Ever since I read in Saveur Magazine last year in their Top 100 issue declaring that Filipino food was considered the “soul food of Asia,” I’ve noticed an interest in a lot of different foods Filipino, particularly in San Francisco and its environs, where I’m located (Daly City to be exact).
For a brief time in the Castro (!!!) out of all places, there were two Filipino restaurants, Kape coffeehouse (which has recently closed about a month ago), and now Palencia, which I haven’t gone to yet. Bittersweet Cafe in the Fillmore had an amazing calamansi pate de fruits last winter. And of course, Mitchell’s Ice Cream in the Outer Mission has all their different Filipino ice creams, langka (jackfruit), mango, avocado (it’s good–don’t hate), buko, macapuno, halo-halo, and Tropical 4 (a mix of four different fruit ice creams which I can’t remember). The San Francisco Chronicle has featured a number of different Filipino restaurants, Tribu Grill, the only Filipino restaurant ever reviewed by the newspaper (and my favorite Filipino restaurant); Poleng Lounge; and Bistro Luneta, among others.
It’s got me thinking how given the fact that Filipinos are one of the largest populations in Asian America, and yet our cuisines have barely registered on the map. Until this upsurge of interest in Filipino food, the response of my friends and myself whenever someone wanted to go out was, “What for? We can make this stuff ourselves.” And for the most part it was true. Many of these restaurants were either dingy holes in the wall that were one step away from getting closed down by the public health department, or incredibly pretentious karaoke bars with barely passable food for the old money Filipino immigrant. I was pretty grateful to see some sort of presentation on a plate, or some decent service where I wouldn’t be talked down to because I can’t speak Tagalog.
I think on the one hand, this very welcome upsurge in quality and service of Filipino restaurants points to the continuing realization in our community, especially among us, that we don’t have to prepare foods that only white folk will like in order for us to be successful, and that, at least in the Bay Area, these restaurants are recognizing that there is a critical mass of Filipinos that will support and reward restaurants that cater to us, who serve the foods we really want and who treat us as customers to be respected. And that word of mouth will have non-Filipinos realize that there is so much more to Filipino food than just pancit and lumpia. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.