Of Thin Skins and Filipino Food

Thursday, August 19, 2010 55 comments
Lumpiang Sariwa
How much do I love Filipino food? Very much. So, please forgive me for being giddy with pride that this cuisine in which I find great pleasure, satiety and comfort seems to be on everyone's lips, if not immediately in their bellies.

Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate.com posted an article heralding Filipino food as possibly the next big dining trend. It has certainly been gaining momentum: fellow food bloggers Nastassia of Let Me Eat Cake and Marvin of Burnt Lumpia, launched their food truck juggernaut, Manila Machine and are storming LA's streets and Twitter's stream, while in San Francisco, the Asian Culinary Forum's 2010 Symposium in May highlighted Filipino Flavors: Tradition & Innovation, featuring such cooking luminaries as IACP winner Amy Besa. If anyone can speak to the prospects of Filipino food joining the ranks of other national cuisines in capturing the American palate, it's Besa and her partner Romy Dorotan, who have demonstrated with their restaurants Cendrillon (now closed) and Purple Yam, that Pinoy cookery has the sophistication to stand among the best in New York City's dining scene. And Filipino food can now be found in the vast expanse between the two Coasts, including here in Minneapolis where Subo ("To feed" in Tagalog) has enjoyed success with its small-plate versions of Filipino classics such as lechon kawali (deep-fried pork belly).

Pork Quartet (clockwise from top left):
Crispy Pata, Sizzlig Sisig, Tokwat Baboy (Tofu & Pork), Pork BBQ skewers
It's an exciting time for a cuisine belonging to the 2nd largest Asian subgroup in the US, but has yet to step out from the shadow of its better-known Thai, Vietnamese and Korean counterparts. I am rediscovering it myself and finally developing a greater appreciation for its flavors and the connections to home and culture it creates. In early blog posts, I shared how eating Filipino food helps me maintain my identity as a Filipina and I continue to explore the ways in which we use food to express our cultural, social and ethnic affinities, both as individuals and as part of a group.

But I've learned that the mirror has two faces: while our food choices reflect back to us our sense of self, they may also serve as signals for others to use in forming judgments about us. When I enjoy food from other culinary traditions, it often sparks questions about the people and the culture from which they originated. Why is a dish cooked in a particular manner? Are the ingredients indigenous to the land, and if not, how did it get there - by trade, conquest or immigration? Is it everyday food or festival fare? Peasant cookery made elite or fancy dish brought down to earth? Occasionally, the question is, Why in the world would anyone eat this stuff?

Hopefully, the last query holds a genuine interest in understanding the reasons why certain foods that I might find unappealing figure prominently in a national cuisine. And I hope that I do not make a summary judgment of an entire culinary tradition (and by extension, its native diners) based on a few dishes, as some have recently done, much to my pained dismay.

Sticks and Stones May Break My bones, But Words Can Cut as Deeply

Judging by the comments posted on the SFGate.com article, it would be an understatement to say that many readers were largely unimpressed by Filipino food. While some people expressed their enjoyment of it, others thoughtfully yet pessimistically opined that it would ultimately fail to catch on, due to unfamiliar flavors or perceived unhealthy qualities. But a significant proportion of comments were not simply negative - they were downright vitriolic. Words such as disgusting, gross and nasty peppered the entries. Worst food on the planet, wrote one. Could barely keep from throwing up, said another. Statements perpetuated beliefs that Filipino food in general is 1) either totally bland or too sour/salty/sweet; 2) visually unappealing; and 3) greasy, fattening and unhealthy. As proof, readers who offered these conclusions based on personal eating experience named the same five dishes: lumpia, pancit, adobo, dinuguan and balut.

Quartet of Filipino Classics (clockwise from top left):
Shrimp & Vegetable Lumpia, Pancit Bihon, Fried Bangus (Milkfish) Belly, Dinuguan
Common sense tells me to ignore these comments as mean-spirited, ill-informed and likely deliberate to get a rise out of some thin-skinned Filipina, yet I couldn't help but feel their sting. It's no salve to say that the comments were not personal when they so effectively hit close to the deeply personal. Filipino food is important to me as a connection to my heritage, making such criticisms quite painful to read. Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who* you are, Brillat-Savarin so famously wrote, but in this context and by these opinions, such an assessment is less than flattering. Perhaps I am rising to the bait, but I can not let it go without addressing some of these misperceptions.

