Is Filipino food embarrassing?

This is the question “side dish” raised on Chowhound’s Pacific Northwest board in 2002.

The post itself wasn’t very illuminating. The writer claimed that there’s a dearth of Filipino restaurants in Seattle because “Filipinos are the ultimate US wannabees” who are “more likely to open a Jewish deli or burger stand than a Filipino restaurant.” However, over the years, the post has gained an interesting array of comments.

Many posters agreed with the writer that Filipino food, especially the smell of it, is embarrassing. A number of people said embarrassment stemmed from the degradation of Filipino culture that came from colonization. Some claimed that Filipinos have no business sense, and that’s why there are no successful Filipino restaurants. Others simply said that Filipino food doesn’t appeal to the American palate.

The argument that most resonated with me is that Filipinos’ relationship with food is intensely personal. Every Filipino’s recipe for chicken adobo is different and delicious. But most Filipinos only want to eat their adobo, cooked their way.

In the Chowhound post, “missm2u” puts it this way:
“…maybe we don’t have that many restaurants becuz, like soul food, filipino food is very sophisticated and also personal and when it comes down to it, the pancit we like best is the one just like our mom (or dad) made when we were kidz…”

The idea of being embarrassed to eat Filipino food in public totally mystifies me. I’m a second-generation Filipino American, and I feel that this is mostly something first-generation Filipino immigrants experience. The way you feel about yourself manifests itself in your relationship to food. People who are embarrassed by what they eat are embarrassed about some aspect of themselves. I’ve been lucky enough not to have to endure too much ill treatment because of my ethnicity. I know other Filipinos have been taunted about their culture. If people keep taunting you about what you eat, it can be hard to enjoy your food much less feel proud of it.

So are there any good Filipino restaurants in Seattle? I ran across the Chowhound thread when I was researching Kawali Grill, a Filipino restaurant in South Seattle. I went there with my Chinese American husband and a big group of friends who are all Fil-Am.

We ordered a gang of dishes, planning to share everything. So we were disappointed when our food arrived and the portions were small. It was weird that you couldn’t share the entrees because Filipinos eat family style.

I ordered the fish escabeche, which is typically a whole fish fillet covered with a sauce made from onion, garlic, ginger, bell peppers, tomatoes, vinegar and lemon or lime juice. Some people like to make their sauce like bad Chinese restaurant sweet and sour sauce and put pineapples in it. I am not one of those people.

But whoever prepared my fish escabeche at Kawali Grill was! The sauce was not entirely unpleasant, but far too thick and goopy for me. I scraped most of it. The fish was perfectly cooked and tasted great with minimal sauce.

I did get a couple of bites of other dishes including: fresh lumpia, pandan fried chicken and pork inihaw. Hands down, the best dish was the pork inihaw (broiled pork marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, garlic and hot sauce).

Fried chicken pandan

Fried chicken pandan

Pork inihaw

Pork inihaw

I felt like there was too much ice in my halo halo dessert, which made it hard to mix (the whole point!) but that’s a minor quibble. The ube ice cream in the halo halo more than made up for it.

I want to try more of the dinner menu at Kawali Grill, and I definitely want to go there for breakfast. The restaurant serves a couple varities of Filipino silog breakfasts, which usally involves a fried egg on top of garlic fried rice and a side of meat.

I feel no shame in wanting that.

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4 Comments

Filed under Essays, Filipino food, Food and race, Reviews, Savory, Sweet

4 responses to “Is Filipino food embarrassing?

  1. Pingback: Summer vacation part 2: Holy mole! « Edible Joy

  2. The topic is quite trendy on the Internet right now. What do you pay the most attention to while choosing what to write ?

    • mrsmoy

      Is this topic trendy on the Internet right now? That’s interesting. I wrote about Filipino food and embarrassment in August 2008 in response to a Chowhound post that had been written in 2002. I’m very interested in the intersection of food and race, especially when it comes to all things Filipino because I’m a first-generation Filipino American.

      I never have enough time to write about all of the food things that I want to cover. And I really wish I had more time to read and respond to other food bloggers.

  3. Pingback: NaBloPoMo: 30 Posts in 30 Days | Edible Joy

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