What is Filipino food and what does it taste like? Chefs explain

With some 12 million people across more than 100 countries, the Filipino diaspora is one of the largest in the world.

Yet the food of the Philippines isn’t as widely known as some Asian cuisines. Fans of the cuisine argue that adobo — chicken or pork braised in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and peppercorn — should be as recognizable as phad thai, ramen and shrimp dumplings. 

As more Filipino chefs gain international recognition, the popularity of Philippines cuisine is gaining traction. In 2015, Antonio’s Restaurant — helmed by Filipino Tonyboy Escalante — was the first restaurant in the Philippines to break onto the World’s 50 Best list, debuting at No. 48.

Sarsa’s motto is “Filipino Food Forward.” Dishes from the Manila restaurant are (clockwise from top right): sisig, crab tortang talong (eggplant omelet), sizzling kansi (beef shank soup), chicken inasal, and (middle) beef caldereta.

Scott A. Woodward

In 2016, Bad Saint, the Washington, D.C., restaurant launched by the James Beard award-winning chef Tom Cunanan, was named the second-best restaurant in America by Bon Appetit magazine. That same year, Manila’s Margarita Fores was honored as Asia’s Best Female Chef by the U.K.-based 50 Best organization.

Yet insiders say struggles to popularize Filipino food come from stereotypes abroad as well as issues within the Philippines.

From Manila to Miami and Paris

Cheryl Tiu, a Manila-born food journalist and founder of the Miami-based events website Cross Cultures, attributes some of the problem to “hiya,” meaning shame in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines.

A baker in Panderya Toyo dusting bicho — a local version of beignets — with sugar and cacao.

Scott A. Woodward

“We were colonized for so many years, and we were made to think that anything imported was better,” said Tiu. “Thankfully, today’s generation has been loud and proud about our heritage.”

Television hasn’t been helpful either, said Tiu.

“We’ve also received so much bad press in the sense that some of our dishes were ‘Fear Factor-ized,'” she said. “Many associate all our food with that.”‘

On Gallery by Chele’s tasting menu, blue crab is topped with

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