Filipino food is so much more than the aforementioned five dishes, which are constantly trotted out either as an easy-on-the-Western-sensibilities introduction to the cuisine, or as a Fear Factor-esque gastro-challenge. And it certainly deserves more respect and understanding than these terse, pitiable comments would suggest. This is what I would like people to know about 'my' food:

Sinigang na Lapu Lapu
Filipino food is flavorful. One of the cuisine's best attributes is its embrace of all five tastes - bitter, sour, salty, sweet and savory (umami). Many might consider the first two quite unpleasant, but as challenging as they are to the palate, they enliven the tastebuds when done right. Hot soup in a tropical clime is actually refreshing when it's Sinigang (sour soup), with its tartness coming not from acidic vinegar but from the sweet-tempered sourness of tamarind and other native fruits. In the dish Ginisang Ampalaya (sautéed bitter melon), the acrid flavor of the vegetable combines with sweet onions, pungent patis (fish sauce) and fluffy eggs to soften the bitterness. Filipinos love contrasting flavors that others may find jarring, but the principles of which should be familiar; for instance, dried salted fish (tuyo) heightens the sweetness of a bowl of champorado (chocolate rice porridge), much like how sea salt magnifies the flavor of dark chocolate or caramel.

Pancit Palabok
Filipino food is colorful. The Infamous Five (lumpia, pancit, adobo, dinuguan and balut) share one unfortunate trait - an appearance of varying shades of brown, ranging from greyish-beige to deep chocolate. If this is all one has to go by in judging the visual appeal of Filipino food, then one might be forgiven for pegging the whole as muddy-looking. In truth, there is vivid flair to this vibrant fare, thanks to fresh fruits, vegetables and a variety of spices. Atsuete (annatto) lends an orange brightness to Pancit Palabok (noodles with shrimp sauce), while turmeric bathes Guinataang Sugpo (prawns in coconut milk) in a sunny hue. From tropical fruits in their natural skins to handmade candies gaily wrapped in cellophane, Filipino food is a delicious kaleidoscope.

Minaluto
with kangkong (water spinach), shrimp, crab
red salted egg and braised pork over rice
Filipino food is not entirely unhealthy. It's a rather limp defense, I know, but there's no denying the undeniable - Filipinos' fondness for fried food, requisite steamed white rice at every meal and the fatty parts of the pig leave the cuisine teetering on the edge of nutritional purgatory. Thankfully, there is plenty of lighter fare to keep it in healthy equilibrium. Steaming is a favorite cooking method, from sweet rice cakes to one-bamboo-bowl meals, such as the vegetables and seafood in Minaluto. For every pulutan (appetizer) of sizzling Sisig, there is Kinilaw - fresh raw fish 'cooked' in a vinegar, garlic, ginger and chili pepper marinade (which may also include coconut milk). If Crispy Pata (deep-fried pork leg) is a bit too rich, then Inasal na Manok (grilled chicken) - marinated in a garlic, lemongrass and coconut vinegar mixture, and tinted a warm orange by atsuete/annatto oil - is a tasty alternative. But lest you think it's all protein, Filipino food is also green: Ensaladang Pakô (fiddlehead fern salad) is a simple toss of tender leaves, onion, and tomatoes in a vinegar dressing, while Ensaladang Latô (seaweed salad) offers bursts of briny flavor.

Ensaladang Latô

An Edible and Indelible Story

A nation's cuisine is the story of its people, writ in spices and seasonings, fruits and vegetables, fish and fowl. It is characterized by which edible resources are abundant or scarce, and which are indigenous or introduced from the outside. It tells of traditions, customs and methods that have been adopted through millenia of mutual trade or imposed by centuries of conquest, then blended with those that are unique and original to the land and the people. This is Filipino food.

Colorful food:
Bright calamansi, pineapples & array of dishes
We can learn a lot about a culture from its foodways, but to make a judgment of its entirety based on a single experience or a handful of dishes is like declaring that an epic novel is fully read after glancing at the summary on the inside flap of the book's jacket. While this post falls far short of demonstrating the depth of variety and complexity of Filipino cuisine, I hope that it is enough to encourage those of you who may not have had the best first taste, to try again, and those of you who have yet to try for the first time, not to be put off from doing so.

