Can Filipino cuisine be considered mainstream, if kamayan feasts are the only visible Filipino food? Not too sure.
The buzz around Filipino food:
It only went to Kamayan feasts
BY: LOUISE ALLYN PALMA
Filipino food was suspected to be the next food trend in 2016 to 2017. Andrew Zimmern, food writer and host of “Bizarre Foods” predicted that Filipino food would become the next “big thing.” Vogue called it the “original fusion food,” in its 2017 article called “How Filipino Food Is Becoming the Next Great American Cuisine.” The late influential chef Anthony Bourdain, believed that Filipino food would become a current food trend as well. But just as quickly as they caught onto the trend, it died out.
Instagram is a space to flaunt dishes anyone indulges in. When Filipino food comes up on the explore page; it will (usually) be a beautiful array of barbequed meats, grilled seafood and vegetables with rice peeking underneath the ulam (viand) laying on a blanket of banana leaves.
This is kamayan/boodle fight, and according to Gazel Manuel, a researcher at Carleton University, “It’s so Instagram worthy. You can’t deny now that aesthetic plays a big role in food.”
But kamayan cannot represent the entire Philippine cuisine.
Hover over the cover photo, to find out what was in little asia's kamayan feast for our documentary! And for a full review of the restaurant (tinuno), click here!
There are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, each home to a diverse regional identity. Plus, Spanish, Chinese and American colonizers also influenced Filipino cuisine. It’s no surprise assortments of regional cuisines emerged.
“There’s no such thing as a unified national Filipino cuisine,” Manuel said.
Jaeybee Martinito, marketing manager of Filipino restaurant, Wilson’s Haus of Lechon said, “There are many different ways to cook lechon (roasted pig). Cebu style is more on the saltier side, and a lot of non-Cebuanos will either like it or they don’t.”
Historian Adrian DeLeon, at University of Toronto reflects on Filipino food through the lens of his Ilokano identity (a common dialect/ majority population mainly based in northern Luzon), “Everyone has different encounters with what Filipino food looks like. For example, I cannot talk to a Cebuano person about who does pork better. But it’s a fun thing because there is no uniformity.”
A 2016 Statistics Canada census revealed over 2 million people made up the visible minority in Toronto.
Over 150, 000 were Filipino, yet accessing Filipino cuisine is difficult.
“Population does not equate to a positive correlation with the number of ethnic restaurants,” Manuel explained. Susan Perras, co-owner of Filipino Fusion Desserts with Rechie Valdez is still reminded by her Filipino mother to submit a job application for the post office to pursue a stable job due to the hardships of being in the culinary business.
“You could be a great cook, but [Filipinos] might be too afraid to go out, start a restaurant because it’s hard,” Perras said.
“Filipinos traditionally work in different sectors. There’s no draw to entrepreneurship in that way… It’s a high risk, low reward job in the initial stages. Why do an entrepreneurship when you can get a job somewhere else? It might not pay as big but it’s stable to support your family and send money back to the Philippines,” Manuel said.
" We just don't go into entrepreneurship and that's reflected in our restaurants too.
So, in a way we should encourage the future generation -
if you want to make it happen, go into the culinary industry."
- GAZEL MANUEL
Wilson’s Haus of Lechon is located in Wilson and Bathurst. No secret to the Filipino community that this North York neighbourhood is the hub for Filipino cuisine, but only now it’s emerging as the go-to spot for Filipino food to the public. It’s even affectionately known as “Little Manila.”
“Filipino restaurants were not marketed to a non-Filipino demographic… Think of it from the point of view from an outsider, they come and see the food on the buffet line and say, ‘What the hell is this?’ Because there’s no labels. It’s inaccessible to the outside. And that’s completely understandable because it’s not for them,” Manuel explained.
DeLeon mentioned this divide, “A foreigner comes in, the first thing they do is point to a black stew and then say, ‘What’s that?’ And you’re forced to say, ‘This is dinuguan (pork blood stew).’ We’re constantly negotiating what Philippine cuisine looks like,” he said.
Lester Sabilano, owner/ manager of Lamesa explained how the vision for his restaurant was to specifically cater to the Toronto community.
“I wanted to change what people think about Filipino cooking,” he explained. His restaurant takes a high-end approach to visual presentation, which isn’t something Filipino cuisine is known for.
Filipino Fusion Desserts blends traditional westernized baking with Filipino flavours like, ube (purple yam) cannolis, macarons, cheesecakes or cupcakes. (As seen above)
For Filipino food to be considered mainstream, it is up to this generation of Filipino chefs. “A lot of them are motivated by representation – they want Filipino cuisine to be mainstream, they want a space to articulate their cultures and it so happens that it’s in food,” Manuel found speaking to these chefs.
"If you’re trying to break in to people’s appetite, then it needs to be number one appealing. And after they’ve seen it and they feel drawn to it – when they eat it, then it has to be damn good. It has to have the look factor, and taste good."
- RECHIE VALDEZ
To accommodate an entire Toronto community, is it possible to lose the Philippine roots in cooking?
Valdez and Perras are not just Filipino. Valdez was born in Zambia, Africa while Perras is half-Jamaican, both women are Canadian; reflected their identities and experiences into their desserts.
Manuel thought adjustment to Filipino cuisine was “wrong.” But now she sees that restaurants reflect the identity of its chefs. “They shouldn’t be bound to weird authenticity standards that don’t really exist. Like authenticity is still subjective, there is no objective way to say something is authentic because what authentic means is different for any other person.”
Kamayan may be a way for Philippine cuisine to get their foot in the door. Manuel refers to it as a “gimmick,” While DeLeon counteracts, “they make kind of like culinary tourism event out of it… It’s interesting because it’s not the stewy dishes, it’s not all Filipino food.”
Want to know what the iconic Filipino dish to the right is? Continue scrolling to find the recipe!
Photo courtesy from top down (including recipe photos): Nida Zafar, Eiliv-Sonas Aceron (Unsplash,) Wilson's Haus of Lechon, Filipino Fusion Desserts, Eiliv-Sonas Aceron (Unsplash), Ivan Torres (Unsplash) and Jonathan Valencia (Pixabay).
FILIPINO RECIPES FOR YOU TO TRY AT HOME
Let's try something other than kamayan!
Get deep into the Filipino culture by trying out some of these recipes!