Monday, October 24, 2011

Rant: Where Is The Filipino Love?

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  " 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.


Frederick Wright said...

In Jacksonville, there are approximately 10-15 decent Filipino restaurants, ranging from walk up BBQ stands to rather nice sit-down places. Coming from Boston, I was really surprised to see so many in a random redneck town, but it is possibly explained by the enormous Navy presence at both Mayport and NASJAX.

One cuisine that I would really love to see represented in Boston would be Dutch-style Indonesian cuisine, particularly the rijstafel. There are NONE anywhere in New England, although I heard that a prep school in Andover has a weekly rijstafel night.

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

Asian Dining Rules is dead wrong. Filipinos have a HUGE restaurant dining culture. Just visit the Philippines and you'll see proof. I think one of the reasons why there are not a lot of Filipino restaurants is that Filipino cuisine vary by region. Among the 7,000+ islands, each region/province/island cluster prepares food differently (for instance, adobo is prepared a dozen different ways). So the challenge is coming up with a restaurant that sells Filipino food that will be embraced by all Filipinos.
There is a burgeoning Filipino restaurant community/food culture in NYC, and I hope it comes to Boston.
Or maybe I'll just start my own restaurant :)

Anonymous said...

I wondered this a few months ago myself. Part of it, I think, depends on where you are. New York and California, with their larger Filipino populations have great options. There aren't that many Filipinos in the Boston area, and Filipino hasn't gone mainstream the way that Chinese or sushi has.
I've been to JnJ and it's ok, but not wonderful. The Filipino market next door is pretty good. Truthfully, I've been surprised to find as much Filipino here as there is. Most of the Asian supermarkets in Chinatown have Filipino products, and I even found a Filipino grocery store in Littleton, NH.

Adam Japko said...


Not sure if it is the chicken or the egg, but many of my Filipino friends dig heading to chinatown the most and eating chinese....maybe that's close enough for the Filipino population here? Who knows....


Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Frederick:
Thanks for the info on Jacksonville which is certainly enlightening. Maybe most of the Filipino restaurants are gathered in specific cities. I have not had rijstafel so would be interested in trying it. Maybe there is someone locally who makes it at their home? Any bloggers out there make it?

Hi Bianca:
Thanks for your input. Maybe it would be good for a restaurant to showcase several different Filipino regional styles. Or maybe you could open such a place. :)

Hi Tania:
Thanks for your input and it was interesting to read your own post on Filipino cuisine. Considering there are so many Filipinos in the US, there should be far more than 500 restaurants. Your comments on JnJ also seem to echo several others I have spoken too.

Hi Adam:
Maybe you could ask your Filipino friends sometime about the restaurant issue. Thanks.

Unknown said...

I wrote a rant about the same issue a last year:

I am a Fil-Am living in the San Francisco Bay Area and while this is probably the most Filipino-dense region in the country, I have seen Filipino get no love.

Filipinos, especially ones in my generation LOVE to eat out, but when it comes to Filipino food, they would rather eat with their families at home. It is correct that we have strong family ties.

There are many factors why Filipino food hasn't succeeded as much as other Asian cuisines, but I know for a fact there are many Filipino chefs out there who want to make it known in the mainstream.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Jo:
Thanks for your comment, and I liked your post on this issue. Filipino chefs need to come forward, to task a risk and show the U.S. the wonders of their cuisine.

Valleypinoy said...

Hi everyone,

I wrote about this when the LA Times article came out on my archaic blog. Here's my theory:

PurtyGF said...

Thanks for this blog, Richard. I ask the same question, being a Filipino myself who loves good food and enjoy cooking. I think what traditional Filipino dishes need is a twist to make the taste and presentation more appealing to a wider palate. A fusion, if you will, with really creative presentation. I've always dreamed of coming up with such a restaurant. At this point, it remains as while the funds are not there yet. This is why I was thrilled when I discovered a very popular Asian fusion restaurant in downtown Chicago: Sunda New Asian. While it features general Asian dishes, Filipino fare is predominantly featured as the owner and Executive Chef have Filipino roots. I think this is a great reference point for other Filipinos to follow.

Unknown said...

We just had this conversation at the dinner table last night with my husband and his neice (both Filipino). We felt the food at restaurants was too greasy and perhaps gamey: not representative of the Filipino food made in the home.

filipino girl said...

I came from the Philippines and recently moved in Montana. In my two weeks of stay here I was craving for Pinoy food so I searched for filipino restaurants location online yet shows me results of Chinese Restaurants. So, I went to L&D Chinese Buffet, and all of the food they served, I already have had it in the Philippines. My point is, Filipino cuisine has evolved from its origins at the time of indigenous Austronesian peoples to the cooking styles and methods after centuries of influence from Spanish and Chinese cuisine, and later American cuisine. Dishes range from the very simple, like a meal of fried salted fish and rice, to the elaborate paellas and "cocidos" (stews) created for fiestas. Whether you go Chinese or Filipino restaurant, for me, the flavor quality is similar.

Christian said...

Filipinos love eating and dating

filipino dating said...

I visited my fiance last year in the Philippines , she brought me to one of the best restaurants there. Actually i really don't eat meat that much but when my girlfriend ask me to taste the one that they are calling Adobo , oh my god it tasted so good. I cpuld really say that Filipino's has a great talent in cooking.