Please visit the links given for the dishes mentioned above - they will lead to some of my favorite Pinoy food bloggers all over the world. I also highly recommend following @filipinofood on Twitter for all the latest in Filipino food goings-on. And be sure to check out Siegfred, alias Mr. Kitchenero, whose site myfilipinokitchen includes links to even more blogs in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, and offers historical background and thoughtful musings about Filipino cuisine.


Refreshing drinks made with only fresh fruit, water and ice:
Grape, Dalandan (Sweet Orange) and Green Mango


Lumpiang Sariwa

Lumpia, particularly the small, meat-filled kind known as 'lumpiang shanghai', is one of the most popular and well-known of Pinoy dishes. However, it is not always deep-fried: sariwa refers to 'fresh' lumpia (which is to say 'not fried'). These spring rolls differ from the Vietnamese and Thai varieties in their wrappers - whereas the latter use translucent rice paper wrappers, lumpiang sariwa are made with an egg-and-flour crêpe** and are most often compared to Malyasian and Singaporean popiah.
Lumpiang Sariwa with Sweet Sauce
Along with my interest in learning to cook Filipino food, I am also trying to make use of the wonderful seasonal produce here in Minnesota. The idea of incorporating local ingredients into a global recipe has inspired me to be more creative with my cooking. So, when I was recently asked to do a cooking demonstration at the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, I thought about introducing a Filipino recipe that would make use of the market's current bounty - lumpiang sariwa fit the bill perfectly. A simple sauté of meat, vegetables, garlic and onion, is rolled in lettuce leaf and delicate crêpe, then topped with a sweet and savory sauce. I used locally-raised pork and summer's-peak carrots and green beans, but feel free to switch it up with shrimp or ground chicken and autumn parsnips, or go all vegetarian with meaty portobello mushrooms. Contrary to what some have said, this dish is a delicious example of Filipino foods' lovely, fresh and versatile side.

**Correction 10/19/2012: Karen, a Filipino food and culture researcher and author of The Pilgrim's Pots and Pans, kindly pointed out via Twitter that lumpiang sariwa is not characterized by crêpe-like wrappers:
"[C]rêpes are lumpia wrappers for special occasions…For everyday fresh lumpia, the regular eggless wrapper is used…"
Thank you for the clarification, Karen!


Makes approximately 10-12 rolls

Sauce

2 cups chicken broth
4 Tbsps brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsps cornstarch
1/3 cup water

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients except cornstarch and water. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Dissolve cornstarch in water, then add to the broth mixture, stirring slowly as you pour the slurry into the saucepan. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring continuously to keep the sauce from clumping or sticking to the bottom. When the sauce has thickened, remove from heat and set aside until ready to serve.

Filling

2 Tbsps canola or vegetable oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced small - about 1/2 cup
1" piece of ginger, minced
1 lb fresh ground pork
1/2 cup finely shredded carrots
1 cup thinly sliced green beans, cut on diagonal
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onions and quickly stir-fry until they are fragrant and softened, but not browned. Add ginger and stir, then add ground pork, using a spatula or wooden spoon to break up the meat so that it is crumbly. Stir-fry until the meat is cooked through. Add carrots and green beans, and continue to stir-fry until the vegetables are soft but still a bit crisp. Add salt to taste. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to fill the wrappers.

Wrappers (crêpes)
(recipe adapted from Flavors of the Philippines by Glenda Rosales-Barretto)

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
3 eggs, well beaten
2-1/2 cups water

Sift flour and salt into a medium bowl, then add eggs, oil and water, and whisk briskly until batter is smooth. Its consistency should be thinner than pancake batter but not too runny. Heat a 10" to 12" nonstick pan over medium heat and add a scant 1/3 cup (approximately 3 Tbsps) of batter, tilting the pan in a circular motion so that the batter spreads out to form a round. Cook until the top no longer looks moist and is dry to the touch. Unlike pancakes, the batter will not bubble on top and it cooks very quickly. Using your spatula, gently slide the crêpe out of the pan onto a platter. Repeat with remainder of the batter.

