Do Yourself a Favor, Experience the Culinary Delight Filipino Food Week Offers, June 6-12

Get ready Hawaii, Filipino Food Week (FFW) is back for its second year. Once again, a diverse group of Hawaii restaurants representing a wide spectrum from fine dining to moderately priced eateries will be participating.

Kudos to these restaurants, bars, and eateries for integrating at least one Filipino-inspired food item or a complete menu that both Filipinos and non-Filipinos can enjoy. Their participation – 21 restaurants in four islands—will also help to promote Filipino cuisine.

The Next Big Thing
Food aficionados and chefs have been forecasting Filipino Food as the next big ethnic culinary splash to win-over Americans nationwide. TV Food host Andrew Zimmerman is among the latest to make such a prediction.

Chefs in the industry are the best and most reliable sources to anticipate food trends. Their business success and survival often depend on how well they adapt to the latest trends. So coming from experts that Filipino cuisine is the next big thing should be encouraging news.

But such bold statements have been ongoing for some time now with only incremental advances in popularity.

The delay of Filipino cuisine-stardom cannot be related to Filipino food lacking diverse options, quality, or potential appeal to the mainstream palate. Otherwise, chefs would not be continuing talks of the-next-big-thing for our cuisine.

Reasons why Filipino cuisine hasn’t taken off yet: Low Entrepreneurship and lack of Filipino community support
Some have stated different reasons for the puttering start of Filipino cuisine in the US when compared to other more popular Asian cuisines. After Chinese and Japanese cuisine, the likely order of the next big thing should have been Filipino cuisine, just based on the large presence of Filipinos in the US. But Thai, Korean and Vietnamese cuisine have made deeper inroads than Filipino cuisine in mainstream appeal.

Some say less Filipinos are willing to make that entrepreneurship jump to open a restaurant than other Asians. Why is this the case? Besides the fact that it is a very risky venture that requires major investment, ethnic restaurant entrepreneurship is often looked at as one of the few options for ambitious, recent immigrants who speak very little English. This theory is perhaps strongest among Vietnamese immigrant restaurant owners.

Filipino immigrants as already proficient English speakers day one upon their arrival, it’s arguable to say, they are more adaptable and bank on other means to make a living, more conservative and safer means besides the high-risk venture of becoming restauranteurs.

But this is just one explanation. But one that weighs heavily because without entrepreneurs to make Filipino cuisine available, the only other means for non-Filipinos to get exposed to our cuisine is through social parties and potlucks.

And this certainly is not enough exposure.

The late Anthony Bourdain, American chef and documentarian, said himself that he believes Japanese food became as popular as it is today because of pioneering Japanese chefs that made Japanese food a successful brand. Now all across the US even non-Japanese are opening up Japanese restaurants. But it took a solid group of pioneering Japanese chefs that gave the cuisine a kick-start.

There are promising signs for Filipino cuisine to fulfill its destiny of mainstream appeal in that there is an increasing number of professionally trained Filipino chefs on the rise, even at the highest level as James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant and Chef Awards nominees and a winner in 2019 (this award is the Oscar’s version of the food industry). Filipino chefs may not necessarily be trained in Filipino cuisine to start, but once a solid foundation is formed on preparing food with creativity, accuracy and skill, it’s really just a matter of knowing the ingredients as a working start until mastery is achieved to make a transition to opening a Filipino restaurant, if this is a personal goal.

But making a risky transition to promote Filipino cuisine must be a smart business goal, which brings us to perhaps another reason for the delay of Filipino restaurants from thriving – more of us in the Filipino community must support Filipino restaurants.

Or in the case with FFW, we should be supporting all these restaurants sharing our cuisine and culture.

A big mahalo goes out to the Philippine Consulate of Honolulu for spearheading and organizing FFW. A project like this actually should have come many years ago and launched from our own local Filipino community.  A special thanks also must be extended to the owners of restaurants involved in FFW. Already there are a few more restaurants participating this year than FFW’s inaugural year in 2019. And this is significant given that the increase comes at a reeling post-pandemic year. We encourage our community to go out and support all of these restaurants. We also recommend that our Filipino community continue to support in particular after FFW, Filipino-owned restaurants.

For those unfamiliar with Filipino food, treat yourself to one of the most diverse global cuisines. You will be impressed and think why haven’t you discovered Filipino food much earlier.

Be sure to mark your calendars for FFW, June 6-12. See our list of participating restaurants in this issue’s cover story.  

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