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‘Kahit saan’

by Senator Manny Villar

I remember a time when dining out was a lot simpler. In the first place, in those days dining out was not that frequent as most families prefer to eat in the house. Everyone comes home for dinner was the rule in most families. In the few times that we can eat out the choices were pretty straightforward.

I enjoyed eating with my friends at Ma Mon Luk in Quiapo and Chopsticks Restaurants in Cubao. There were also the usual suspects in family dining: Savory, Little Quiapo, Aristocrat and Max’s along Roxas Boulevard, Ramon Lee’s Panciteria in Ronquillo, Sta. Cruz, and the delicious Chinese restaurants in Binondo.

Today, your choices in dining out with the family is, well, let’s just say, complicated. There are thousands of eating establishments to choose from. According to the 2012 Census of Philippine and Industry (CPBI) there are 4,477 “restaurants and mobile food services” in the country 2,642 of them operating in the National Capital Region (NCR). I am sure that this number is already much higher given the boom in restaurant services in recent years given the increase in mall development in urban areas.

And the establishments range from the simple karinderia to street food stalls to fast food to fine dining restaurants. They also represent a variety of cuisines from around the world: Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Italian, French, American, German, among others. I think one time I passed by a restaurant specializing in Balkan food.

No wonder the most common answer to the equally common question, “Saan tayo kakain?” is “Kahit saan…”

But this is a good development not only for the economy but also for Filipino consumers. We now have more choices. More restaurants mean more interesting foods to choose from. And I think this is also the function of Filipinos having the ability to travel in different countries. They have been exposed to the culture of other peoples and most especially to their cuisines.

To be honest, I never imagined Filipinos gobbling up raw fish wrapped in rice decades ago. But a lot has changed. The Filipino palate has evolved. We are now more open to previously “strange” foods, or as one television show put it, “bizarre food”. We eat tuyo and champorado for breakfast then burito or soba noodles for lunch.

And the global trend of restaurants also applied the other way around. Filipino cuisine is now very popular abroad. For a long time, many culinary experts wondered why our cuisine has lagged behind our neighbors in terms of global popularity. Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines have had their heyday in the US market for example, but Filipino cuisine has largely been unnoticed.

But 2017 was a banner year for Filipino food. Popular chefs and TV show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern both predicted that Filipino food would be the next food trend. And a lot of Filipino-inspired restaurants did open in the US. This is good for us, especially for our tourism.

Let us not forget our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who became the first ambassadors of Filipino food when they would cook adobo, pancit or sinigang in the foreign country they are working in. This initially exposed foreigners to the “strangely delicious” world of Pinoy cuisine.

I also enjoy the various reinterpretations of Filipino food. Some restaurants offer different takes on adobo. There are Kare Kare recipes that depart, quite deliciously from the original. Sisig has taken on various life forms on sizzling plates. Again, this is good. This shows the cosmopolitan nature of our palate.

I also like the fact that Metro Manila now showcase a lot of local regional cuisines. It is very common now to see restaurants specializing in Cebuano or Ilongo cooking. There are Maranao and Tausug foods available in Greenhills and other areas.

I hope this trend continues. Diversity can only improve our culture. The more the yummier. Once in awhile, I’d like to go back to my comfort food – kare-kare, nilagang baka, daing and the like. They bring back memories. But the variety of food available allows us to travel around the globe without leaving home.

Hungry yet?