Be careful: hot crêpes are quite delicate and can tear easily. Stack finished wrappers on top of each other and allow to cool before assembling the lumpia.
Ground pork with shredded parsnips and napa cabbage

Assembling Lumpiang Sariwa

Wrappers (above)
Mix of spring or baby lettuce leaves, or whole lettuce leaves
Filling (above)
Sauce (above)
Optional: crushed roasted peanuts or cashews

Place one cooled crêpe on a plate or flat surface. Arrange a small handful of leaves (or one leaf, rib removed) down the center but not all the way to the bottom. Spoon about 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling mixture on top of the lettuce, lengthwise. Gently pick up bottom edge of the wrapper and fold upward. Then, pick up edge of one side and fold over the lettuce and filling, tucking it gently under the filling. Pick up the opposite edge and fold over; the crêpe should cling to itself to form a seal. Carefully arrange the lumpia on a platter or dish, seam side up, and spoon sauce over it. For a traditional presentation, sprinkle with crushed nuts.

Kain na Tayo!
[Let's eat!]

55 comments:

  • doggybloggy said...

    let me be the first to say that all these dishes look exceptional - and let me say also that one of my most favorite lunch spots - a filipino buffet - has closed! Most disappointing.

  • ♥¸¸.•*¨Skip to Malou¨¨*•.¸¸♥¸ said...

    Excellent round up on Filipino Food. I applaud you for this post. I try to showcase Filipino food in my own little way thru my blog. Hopefully we will get there.. in the mainstream, where it should belong in the first place.
    Your lumpiang sariwa looks refreshingly good... it's one of the "healthy" looking dishes that we have.

  • chef_d said...

    I love this post! I remember Claude Tayag (who is a very respected painter, sculptor, funiture designer, food and travel columnist) defended Filipino food too. I have often wondered why there isn't more global awareness of our cuisine. I really hope we will have our own time to shine on the global food stage very soon.

  • Liren said...

    One of my favorite posts, Tracey. You've tackled this topic so very well. I've always wondered how Filipino cuisine has not penetrated the mainstream palate, but at the same time, i am always amazed at how many people I meet that have a Filipino/a friend and has been exposed to dishes they find delicious. I do credit the efforts of restaurants such as Cendrillon and Purple Yam to move the general public's perception of our food from turo-turo to elegant. With this revolution we're experiencing in SF, it's such an exciting time!

    Love your lumpiang sariwa - one of my favorites!

  • 5 Star Foodie said...

    I have to admit that prior to blogging I didn't know too much about Filipino specialties but I have enjoyed learning about them on your blog and many others and I think it's an amazing cuisine. And this dish is just wonderful from the delicious sweet sauce and the filling and perfectly delicate crepes, just excellent!

  • UrMomCooks said...

    You had me at the delicious looking crepe in ur opening pic, but I enjoyed the journey thru Filipino cooking. Your posts are always so thoughtful and compelling. I now realize that I knew nothing about this cuisine. Thanks for a great post and a lovely recipe!

  • Caroline said...

    I read the SFGate article on SFGate & was excited about all the new Filipino restaurants in SF. The excitement though turned to frustration and anger once I read the comments. Sometimes you can't ignore them and just had to set ignorant people straight so thank you for writing this post. And thank you for reminding us that we Filipinos need to show pride in our food, it is part of our culture after all.

  • jcarsi said...

    Thank you for this sensible post...sometimes, the unfamiliar invokes reluctance or fear. Filipino food does deserve to have its time in the culinary world!

  • Trissa said...

    Congratulations on your post! I loved it! Really - truly - thank you for defending our wonderful cuisine. And the Lumpia- you make it look sooo good! I've yet to make my own wrapper - I'm impressed.

  • The Diva on a Diet said...

    Dear Noodle - I so thoroughly enjoyed this cultural culinary tour! My only experience of Filipino food is pancit and lumpia - and I adore both! I, for one, would be happy to see this cuisine take off - as its difficult to find ... or maybe I don't know where to look?

    I just love that you've taken the opportunity to use the local and seasonal ingredients here and, honestly, I wish you delivered ... because I'd like to have your lumpiang sariwa right this minute. :)

    Please don't let those insensitive words cut too deep, they don't know what they're talking about ... but you really do!

    xoxoxo

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    Looks so tasty! Those negative commenters on Filipino food either had bad Filipino food or have tongues that have not been exposed to the greater foods in life and therefore should not have an opinion.

  • Marvin | BurntLumpia said...

