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Is Filipino food embarassing?

I've spoken to a few other fellow FilAm friends and we all agree that when we're jonesing for Filipino food, we eat at home.

Speaking for myself, when I go out to eat, I never consider eating Filipino food because I want to eat something different than what I can get from home. And when I mean home, I mean my Mother and Father's home cooking. Even when my folks come to town and we go out for a meal, we almost always go for Chinese/Japanese or Italian. Filipino is never a consideration.

It is a matter of preference as well. I have eaten my fair share of Filipino food at "Auntie Parties" and I can only eat the safe standard fare: your pancits and your lumpias, because the preparation and subtleties of these dishes don't vary too greatly from chef to chef. Whereas every single Filipino household has their own way of cooking Sinigang, or Nilaga, or Adobo. You'll see all the Aunties and Uncles chowing down though, but I know for a fact they are all thinking the same thing: my version is better! Of course they would never admit it out of Filipino-politeness.

As an example, for me, nothing compares to my Mother's Sinigang. In fact I save myself the trouble and steer away from other people's Sinigang when I am at an 'Auntie Party'. Don't get me wrong, I am sure they are all probably very delicious, but I am picky and I just prefer to have what I was raised on. If I am offered to eat when visiting a friend's house there is no choice but to accept, but in my mind, 9 times out of 10 I am thinking: "Mom's is better."

Traditional Filipino food is quite labor and time intensive. Much of it is not a quick stir fry affair as you would get at a Chinese or Thai restaurant. When I think of traditional Filipino food, I think of stews: Sinigang, Nilaga, Kare Kare, Tinola, etc. and frankly when you see this food sitting in steaming trays like I've seen at some Filipino restaurants in town, it is very unappetizing to the uninitiated.

The problem is that these restaurateurs are cooking these dishes like they do at home, one big serving in one big pot for their family. Many traditional Filipino dishes can be quite heavy, which I believe isn't what most people want on their plates when they go out to dine casually.

My belief is that if they want to get the casual diner (the uninitiated) into the door, they will need to adapt their recipes/preparations so that these kinds of dishes can be prepared quickly and to-order. Which is a very challenging task because the complexity and flavor in traditional Filipino food comes from the slow cooking process involved in stews to begin with. Unfortunately it is not viable to have your diners wait patiently for a dish to be prepared/cooked the way it was meant to back home.

That is not to say the task is impossible. I just think most of us can't be bothered to go through the effort because again, most if not all of us FilAms and first-generation Filipinos would prefer to eat at home. But is it worth dumbing down our culturally rich food for the sake of getting people to embrace it? Ask any Auntie and Uncle and they will tell you: Probably not, for the reasons stated above.

Places like Kawali Grill are making great strides in bringing traditional Filipino food to the general masses though and for that I applaud them! Other than that, if you aren't Filipino and you want good Filipino food, make friends with a Filipino and ask to eat at their home, they would be more than happy to oblige!

Feb 13, 2012
MACH1NA in Greater Seattle