For our Filipino food episode [E7], we asked our listeners to call in to our Google voice number to talk to us about their relationships with Filipino food. And y'all really rose to the occasion! We got a lot of voicemails, so we put our favorite ones together. The messages form a really beautiful narrative about the cuisine and the place it has in people's hearts; one that we think everyone can relate to in some way.
Alan Montecillo Hi. You’re listening to a bonus episode of “Racist Sandwich.” I’m Alan Montecillo, the producer of the show. We asked you all to call in and leave us messages about what Filipino food means to you. Now, we were going to include a short kind of voicemail montage in the last show, but instead we decided to release a separate episode with longer excerpts from the messages that you left us. So, it’s kind of like a Filipino food doubleheader kind of situation. I’m just going to get out of the way and let you all listen to these messages. Personally, as a Filipino, I really enjoyed listening to these. I learned a lot. And as someone who almost never sees anyone who looks like me, honestly, it made me feel less alone.
Speaker 1 Filipino food, for me, has always been a source of comfort. Of course, it means home, being in America.
Speaker 2 A way that I can really connect with my family and really bond over food.
Speaker 3 I grew up in rural northern Nevada two and a half hours east of Reno, literally in the middle of nowhere. So growing up, Filipino food was kind of like the air that I breathed. And it was one of many things that made me different from the other kids at school.
Speaker 4 And it just fills, I don’t know, it fills a need. I don’t know if it’s the carbohydrates or the fat in it. It’s just something that it feeds my soul when I eat. No one ever ate alone. Breakfasts were always on a big table. The clarion call to a meal always meant that we were going to be together.
Speaker 5 My parents were immigrants and we grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania where they didn’t have access to a lot of ingredients. So we would have pancit palabok that was made with Campbell’s cream of shrimp soup. We would have sinigang with frozen watercress and okra, which wasn’t always available. And these efforts that my parents made to seek out these ingredients and make these sort of quasi-bastardized versions of Filipino food, I look back on it, and I realize that they were showing me how important food was and how food is a way that you stay connected to who you are.
Speaker 6 When I’m away for college, Filipino food is like coming home, the acidity, the vinegar, the shoyu is all there. And when I was in college, I always eat Filipino food or some kind of Asian food with my Filipino friends. There’s always white rice. I always end up leaving with leftovers covered in tin foil. I have this one friend in college and he’s Filipino and he’s never really been a big cook until coming to college. But whenever I needed something like soy sauce or rice or egg, kimchi or mango, he literally always has something for me.
Speaker 7 Despite living in the middle of nowhere, there was actually a really large Filipino community in my small town, surprisingly large. So a lot of my food memories kind of center around this ritual of my mom making all kinds of Filipino food—like lumpia and fried rice or pancit or whatever—and then bringing it to a large potluck. That always happened like every week. Similarly, when my lola and my lolo died, my family in the Philippines had a huge remembrance gathering complete with lechon and every dish under the sun. So in a lot of ways, I learned to celebrate things with food, and I learned to grieve with food as well.
Speaker 8 Why do I think Filipino food isn’t as popular as other Asian cuisines? I honestly have no idea. Every theory I come up with I immediately debunk because—I don’t know. It just doesn’t make sense to me, because Filipino food is so good. What I do know is that Filipinos and Filipino culture, it seems, are the underdogs all the time, except when it comes to boxing.
Speaker 9 In the ‘60s and in the ‘70s, most of the Filipinos that came to the United States were more of the professional background—doctors, engineers and nurses and the like. So in that regard, we do not have a history of people coming into the United States and trying to establish a business.
Speaker 10 I think there’s two reasons why Filipino food isn’t as popular as other Asian cuisines in America. Number one, I think that if it’s not fresh and cooked properly, it can be a little bit unappealing to a lot of people, especially white people. They just are not into it. And there’s been times where I’ve gone out to Filipino restaurants, and I haven’t been into it just because the cooking isn’t up to my standards. To number two, I think that there is a race problem. Filipino food has this history of just being kind of stigmatized—balut, for example. Not everyone is willing to eat a duck egg. Not everyone is willing to have dinuguan. It’s just a little bit unexpected and different. Those foods right there, people assume that the rest of the Filipino cuisine is as—insert whatever—exotic, disliked by white people. I mean, it’s all the same thing.
Speaker 11 Most of our dishes are not rendered for making into small portions. Once it’s cooked, you can’t eat a whole pot of kare kare or a whole crispy pata by yourself. And therein lies the joy of Pinoy food for me. It’s meant for sharing.
Speaker 12 Well, it could be because it’s too salty. It’s not fancy. Filipino food isn’t...most of it is really just down home good food. But I think, too, it probably isn’t as popular because it’s so similar to other cuisines. Some of our dishes are very Chinese, some of them are very Spanish and some of them are very similar to Thai. So, there’s not enough about Filipino food, I think, to differentiate it from all the other cuisines.
Speaker 13 Many traditional Filipino dishes are best enjoyed when eaten without pretense. More importantly, if served in a formal restaurant setting, it would be missing the sincere warmth of Filipino hospitality.
Speaker 14 As far as why Filipino food isn’t as popular as other cultures and cuisines in America, I don’t know. Because it’s just as good, if not better, than a lot of shit we eat. I think maybe it might have something to do with assimilation. Filipinos assimilate more and teach assimilation more than a lot of other cultures. People go and take jobs. There’s a huge overseas foreign workers that go out there and they’re used to getting jobs and sending money back home. And the idea of opening a restaurant I think is a lower priority. Going into business for yourself is more of a risk, and I think it just hasn’t infiltrated in consciousness the way that other cuisines have.
Speaker 15 When you ask why Filipino food isn’t as popular or hip as other Asian foods in America, do you mean not as white or not as gourmet or not as classy or not as palatable? I think that’s part of our refusal to assimilate. And I know assimilation is just one part of the story, but I think that Filipino food is not really meant for others. I think it’s meant for family and for kin and kinship and not always for profit.
Speaker 16 Because I’ve tried to offer it to my friends, tried to introduce them to my culture. But it’s sometimes not received well just because either the Filipino restaurant didn’t properly cook it or there aren’t that many options for Filipino food. It’s just… It’s a challenge sometimes, but I’m hoping that I can start to learn to cook Filipino food for myself and for my friends.
Alan Montecillo Thanks for listening to “Racist Sandwich.” As always, we’d love to hear your feedback. So get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter at @raceandfood. And if you didn’t get a chance to leave us a message, but you still wanted to, you should do it anyway. We’re always looking to hear from our listeners, and we might still use your audio. So call us at 971-800-1389. I’m Alan Montecillo, and we’ll be back in two Wednesdays with another episode of “Racist Sandwich.”
Transcribed by Ann-Derrick Gaillot.