    Bravo on this post! This is one of the best things I've read about what our food is. Thanks for a thoughtful and insightful post.

    Things are definitely happening, and Filipino food CAN make the leap. But in order for Filipino food to catch on, we Filipinos must be the first ones to support it and spread the word.

  • veron said...

    Great post. It's funny when I meet someone who says he/she has eaten filipino food it is always the Lumpia. I really hope that filipino food will catch on I luv, luv it and I do miss it where I live.

  • Aileen said...

    Salamat for this great post - and the picture of latong cuyo, one of my favorite things to eat on the planet! I've also wrestled with the stereotyping of Filipino foods, and its coarse simplification that fails the full, luscious, and often healthy picture of what Filipino foodways truly are. Hopefully, the haters out there will soon be eating their words. In the meantime, self-love and self-knowledge is definitely in order - we have so much to be proud of and ways to go!

  • Jun Belen said...

    Excellent post! I myself was outraged when I read the comments in that Chronicle article. But those nasty comments really aren't anything new. People are very opinionated and we cannot blame them for that. I brushed them aside and realized that they said those things about our beloved Filipino food out of ignorance. They only know stuff like balut and equate Filipino food with that. There's so much more to Filipino food and this is where we, bloggers come in. People like you who can showcase Filipino food that is colorful, flavorful, and not at all ghastly. Come to San Francisco, there are so many cool Filipino chefs doing excellent work on elevating and reinventing Filipino food. One prime example is William Pilz, chef of Hapa SF. I think Hapa SF is what modern Filipino should be. He uses local sustainable ingredients to make amazing food that remains faithfully Filipino. There's Tim Luym of Attic restaurant. There's the ever-expanding list of Filipino street food carts. I'm proud to be witnessing this rebirth, or renaissance of Filipino cuisine. It's up to us to spread it around so that Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike can enjoy the food we love.

  • Jenn said...

    Fantastic post!!! I feel the same way too when I hear or read negative comments about Filipino cuisine. I like to show the Filipino food when I can. There's so much more to offers more than just the usually dishes that people have tasted. Plus a lot of the cuisine derives from people who have migrated from other countries into ours over the centuries. We just adapted them and made it our own. :)

    It's one of the things I've actually wondered for many years, why it isn't more widely known. Granted I live in LA, so it is "there". It's unique as with any other cuisine. People just need to open up their palettes a little more.

    btw...lumpiang sariwa is my faves. I like mine with a lot of sauce. :)

  • Lori said...

    I love the attention Filipino food is getting because I have so much to learn! I tend to ignore negative comments of a cultural cuisine because delicious is relative.

    By embracing the good points of a particular cuisine and enjoying it without comparing it to others you learn to appreciate it for what it is. I would also argue that no cultural food is unhealthy. ;) My philosophy? It's the new ones that aren't good for us, not the ones that have been around forever. Love that you highlighted all the great points!

  • lunchbox said...

    I just stumbled upon your blog and I want to say thank you for an excellent post defending our wonderful food. It really hit home especially because I've just moved to Sydney and have been thinking along these lines lately. : )

  • Lisa said...

    Trolls just love to see themselves in print and internet comments are the only way they'll ever get read. So don't take nasty people to heart. You've written a lovely, thoughtful post about a subject that is dear to you. I strive to write like this.

    As always, your photos and food look scrummy. :)

  • Conor @ Hold the Beef said...

    A really interesting read. I've only recently begun to learn about Filipino food, through food blogs, and it really is quite remarkable how little exposure we get to Filipino food in my city - though it seems to be a common cuisine gap! Just goes to show how useful food blogs are I guess ;) Thank you for continuing my education!

  • Megg said...

    I've just discovered your blog through Burnt Lumpia's tweet... it's wonderful! I love the photos, the recipes.. and yes, I also love Filipino food! Thanks!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    I am so gratified by your comments - thank you so much!

    doggybloggy - Oh, no! I hope you'll find another fave lunch spot, Fiipino or not. Perhaps try Besa's Purple Yam in Ditmas Park?

    Inanoyster - Thank you!

