I originally was planning to write about whether or not Filipino food is becoming mainstream American, but when researching the subject, I encountered a movie Ulam: Main Dish, that seemed to cover that territory. Having never heard of it before, I decided to see it first before doing any writing on the subject. I am delighted that I did.
The movie covers a number of Filipino American restaurants and chefs that are gaining notoriety and fame for their work. Why is this of any interest? Filipino Americans are third largest Asian American group (as of the 2010 Census), but Filipino food is not remotely close to being the third most numerous type of Asian restaurants in the US. Given the long history of Filipinos in the US and as an American colony, it would seem surprising that the food has not been well known.
A theme running through the movie is how many people didn’t think that a Filipino food restaurant could thrive. Sadly, many naysayers were other Filipino Americans. Restaurant co-owner Nicole Ponseca talked about the crab mentality, how Filipinos often criticize and to drag each other down and criticize each other rather than being supportive. A few weeks after her and partner/chef/fiancee Miguel Trinidad‘s restaurant Maharlika opened, it would have two month waits for a reservation. Maharlika is still around, almost nine years later, and its sister restaurant, Jeepney, has been operating for over six years.
Overall, the stories of successful Filipino restaurants and chefs inspired me. We have talked before about why there have been relatively few Filipino entrepreneurs, so seeing Filipinos breaking this mold made my day. I liked how the film talked about the crab mentality issue and how Filipinos are sometimes their own biggest obstacles. On what I think could have been better in the movie, covering only success stories seems limiting. Often the best lessons on success come from failures.