! Shocker!
Now, before you get ready to draw and quarter me, hear me out. I love Filipino food. I love the Filipino cultural norm that dictates that food is central to family and social gatherings. BUT, I think that Filipino restaurant food is vastly underrated in North America and perhaps Europe (at least in London). Why? Because I’ve never been to a Filipino restaurant (outside of the Philippines) that has successfully combined good ambiance with good food. (And believe me, we’ve looked.) Don’t get me wrong. There are many spots that serve up great Filipino classics – but most of the time, it’s in a dingy basement, a pseudo-grocery store or out of a home-catering business. Why should Filipino food be relegated to the local “hole in the wall”?
But on our most recent trip to the Philippines, we got to eat at great places like M Cafe, Mary Grace Cafe, Aristocrat, Abe and Sentro – all of them dishing out authentic, well-presented meals in an attractive setting. Not necessarily inexpensive by local standards – but fine examples of what could be accomplished abroad.
I wish I’d been more camera ready then, but here are just a few examples:
Traditional Filipino Breakfast at M Cafe. Garlic fried rice served with an easy over egg, smoked fish (daing) and cured pork (tocino). Finished with a basil roasted tomato. Traditional with a twist!
Mary Grace Cafe’s twist on a Filipino breakfast, also known as longsilog (for longanisa sausage, sinangag, itlog). Longanisa is a small, sweet sausage which is best when homemade (in my opinion). Sinangag is garlic fried rice and itlog is egg. Even more traditional, but still attractive and appetizing. Mary Grace also served up fantastic drinks (such as Peppermint and Fruit Iced Tea – see my recipe) – and all in a homey cafe environment.
Sentro was one of our favourites. They managed to make sinigang (tamarind stew) and kare kare (peanut curry) look enticing. A nice touch was the deep-fried carabao cheese (kesong puti).
Moral of the story? It’s possible to present even the most obscure Filipino stew as delicious. Strangely enough, I found some of the street food in the Philippines more attractive than some of what I’ve seen in North American Filipino eateries.
What do you think? How can Filipino food be marketed successfully in the West? Do you know of any nice Filipino restaurants outside of Asia? How can Filipino restaurants improve?