    Anncoo - I hope you were able to take care of the hunger! Thank you very much - I'm quite proud of filipino cuisine and trying my best to learn to cook it myself. 8-)

    Rice Palette - Do give it a try if you have a Filipino restaurant nearby. Or else, just go ahead and try a recipe from any of the blogs from above. I'm confident that you'll enjoy it! 8-)

    Malou - I think that even more Filipino food can be made healthier with a few changes. But more and more, I think it's really up to all of us to bring our cuisine out front. It deserves to be better known! 8-)

    Chef D - I recall his response to the LA Times article! One of the reasons that other cuisines such as Thai and Malaysian have become more well-known may be due to those nation's govts actually making an official push to use food as a tourism/marketing tool. Perhaps the Philippines should consider something similar. Until them, it's up to us to take up the cause! 8-)

    Liren - Thank you so much! It is quite baffling that smaller communities such as Thai and Malaysian have managed to open restaurants and introduce their cuisine to great interest, while Filipino food still engenders this kind of response. But I think that things are changing, especially with the passionate Filipino foodies - bloggers, chefs, food lovers - who are touting our cuisine!

    5 Star Foodie - Thank you! It is a lovely, light dish that can also serve as a meal on its own. I hope you will have a chance to try Filipino food soon. In the DC area, the only ones I recall from more than a decade ago were little family diners; NYC and SF seem to be where the more innovative chefs are reimagining traditional Filipino foods.

    Chow and Chatter - I will definitely listen to it: I want to hear my two friends' voices! 8-)

    UrMomCooks - I'm so pleased you enjoyed it and learned a bit more of this cuisine of which I am so proud. I hope you can try it sometime - if not with someone else's cooking, then just go ahead and try a recipe on your own!

    Caroline - Absolutely! I'm rather envious because Filipino food is much more readily available on the West Coast than here in the Midwest. Knowing how much I miss it has probably made me super-sensitive to such comments. I hope that people will just show respect to another's food culture, and that those of us to whom that culture belongs will only show pride for it, even if we don't eat every single thing! 8-)

    Friends, my laptop battery is flashing red and it's well past bedtime! So I'll be back to finish responding to you wonderful comments. Thanks!

  • ChichaJo said...

    Great post! I got here by way of Trissalicious and I'm so glad I did. I believe our cuisine has so much to offer! Thanks to bloggers like yourself, and others, each doing his or her part, more minds and palates are now opening to Filipino food. Bravo!

    Lovely looking lumpiang sariwa! :)

  • cusinera said...

    I love your post! I'm glad that there's more filipino bloggers out there, who are passionate about
    spreading the word how great our cuisine is...

  • moonglowgardens said...

    Take two =). I have finally arrived here. Thank you so much for this exceptional post. It undeniably showed love and pride of Filipino Cuisine. What a wonderful example.

    Love, love, love our very own.

  • Chris & Katie said...

    I just stumbled across your blog, and am a fellow Minnesotan who LOVES Filipino food, well all food really! Do you have any recommendations for Filipino restaurants in the Twin Cities area?

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Jcarsi - I felt compelled to address the common criticisms, if only to encourage those people who haven't yet formed an opinion to give Filipino food a try with an open mind! Glad you liked the post.

    Penny - I feel the same way when I learn about other cuisines. The tricky part is finding somewhere to try them! 8-)

    Bergamot - Thank you! The crepes were so easy to make and the fillings can be changed up.

    Trissa - I can't believe I inadvertently made this month's Kulinarya Cooking Club's theme! 8-) I'm so pleased that you like this post - the sentiment are heartfelt. I hope we can spread the joys of Filipino cuisine!

    Mrs. Lavendula - Thank you! Some of these dishes I made myself but the others were taken during our recent visits to the Philippines. I'm hoping to return soon and try the many great restaurants you've featured on your blog! 8-)

    Anh- May thanks! I sincerely hope you'll have a chance to try it out. Perhaps Cherrie has some suggestions . . . 8-)

    Diva - I really appreciate it! Although I knew not to rise to the bait, I simply couldn't help myself. Though many of the comments were to ridiculous to take seriously, I noticed that there were consistent themes to the critiques and felt compelled to help set the record straight. It's been years since I've been to NYC and at the time, the best Filipino restaurant - Besa and Dorotan's Cendrillon - was still open. However, they have opened Purple Yam in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn and there is a homestyle restaurant in Queens called Ihawan (I think) that serves great food. Lumpia and pancit are so good, aren't they - but they're only the tip of a very delicious iceberg! 8-)

