You ask all your Filipino friends. You read Yelp reviews. You even search Twitter. You want to eat some delicious, authentic Filipino food. Like for real for real, legit from the PHILIPPINES.
Your first time.
Maybe you never tried Filipino food before, you don’t know what to expect and you want your first time to be special.
I want your first time to be special, too. I don’t blame you and the trouble you’re going through to get the good stuff — I get it, actually. Is this food what it says it is? When I try a cuisine that is new to me, I want it to be genuine and delicious, too.
How do you tell it's authentic?
Let’s say you find a Filipino restaurant with good reviews not too far from you. Certainly there’s a checklist of signs newbies typically look for upon entering:
- Are the customers are mostly people from that country? Wait, what do Filipinos look like?
- What are the ingredients? How do they get fresh Filipino ingredients around here? Start freaking out that ingredients are not LOCALLY SOURCED.
- Is the menu in another language -- hopefully with English language translations, and maybe pictures?
- Does the food taste like it’s cooked from scratch? From the banana ketchup to the bagoong (fermented shrimp paste)? What’s it supposed to taste like, anyway?
- Whose recipes are these?
- Are the owners, chefs and staff Filipino? Or at least, half-Filipino?
Reality: Nothing can guarantee that Filipino food will be authentic.
The checklist begs more questions about who owns culture than it actually answers about authenticity. We think the list is (at least) a step in the right direction because the questions presume that food belongs to a particular place, time and people. Food is not anonymous, and it is full of meaning.
And if you’re interested in “discovering” Filipino food, just turn around right now.
Can you tell authenticity? In our opinion: No, not really. Or, at least not quickly.
It takes time to know any cuisine, and Filipino cuisine is no exception. With over 7,000 islands, chicken adobo, for example, may taste differently from region to region, town to town, barrio to barrio and family to family.
Authenticity means different things to everyone. To some Filipinos, Filipino cuisine will never be food that feels natural to eat in a restaurant, with Western style courses. It’ll only always be family food, piyesta food. Other Filipinos may think only of their own regional cuisine as authentic, especially if she or she has not having tried much of other regions’ cuisines. So it’ll take time to find out what authentic Filipino food means to you.
We think authenticity is as much about intention as it is about flavor. How closely are traditions kept? If different choices are made, why? Debates about authenticity are certain to ensue around vegemite adobo, powdered sinigang mix and Giada DiLaurentiis.
Take heart — there’s plenty of time for healthy debate, and we play nice.
We here at Filipino Kitchen are not here to say what Filipino cuisine is and what it isn’t, and we won’t be saying the A-word around here.
We are excited to learn from you and to explore Filipino cuisine and culture together.