My biggest concern before making the move was “What is Filipino cuisine?”. The one excitement of moving to a new country for me is having the chance to experience and learn about a new food culture. Every country in Asia has a unique culinary culture: Japanese sushi, Korean kimchi, Thai Tom Yum, Indian curries, even Indonesia has Nasi Goreng, and not to mention the countless goodies from China. But despite being one of the nearest countries to where we were Philippines has been rather quiet on the food front. With the vast number of Filipinos living and working in Hong Kong and Macau, I have not seen one Filipino restaurant, and no one has been able to tell me what Filipino food is about.
To think a place like Philippines where people from different culture meet and trade since its early days, with its abundant and fertile land and water, it would only make sense to have an exciting and exceptional food culture (e.g. Singapore). The life-loving Spanish would’ve been bringing their heirloom goodies for hundreds of years too. So what happened? An hotelier friend said: “The Spanish were here for 400 years, but it only took the Americans 50 to ruin their food culture” (no offense but replacing paellas with McDonald’s does deserve the word ‘ruin’). Another article said the reason Philippines doesn’t have a known signature dish is because the archipelago is consists of numerous island cultures and each has its unique cuisine – but that doesn’t make sense at all, the result of having 100 amazing food cultures should be having 100 and more amazing dishes, instead of having trouble to name one.
So I will try my best to keep an open mind, and set out on the mission to resolve the mystery of Filipino cuisine. Even just for myself and my friends’ sake. Are there 100 hidden gastronomic treasures waiting to be discovered? Or are the 100 horror stories I’ve heard so far true?