    Momgateway - Thank you! I have tried to link to recipes on the foods listed in the blog text -but with the exception of the Pancit Bihon, in the 2nd collage, I haven't posted any recipes for the dishes in the photos. But let me know which ones you may be interested in and I'd be happy to forward you either the recipe I use or another one that looks good! 8-)

    Kat - Thanks! Subo and K-Wok are currently the only two places I know of in the Twin Cities that serve Filipino food. I'm almost ashamed to admit that I have yet to try either - guess I prefer to try making it myself for now! 8-)

    Gastroanthropologist - I appreciate it! That's precisely my train of thought. But I don't want their shortsighted opinions to scare off others who might be unsure about trying Filipino food. Most people, thankfully, have open minds and appetites!

    Marvin - Amen! It means a lot that you liked this post. You and Nastassia are doing a tremendous job showing the immense creativity possible with Filipino food while at the same time, keeping it accessible and comforting! I dearly hope that I will be chowing down at the Manila Machine in the near future (my sisters live in the LA area!)

    Veron - It was the difficulty in accessing Filipino food that heightened my awareness of the role it played in reinforcing my Filipina-ness. Since I couldn't find any place (until recently) that served it, I had to start learning to cook it. That's when I really began to realize the depth of our food! I am loving the exploration . . .! 8-)

  • Cherrie Pie said...

    great post Tracey. I too read the article was happy that Filipino cuisine was making it in papers. Oh, how I wish I didn't read the comments. It made me upset. However after reading your well written post, I totally agree with all you have said and I think even though there are some ignorant people out there, there are many more that are willing to try the new.

  • The Cilantropist said...

    I hold no grudges against filipino food although I would agree that many do and that is a great sadness. The food is extremely flavorful, and I would say the biggest obstacle might be the perceived unhealthy nature. I love lumpia and pancit (although mostly when made my real filipinos) and it definitely would not surprise me at all if it was the next big food trend!!! Lovely recipe and thanks so much for sharing your passion, we always can use a little more of that. ;)

  • Brenda said...

    Great post. I feel your pain with regards to thoughtless and vitriolic comments about food close to your heart...while Mexican is far more popular in the US than Filippino food, it still annoys the heck out of me that it's reduced to flavorless ground beef, cumin-laced marinara sauce, and canned beans for so many people. Thanks for all the info and good luck on your personal journey to learn more about your own culinary heritage.

  • Joy said...

    It is great you knew so much. I know a superficial aspect of the traditional dishes but not as indepth without calling the ingredients by the color.

  • OysterCulture said...

    Interesting read, and as your family got me hooked Filipino food it only seems appropriate. =) A couple of comments from an outsider on this perspective.

    The Asian Culinary Forum on Filipino Flavors was a great event. Amy Besa only led one portion of the event, a cooking class on Filipino Souring Agents. She did not lead the discussion on Filipino food joining the ranks of national dishes, the folks that deserve credit are culinary anthropologist and history professors including Professor Catherine Ceniza Choy, Professor Dawn Mabalon, and Prof. Alex Orquiza spoke eloquently of the history of Filipino culture and food in the US.
    The ACF was billed as a success, and if you look at the numbers in attendance, I'd agree, however, I'd say over 80% were Filipino or had some ties to the Philippines So my sense is that they were preaching to the choir.

    The perception that non Filipinos have that Filipino food is unhealthy, is false, but I think it is perpetrated by many Filipinos. I remember your sister telling me the same thing, and have since heard it from several others to the point that it was a bit ingrained for me as an acceptable notion. Many cultures have unhealthy foods but they do not apologize for them or raise the awareness that they are indeed unhealthy. I have yet to see a Frenchman apologize for a triple cream cheese or a Canadian for poutine. Another reason for the unhealthy perceptions may be that for many, their first encounter with Filipino food may be Jollibee perpetrating the idea of the less than healthy food options. Kinda like my first encounter with Mexican was Taco Bell, which does not resemble real Mexican food.

    Something I've noticed with a few of the Filipino food advocates is a resistance to others speaking about their foods. I've seen some people that are not Filipino, myself included, post about the Filipino food and our encounters and impressions, only to have what we've written picked apart because of a misspelled word. If the food is to be universally accepted its got to be adopted by the broader community and for that to happen non-Filipinos need to write about it. However if they feel they will be challenged or criticized the odds of that happening are much lower.

