One of the major benefits of immigration has been the influx of so many different cuisines, expanding the horizons of our palates. Restaurants offering authentic cuisines from the varied countries around the world have enhanced the diversity of our gustatory realm. Just consider Boston and Cambridge, and all the cuisines available, from Tibetan to Senegalese, from Afghani to Ethiopian. But there is one curious omission, and it is not limited to our local area.
There does not appear to be a single Filipino restaurant in Boston or Cambridge. The closest Filipino restaurant appears to be JnJ Turo-Turo, established in 2007 in Quincy. It has received some mixed reviews as to its quality but raises the larger question of why there are not more Filipino restaurants in the Boston area. But if you look at the even greater picture, you will realize that there are relatively few Filipino restaurants anywhere in the U.S.
In Asian Dining Rules by Steven A. Shaw (Harper Collins, 2008), it is estimated that there are only 481 Filipino restaurants in the U.S., which can be compared to 43,139 Chinese restaurants. You might think that is due in part because there are few Filipinos in the U.S., but you would be wrong. Based on the 2000 census, Filipinos constitute the second largest Asian population in the U.S., with the Chinese occupying first place. The third to sixth place groups include Indians, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese. Out of these six groups, Filipinos have the least amount of restaurants. Why is that the case?
It appears that no one has definitive proof of the actual reasons but there are plenty of speculations. Asian Dining Rules provides three possibilities: 1) Filipinos do not have a restaurant going culture; 2) There is a strong cultural preference for eating at home with family; and 3) Cooking is not traditionally considered a valid Filipino career. In an LA Times article, "Off the Menu," Amy Scattergood mentions that one reason may be that Filipino food is not visually very appealing. In addition, most of the existing Filipino restaurants are only "...mom-and-pop places (called turo-turo or "point-point" restaurants, because you often just point at the buffet-style food) or fast food."
Filipino cuisine has many influences, from Hispanic to Chinese, and it appears that pork and seafood are very prominent. With the current love for all things pig in the U.S., it would seem that Filipino dishes involving pork would be very popular. One popular Filipino dish is Adobo, where meat or seafood is marinated in a sauce of vinegar and garlic, browned in oil and then simmered in the marinade. That sounds like a dish that would appeal to many Americans.
Though I have some Filipino relatives, through marriage not blood, as well as some Filipino friends, I have not eaten any authentic Filipino meals. I have not dined out at JnJ Turo-Turo. But I very much want to experience their cuisine, and I want to understand why there are so few Filipino restaurants across the country. It would seem to be a great opportunity for an entrepreneur, to bring this cuisine more mainstream. It is not a cuisine that by its nature should turn people off and actually should seem familiar in part. In 2011, there are an estimated 4 million Filipinos in the U.S. and that should warrant far more than the less than 500 Filipino restaurants that currently exist.
If you are Filipino, why do you believe there are so few Filipino restaurants in the U.S.? Do you write a blog that showcases the cuisine of the Philippines?
We should also ask whether there other ethnic cuisines which are significantly underrepresented in the U.S.