Filipino food is the next big thing in the US

Manila Bulletin - - Business News - By KATE KRADER (Bloomberg)

Have you heard that Filipino food is a big trend this year? Un­doubt­edly you have. I've said it. Like­wise, it made trend lists last year. And the year be­fore. If you com­pared spe­cific Asian cuisines to stocks, Korean food might be Google, a solid, up­ward tick­ing buy. Filipino food would be more like an oil stock—a bumpy ride.

Yet, 2017 seems poised to be the year you can bet on Filipino food. Google searches for “Filipino food” have dou­bled since 2012, while queries for “lumpia near me” (re­fer­ring to the crunchy Filipino-style spring rolls) have sky­rock­eted 3,350 per­cent. The time for Filipino food to take cen­ter stage is fi­nally here, all my food trend in­stincts tell me. I have a list of com­pelling rea­sons.

For one, a mar­quee restau­rant has bro­ken big. Bad Saint, the 24-seat Wash­ing­ton spot that spe­cial­izes in thrilling dishes such as braised goat with charred co­conut and chiles was the ma­jor restau­rant story of 2016, land­ing No. 2 on Bon Ap­pétit’s an­nual Amer­ica's Best New Restau­rant list. It's be­come a high-pro­file show­case for Filipino cook­ing, giv­ing it a sexi- ness that mer­its lin­ing up for hours.

Mean­while, chef Alvin Cailan, founder of Cal­i­for­nia (now Ve­gas, too) egg sand­wich phe­nom­e­non Eg­gslut, is tak­ing on the man­tle of Filipino food cham­pion, launch­ing a pas­sion­ate cam­paign af­ter ex­per­i­ment­ing with his Am­boy con­cept last year. He's de­signed an "I Filipino Food" logo for his 2017 en­deav­ors as he searches for a per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion. "My goal is to get enough ex­po­sure for Filipino food so that it's the an­swer to the ques­tion, 'What should we have for din­ner tonight?'" said Cailan. "I saw an ar­ti­cle that said Filipino restau­ra­teurs are afraid to en­ter higher-rent mar­kets be­cause they don't have con­fi­dence in the cui­sine. I'd like to show that Filipino food can be ac­ces­si­ble to any de­mo­graphic."

Cailan has some help on the East Coast from fel­low Filipino-Amer­i­can chef Dale Talde. His re­cently opened Talde Mi­ami serves such stand­out dishes as roasted branzino with to­mato turmeric jam and chiles. Come spring, he’ll in­tro­duce Rice & Gold in New York's 50 Bow­ery Ho­tel. The menu will have a se­ri­ous Filipino com­po­nent, in­clud­ing the rice and chicken soup, ar­roz caldo. “You braise chicken like any Jewish grand­mother, add rice to thicken it up, hit it with a lot of gar­lic and a ton of gin­ger and scal­lions. I add fish sauce and turmeric,” Talde said. “It’s the con­gee of the Philip­pines.”

A crave-able dish like that, la­beled as a Filipino spe­cialty by such a no­table cook, is an­other thing that will help raise the cui­sine's pro­file.

Com­pare this to Korean food, which has iden­ti­fi­able hall­marks such as kim­chee, which has be­come a na­tional ob­ses­sion, and roast pork bo ssam, which is pop­u­lar whether or not you’ve been out drink­ing all night. Mean­while Filipino food is best known for ba­lut, a fer­til­ized duck egg that sounds freaky to most Amer­i­cans. Tastier-sound­ing dishes such as pork adobo (stewed with soy, gar­lic, and bay leaf) and those deep­fried lumpia are not yet ubiq­ui­tous, even if they should be. The cui­sine also uti­lizes lots of vine­gar, lots of fry­ing, and lots of funky fla­vors — all in sync with Amer­ica's ex­pand­ing palate. Which raises the ques­tion: Why haven't packed New York Filipino spots Jeep­ney and Pig & Khao spawned copy­cats the way the Korean-in­spired Mo­mo­fuku em­pire has?

For one thing, Filipino is the orig­i­nal fu­sion food, a mix of Malaysian, Chi­nese, and Span­ish, with some In­dian and Amer­i­can in­flu­ences. It all makes Filipino food hard to pin down. If a cui­sine is so far-rang­ing and re­minds you of other foods, it's harder to get pas­sion­ate enough to seek it out. And even among Filipinos, there are vari­a­tions in the ap­proach, with Chi­nese Filipino, Span­ish Filipino, and so on. There isn't nec­es­sar­ily a de­fin­i­tive recipe for a clas­sic, as for such a dish as Italy's ca­cio e pepe.

One the­ory is that most Filipinos come to the U.S. speak­ing English, so they blend faster into the Amer­i­can melt­ing pot—as does their food. Talde said that many first-gen­er­a­tion chefs, him­self in­cluded, have been re­luc­tant to shout about their Filipino roots be­cause they're afraid it will alien­ate din­ers. Talde sees that chang­ing.

“To some de­gree I credit David Chang [of Mo­mo­fuku]. He made it cool for Asian cooks to do what we do, to rep­re­sent our cui­sine, and to be un­apolo­getic about it,” said Talde. “I don’t care if peo­ple say it’s too funky. I’m ready to say: This is how it is, this is my food.”

In an ex­cel­lent ar­ti­cle on fore­cast­ing food trends, the New York Times’s Kim Sev­er­son noted that while you were mak­ing your frosé and red wine hot cho­co­late, you might con­sider that real food trends tend to move at a glacial pace. So it seems to be with Filipino food. Slowly and steadily, it's here. And if you, like me, want to bet on it in 2017, here are a few places to in­ves­ti­gate.

Rice Bar, Los An­ge­les — Charles Olalia, who cooked with the famed Guy Savoy, serves dishes such as dilis, which are tiny, sun-dried, deep-fried an­chovies with av­o­cado and radish salad. (Talde says they take on "le­git, potato chip status" when fried cor­rectly.) Each dish has a sug­gested rice pair­ing; with dilis, it’s gar­lic fried rice.

Perla, Philadel­phia — This com­pact restau­rant rein­ter­prets the most no­table recipes from the Philip­pines. Chef Lou Bo­quila serves duck adobo with cauliflower and kam­bocha as a cre­ative take on the porky soy sauce­braised clas­sic.

Kuneho, Austin — Paul Qui’s new restau­rant may be dom­i­nated by sushi and Ja­panese dishes, but he of­fers some dishes from his na­tive Philip­pines, in­clud­ing sisig, an un­con­ven­tional pork stir-fry spiked with cit­rus and chiles, and mor­cilla à la din­uguan, the most el­e­gant take on blood sausage.

F.o.b., Brook­lyn — The restau­rant's name is short­hand for "fresh off the boat," re­claim­ing a usu­ally deroga­tory spike at Asian im­mi­grants. Ar­mando Li­ti­atco, who cooked at Daniel, high­lights fam­ily recipes and Filipino bar­be­cue, in­clud­ing liempo, or grilled pork belly, with spicy cane vine­gar dip.

Jol­libee, Chicago — A fast food chain that’s as pro­lific as McDon­ald's is in the Philip­pines re­cently ar­rived in Chicago, set in­side the mam­moth Filipino food mar­ket, Seafood City. There are some un­con­ven­tional Filipino dishes, such as sweet spaghetti stud­ded with hot dog slices, but the go-to or­der is fried chicken.

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