By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes
In almost every corner in the world you will find a little Chinese restaurant. Like the famed dumplings, Asian treats like sushi, pad thai, kimchee, curry, or pho have forever enjoyed the warm spotlight on the international dining table while our humble adobo grows cold in the shadows. But soon all that may change. Filipino cuisine, a melting pot of flavors from different cultures, is about to make its global debut, steaming and bursting with fresh flavors.
Filipino fare may be a bit strange to the foreign tongue, but the world is craving for new unusual flavors. According to an article in Thrillist, America is looking for a new East Asian food obsession and “signs are pointing to a boom in Filipino food.” The spark of that flavor explosion started a few years back when Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods told Today.com that two years from now Filipino food is “going to be the next big thing.” He revealed this in 2012. That was about two years ago which means that the time for adobo is now.
“It’s just starting,” Zimmern explained. “I think it’s going to take another year and a half to get up to critical mass, but everybody loves Chinese food, Thai food, Japanese food, and it’s all been exploited. The Filipinos combined the best of all of that with Spanish technique.” Add our Indonesian, Malaysian, and even American influences are thrown into the pot along with our indigenous flavors and techniques from over 7,000 islands, making into one exciting cuisine.
We’re blessed with fertile land and oceans teeming with the freshest catch for us to create flavors and food art that should open the global palate to us. Our creativity and our practice of using every part of the ingredient (pig blood, chicken intestines, etc.) and using pork in almost every dish should make Filipino fare even more intriguing to whet the world’s appetite.
Looking sexy for 2014
Last year, in addition to Zimmern’s thumbs up, he also named Pinoy food as one of the highlights of 2013. In People.com, he named “brilliant Filipino food” as one of the highs of 2013, second to cronuts. “This is the year, finally, that Pinoy foods have their day in the sun.”
Other food authorities are backing up Zimmern’s endorsement. Details magazine named Philippine fare as “the next great Asian food trend” and Zagat, an influential travel and food guide, named Pinoy Cuisine as one of the most exciting emerging cuisines. At the start of this year, Thrillist, a men’s lifestyle brand, was thrilled to report that Lumpia, Adobo, Pancit, Menudo, Inasal, Kare-kare, and Lechon Kawali will be the next East Asian food obsession.
Meanwhile Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit claims that this year will be all about Filipino inspired food, greatly influencing how the world eats. Perhaps foodies are looking for a new twist on the pad thai or are finally acquiring the taste for oxtail stew livened with shrimp paste. Although considered strange, confusing, and even ugly (pig blood stew, anyone?), it is now considered as one of the sexiest cuisines in the world.
Tracing the movement
Zimmern predicted that the food explosion will start in the West Coast where Filipinos are the second largest Asian ethnicity group. “San Diego is now a big enough ethnic population of Filipinos that chefs are going there and seeing stuff. I think it’ll creep up into Los Angeles and from there go around the rest of the country.”
The irresistible fragrance of adobo can already be detected in other parts of the country, particularly in one of the culinary capitals of the world, New York. Pig and Khao earned a review from New York Times for their menu which includes quail adobo and sizzling sisig put together by former Top Chef contestant Leah Cohen.
Then there’s Maharlika which serves the original “fusion cuisine”, offering dishes like Eggs iMelda served with pandesal, taro-root laing, grilled prawns with kalamansi hollandaise, and kamote fries fit only for the Imeldific. Maharlika’s successful sister Jeepney, a gastro pub, serves longganisa on a hot dog bun drizzled with bagoong relish.
Dale Talde, also a Top Chef favorite, is cooking up Filipino-Asian-American dishes in his restaurant in Brooklyn, earning for himself a “smart and skillful” review from New York Times. Paul Qui, another alumni of the show, is transforming the humble dinuguan into gourmet fare. “…the Filipino foods movement will one day be traceable to Paul Qui serving dinuguan (pork blood stew) at his restaurant Qui in Austin, Texas,” revealed Zimmern.
Close by Cristina Quakenbush serves the “soul food of southeast Asia” with her signature bangus which is hailed as “utterly unique and a real showstopper.” From her restaurant Milkfish in New Orleans, Quakenbush is happy to report that “(Filipino food) is gaining popularity.”
The main entrees are not the only ones making raves. Halo-halo, a sweet conclusion to a Filipino meal, is gaining popularity. After all, what better represents the hodgepodge Filipino cuisine than a perplexing mix of beans, garbanzos, plantains, coconut sport, tapioca, cheese, and any kind of treat you can think of dumped on shaved ice. Talde tops his halo-halo with Cap’n Crunch, making it a highly recommended dish by New York Times.
Anthony Bourdain may not have been too impressed with Filipino cuisine during his visit to the country, cutting out scenes featuring a respected culinary institution in the country from his show, but a trip to Jollibee, L.A. is making him take a second bite. “It makes no goddamn sense at all,” Bourdain commented about the halo-halo. “I love it,” he smiled, taking a picture of the dessert and later posting it on Twitter, because it was “oddly beautiful.” And after enjoying a Jollibee burger, he concludes “there is so much I don’t know.” Maybe it dawned on him that there is more to Philippine cuisine than just the “best pig ever”.
There is no question, adobo and the rest of the menu is taking over America, and the Filipino food movement cannot be contained in one country. Neighboring countries are already catching a whiff of the mouthwatering aroma, tickling their taste buds. Filipino food is a force to reckon with. After all, who should know food better than the food loving Filipino who eats at least five meals a day? It is no wonder why Manila is now considered as one of the world’s newest culinary capitals by a couple of food experts. Those who want to debunk this should first wolf down a plateful of fluffy rice topped by garlicky adobo and finish it off with an oddly beautiful cold dessert before passing judgment.