A REVIEW: The Perceived Lack of FIlipino Restaurants in American Dining

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It’s 5:23am in the morning and I am so happy to be awake and working. During the school year I am so pressured to develop lesson plans on a daily basis and it’s so nice to just wake up and have the time for “mommy” time. I can sit by the heater, sip my coffee, listen to some Jack Johnson, get my laundry done, get Siena’s clothes ready, and clean the house before anyone gets up.

Today I spent the day figuring out what to wear for the taping. I did decide on one thing, THIS necklace, over the top…which you’ll have to wait to see. 😉

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If it’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I’m a fast shopper. And when I like something, I can pick it out of a crowd. I found this as I was getting off the escalator, and…that was it. I’m hoping that the producer lets me wear it; on the phone she did tell me that jewelry looks wonderful under the lights.

I do have my own style — and that’s basic black. I’ve always respected the color black: the versatility of it, the contrast it provides, its formalizing powers. I can easily pick a v-neck black shirt and throw on some converse or get a long drapy black top, throw on some heels and spend a night in the city.

Today I thought I’d review a thesis I’ve been reading for the past few weeks. It’s the only academic writing I’ve found on Filipino food and the lack thereof. It’s called Nanay’s Kusian or Carinderia? The Perceived Lack of FIlipino Restaurants in American Dining, and it’s written by Amanda L. Tira Andrei, who is based in Washington D.C. and has written for Asian Fortune since 2007.

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It opens with a Filipino menu. “Chef’s Recommendations,” it lists, beginning with Menudo and ending with Crispy Pata. Andrei is overjoyed to see that these dishes are being introduced to the United States. This is the jumping off point for Andrei to explore the “perceived lack” of Filipino food in the D.C. area and beyond.

She starts with a point that many Filipinos begin with. Someone, a friend, asks if there are any Filipino restaurants around. “Not really. They’re too far away or don’t really taste that good.” is her standardized reply. Andrei then begins with a series of theories as to why Filipino food is lacking, but this is charged with other nuances as well. Some of her discussion points:

  • BASELINE: Food has a “conscious, symbolic load.” (Mary Douglas) Food can be a measure of contrast: a method of subversion or a notion of home.
  • Filipinos are torn between “looking east and looking west.” (Andrei refers to this as ‘identity negotiation’ at least once in her text) To some extent, Filipinos are subjected to the “reality of everyday American functions” and in doing so cast away their traditions in an effort to assimilate. They were also a U.S. colony for a period of time, so proportionally, more of them speak English than the other Asian races. Filipinos have a “pull” to “look east” and find solidarity with their Asian counterparts.

“It seems that Filipinos are caught in a polar situation of eastern heritage or western influence, but forget that their culture is the middle ground; in this confusion, they lack a sense of national ‘pride'” (Andrei)

  • Filipino food is often defined as a culinary conglomerate. Due to our rich trade history and colonizations, Spanish, Indian, Chinese and American flavors are evident. This has resulted in dishes that are “foreign influenced but distinctly Filipino.” Some have looked at this as a cuisine that exists because it is a conflation of cultures, not because it is a distinctive cuisine. This inability to define Filipino food seems to emerge from deeper  inability to define ethnicity.
  • There is a characteristic “pride” underlying the Filipino heritage. In the Philippines, Andrei finds that she feels that many Filipinos are looking for something — “people, places, and objects in which to place their pride in.” Embedded in this is a sense of regret as well, since there is a feeling of “tight-knittedness” but also a distancing away from   contemporary times. This also exists in the converse relationship, where Filipinos find pride in speaking English and obtaining jobs with higher social capital, but feel regret in distancing themselves away from their homeland.
  • Jealousy in FIlipino culture exists, but is something no one talks about. Calling it a “disease” in the Filipino community, this contrasts with the “rosy” feelings of pride that other Filipinos champion.
  • Filipino restaurants have not adapted to America the way that other ethnicities have. “Instead, they have reconstructed space [to] convey the concept of home, including family and the homeland of the Philippines.”

I relate to many of these discussion points and have thought about my own ethic identity as well. It is true that as a nation the Philippines has been the source of many cultural intersections. This heterogeneity makes us completely distinctive, but also leaves us with a question as to how to quantitatively measure the Filipino.

I feel like Japanese, Chinese, Russian, German have very concrete definitions. When I think of the “Filipino” I still have some difficulty, some of this spurred from really childish events: someone in school asking me if I’m “Asian” or “Pacific Islander,” someone asking me “where” the Philippines is, or the comment that “Filipinos are just Spanish Asians/Mexican Asians”

Is it satisfactory that Philippines are sometimes defined as a “mix”? After all, our national dessert is the halo-halo (halo = mixed). I don’t know. In my bones I feel like we are something more than that. Perhaps that could be used as a premise, but when I think of the Philippines I am just overwhelmed by a sense of national pride that is more than just the sum of all parts.

I guess I’m still thinking of a coherent definition of identity myself. But it’s hard to pick out components of national identity; I don’t want to think it as easy as making a grocery list. But it should be that natural. I know that the Filipino is proud, accommodating, welcoming, loves good food, is creative/artsy, etc.

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What do you guys think? What is a Filipino? 

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4 thoughts on “A REVIEW: The Perceived Lack of FIlipino Restaurants in American Dining

  1. Kristine, I am really thrilled to see you post this! I’m glad that you’ve connected with many of the points I raised. It’s interesting to me that since I wrote that thesis three years ago, I’ve heard people keep saying, “Filipino food is making a comeback”; “Now is the time for Filipino food to be popular” – and yet I’m not sure how much I agree with that statement. However, speaking for the D.C. area, I have seen a new Filipino bakery and a new bistro opening up, with different marketing techniques and products than the other restaurants in the area, and I am very curious to see if they will become a constant part of the D.C. ethnic foodscape.

    • Amanda, thanks so much for stopping by. Your thesis added new dimension to my thoughts as to why Filipino food is such an anomaly in the United States. I, too have heard that Filipino food is on the rise. In the bay area, however, I’m lucky to find more Filipino restaurants than most areas…though they are still scarce (although one did pop up in the food court of a mall nearby). I’m hoping you are able to find a fix nearby? Or at least are able to cook some of the more traditional dishes at home? 🙂

  2. A Filipino is what you see in the mirror. That said, its not far off from saying, ‘what is an Indian?’ or ‘what is ‘Asian?’ Although we can use culture to describe the cuisine, it can’t tell us on how its going to taste. As Filipinos, we already pre-judge other people looking to try our food. We unnecessarily appologize for it. Although that may have been true during the turo turo era, there are chefs and cooks who are looking to re-invent Filipino cuisine to bring it to a wider audience. There will, of course, be detractors. But the same can be about the any international cuisine that can be sampled today. A stroll Indian restuarants on Yelp! will have many reviews written by Indians saying such and such restaurant isn’t ‘authentic’. But we have to get past that and for sure, there are other showcase dishes such as sinigang, chicken sogatanhon that deserve as much showcase as pancit, lumpia and lechon.

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