Why Filipino Foods are not Popular Abroad
Compared to those of other Asians’
By Apolinario Villalobos
To put a straight answer to the question….it’s because names of Filipino foods in classy restaurants are “proudly” in Spanish or French, unlike those of other countries with authentic native names. As we know, people of other nations, especially those in the west, prefer the exotic, the native…and not what they already have in their country. So, in their desire to try something exotic, they would go to Korean, Japanese, Indonesian and Thai restaurants for a taste of Asia.
I am expressing this concern after reading an article in a weekend supplement of a broadsheet about a Filipino cook who has gone places, and the write-up is complete with photos of recipes that are his masterpieces – all with French names, though prepared with native ingredients! Filipino cooks who prefer to be called “chefs”, are obviously, so ashamed to name their dishes based on the main ingredient that they use. Perhaps, they should name, for instance, snail cooked in coconut milk, just as “ginataang kuhol”, the fern tops salad as “kinilaw na pako”, the “pinakbet” as just that, as named, coconut pith salad, as “kinilaw na ubod ng niyog”, misua soup as “sopas na misua” instead of “angel’s hair soup”, etc. There is, however, a problem with the “bird’s nest soup” that should be named “sinopas na laway ng ibon”.
There are a few Filipinos based in other countries, and who have ventured into the restaurant business, but most still prefer to hide their Filipino identity by using foreign-sounding names for their establishment, afraid that they will not attract customers, other than fellow Filipinos. Most also prefer to offer Mediterranean dishes introduced by the Spanish colonizers in the Philippines, such as the “arroz Valenciana”, “chorizo”, “estofado”, etc. when these can be prepared the Filipino way and given Filipino names. The hypocritical effort is obviously, an acrid residue of colonial mentality.
It is interesting to note that, in Arab countries, “saluyot” is used as an ingredient in spicy chicken curry, but in our country, only the lowly Filipinos eat the said vegetable, despite the already known fact, that it can prevent diabetes. A classy Chinese restaurant in Manila serves “alugbate” as an appetizer, but again, only mostly Visayans appreciate the said vegetable which is also known as Madagascar spinach or Chinese spinach, and those who cook it, know only of monggo as the appropriate taste enhancer. Still in the Middle East, one way to prepare eggplant is to sauté it in oil and spices until it becomes mushy, which then, is eaten with bread. But in the Philippines, despite the abundance of eggplant, what most Filipinos know as a dish for it is “tortang talong” or an ingredient in “pinakbet”, or an insignificant ingredient in “achara” or pickles, and still for the lowly, “binagoongang talong” or just “inihaw na talong”.
In Thai restaurants, they serve “bagoong rice” with thin slices of green mango and toasted dried krill (alamang) or baby shrimps on the side. Filipinos love it, but local carinderias do not serve them or only very few even attempt to cook it at home, despite the availability of ingredients in wet markets. Still, Filipinos do not mind paying for the pricey Thai coffee, although, it is just an ordinary black coffee mixed with “condensed milk”, that can be prepared at home. And, to top it all, the mentioned offerings are listed in the menu with Thai names!
So far, only the street food vendors are bold enough to give their palatable goodies “exotic” names, such as ‘adidas” for chicken feet, IUD for chicken intestine, “pares” for soupy mixture of shredded beef, cow skin, chili flakes, soy sauce, and toasted garlic – paired with quick-cooked fried rice.
When Fiilipinos have foreign visitors, they are brought to classy restaurants, unless the latter request for something local. Oftentimes, no initiative is taken by most Filipinos to introduce what are ours. A classic attempt, however, was made by a Filipina when she brought her German guest to a mall and went to the Filipino section for candied tamarind. While picking up a pack, the host was proudly talking about the fruit as being abundant in the Philippines. When the guest looked at the label, she saw a “Made in China” printed prominently as the source of the product!….well, at least the proud Filipina tried.