    I've rambled far too much, but I find this such an interesting issue, because just about everyone I know that has tried Filipino food has become instant converts to a truly delicious cuisine. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint in this wonderful post.

  • redfullmoon said...

    sorry for the long comment but I just really have to say this:

    This is such a great post that whenever I have an overly critical foreign guest who never ceases to find fault with Filipino cuisine (has actually happened with a European guest) I will just point them to this entry.

    Like you, I feel deeply hurt and insulted when people immediately dismiss Filipino cuisine into the brown-colored dishes, lumpia and pancit (I live in Manila, and it's been a long time since I had lumpia, that it jars me when people think of that first when you say Filpino food!). Their negative reviews sometimes confuse me as well because they label it too salty, when I personally find it too sweet at times (of course it really depends where you come from: the seaside or near sugar plantations). I tend to get very defensive of Filipino cuisine, but your peaceful appeal in this post might work better to convert non-believers than my defensive arguments ;-)

    Some of the problems in marketing it for restaurants abroad is that not only is it unfamiliar, but the cuisine is so varied and diverse in terms of flavor and ingredients, even Anthony Bourdain had a hard time putting his finger on it (except for the sour part, which really is just one dimension of the cuisine). It's only recently with the emergence of open air markets, a trend of going organic and going back to provincial roots and cuisine that we have unearthed some wonderful (and healthy!) dishes to contribute to our culinary treasure. Add to that Filipino fusion cuisine, which introduces native, exotic ingredients to city-dwellers and makes them chic and up-market to most restaurant diners. I hope this is really the year that it takes off internationally!

    and your lumpiang sariwa looks sumptuous! it looks so much like the ones my dad purchases at the local weekend organic market, I was surprised to find out you aren't even based in the Philippines!

  • The Beancounter said...

    Well said TN! Thank you very much for this post...it's difficult not to take the negative comments to heart...I hope at least some of them would read this post and get "enlightened"...

  • Lala said...

    I didn't read the comments section, and am quite surprised with those reactions. How unfortunate that people's ignorance and fear of the unknown is preventing them from experiencing some of the greatest foods in the world.

    Your post was well written and hit close to home. I grew up in a home that was filled with Filipino food and the passion that goes with it.

    Thanks for your thoughts and I'll be sure to link it for reference (for other people, of course).

    Salamat!

  • Ziggy said...

    whew! that was a loooong post! hahahaha! thank you very much for the mention Tracey. It's good to see that we are all elbow to elbow in pushing Filipino food further.

    I want to have that Minaluto. Eating eat would be like killing a hydra. I eat monsters.

  • Jenny @ Musings and Morsels said...

    I've sampled Filipino food once in my life (I admit it wasn't too good of an experience; certainly it wasn't the cuisine itself but rather the quality of the restaurant) and I'm willing to give it another go -after all, I can't possibly imagine any cuisine considered 'horrible' or 'disgusting'. My only issue is trying to decipher what it is that makes Filipino food well umm...Filipino. Naturally, there's a gap in my Filo food education there (so please help me!). Lumpia and pancit remind me so much of Chinese cuisine (no doubt derived from it) and sinigang reminds me of a Vietnamese sour seafood soup. I'm really just wondering which dish you consider to be distinctly (and maybe indigenous) Filipino. I'd love to learn more.

  • Randee E said...

    My grandfather was Filipino and also chief cook in the Merchant Marines. I grew up on the "Fab 5". They evoke feelings of comfort and family (close and extended). I grew up thinking I had one of the largest families ever. I had "aunties" and "uncles" I never knew!! Thanks for writing this post. It is a wonderful culture with wonderful food. I hope to go there someday. I will try your Lumpia recipe. If you've got a good one for chicken adobo I'd like to see that too :0)

  • Betty Ann @Mango_Queen said...

    This is one of your greatest posts ever! I love it and can't remember why I didn't leave a comment. But I'm revisiting. It's also nice to read everyone's 2-cents worth on it. Very interesting to see all the views on Filipino food. You're such an exceptional journalist, Tracey! Someday, when you publish your book, I hope to be there, first in line, to seek your autograph! Bookmarking this for the great archives!

 

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