Having lived outside the Philippines the past 20 years and in a country where Filipino cuisine is yet to become mainstream like Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Malaysian cuisine, I had always wondered how to further promote its flavours. To locals, they will find a lot of the dishes tend to be sweet unlike the other Asian cuisine which tend to be spicy which they would be the typical Asian flavour. And I thought maybe one approach is to promote in way where locals can be comfortable to try it and hopefully develop a taste for it. Like feature the many barbecue dishes Aussies are fond of cooking. However, may be there another way which this writer suggests.
From BusinessWorld Philippines
September 10, 2014
Will Filipino cuisine find a global niche?
THERE IS REALLY no overall marketing effort to define and market Filipino cuisine abroad the way fashion, furniture, whale watching and beaches have been promoted. Usually, Filipino restaurants in Singapore, Vancouver or New York can be found in little nooks next to a “padala center” for parcels and money remittances and Filipino grocery stores. Bundling it with other for-Filipino-only services makes the food appetizing for expatriate natives only.
Why has Filipino cuisine not graduated from local home cooking, comfort food, and noisy restaurants with singing waiters to international status? Is it the brown sauce that seems to douse everything we eat that turns off even the adventurous foreign palate?
Without losing its native allure, standards like oxtail in peanut sauce or chicken and pork cutlets in vinegar and soy sauce, if so described, can be imbued with a certain familiarity to make it less forbidding. Let’s set aside the truly frightening viands like the innards of a pig cooked in its own blood or that partially formed duck fetus with feathers, swimming in its amniotic fluids accessed by breaking the shell and throwing the whole content down the gullet. The latter is a favorite test for survival reality programs. The shock approach is an obstacle in marketing our dishes globally. We promote this “balut challenge” with foreigners visiting us all the time.
The emergence of Filipino fusion (FF) takes native cuisine out of its family-style setting intended for diners around a table sharing common meals, with or without serving spoons, and gobbling of unknown parts with the hands. Gone with this nouvelle presentation is the 30-viand extravaganza showcased in stainless pans (reminiscent of hospital bed pans) behind a steamy glass or arrayed in a long buffet table with little candles burning under the chafing dish to prevent sauce from coagulating, until a bit later when the food makes its way to the arteries.
The traditional way of serving oneself from a buffet table results in a plate heaped with predominantly earth-colored odds and ends covering a mound of rice for later hunting and pairing, with the likelihood of flicked food stains on the diner’s shirt with the unfortunate color of something already through the digestive stage.
FF servings are tiny and intended for solo consumption, much like Western cuisine. These are artfully presented, with sauces merely daubed on the side, featuring designs associated with Rorschach tests. (“I see a bat trying to yawn.”)
Familiar dishes in smaller portions are deconstructions of grandma’s recipe, allowing substitution of ingredients, say caviar or anchovies for shrimp paste or corned beef (not the one out of a can) in the traditional sour soup. In keeping with this acquired stylishness, meats are tender and cut into bite-sized pieces to do away with the necessity of using hands to steady the meat for lupine tearing from the bone and lengthy mastication, later requiring generous use of dental floss.
It is perhaps the rise of culinary schools, themselves descended from Swiss or Californian counterparts, that has driven graduates to experiment with small restaurants and demonstrate such acquired skills as “plating” — or how to serve a meal aesthetically, even using different shaped dishes and flatware that is distinctly not identified with cafeterias or hospitals. Newly minted chefs introduce elements of edibility, freshness and new-age eating options, enshrined by those striving for wellness. Photogenic food that looks seductive in a menu is the ultimate goal.
This combination of new chefs (with even more coming out of the pipeline), new malls featuring smaller restaurants following the paradigm of cinemas with fewer seats and more options, and a growing new age consciousness of wellness have introduced fresh approaches to Filipino cuisine. Introduced too in this movement are less fatty food and a reduced intake of salt.
This nouvelle approach discards the implicit yardstick applied to Filipino restaurants which equates allure with quantity. A stuffed stomach is no longer the gauge for good food. The concept of “sulit” or getting one’s money’s worth in terms of a heaping plate or the number of viands on offer is giving way to subtle tastes and smaller servings.
Only when the aesthetics of gastronomy are honored can we join the ranks of international cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese and, dare we say it, Chinese and Japanese which even introduced new eating implements in the chopstick. Our food must look non-threatening even if the taste will be surprising (think ox tripe). While eating light is hardly a characteristic of our food culture, it is the only way our brand of cooking can travel.
Anyway, we can still go native and heap our plates full with sauces competing for attention in the plate and palate. This is an option we always have with home cooking. The only fusion that happens at home is between masticating molars.
A.R. Samson is chair and CEO of Touch DDB.
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