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Foreigners and Filipino Food

Here in New Zealand there is still very little awareness of Filipino cuisine.

Tastes that are everyday comfort food to the average Pinoy are exotic, adventurous, even challenging, to the average Foreigner.

("Foreigner" is used ironically, here, by the way. In some Filipinos' vernacular, anybody who isn't Pinoy is a foreigner. Even in New Zealand.
Kiwis vs Filipino foodAt Turo-Turo Philippine Café in Auckland, locals - European, Maori, Pacific Islander, Indian and Asian - ponder the menu posted on the window. Some cautiously venture inside to peer at the puto and biko, but then, quietly, turn and leave without buying.

What’s at risk?

The risk is spending the price of a meal on something they don't like, but feel embarrassed to just walk away from. It's a real fear.

And with a cuisine that’s as new to them as Filipino, they consider that a big risk – especially when the ingredients and textures aren’t what they’re accustomed to.

Dinuguan is the most obvious example.

The intestines of a pig, sliced up and cooked in a stew of pig’s blood.

The horror! Never mind that those ingredients regularly show up in Kiwi favourites like mince pies and sausages; to the average non-Filipino it’s the stuff of Fear Factor.

But there are other, more subtle challenges.

Filipinos enjoy the fat. Pork belly barbecue or beef bulalo wouldn’t be the same with just lean meat. But Kiwis have a different view.

Filipino foodSimilarly, chicken bones and gristle, and even skin, typically dumped at the side of a Kiwi’s plate, are tasty treasures in a Filipino’s tinola.

Despite their reservations, Kiwis do want to discover something new – and at Turo-Turo there’s always a new face coming in to try the food.

A first-timer will usually order something that resembles food they’ve eaten before from other cultures, a familiarity they can handle: lumpiang shanghai (pork spring rolls) with chilli sauce for dipping. Siomai. Pancit.

Caldereta is popular. Bistek Tagalog, too.

And ginataang manok is a favourite - although hard to say.  (It's "ginna-ta-ung  ma-knock.") Chicken thigh and nibbles (there's the bone, again!) cooked with ginger and chilli in coconut milk. Divine.

Chop suey, chicken or pork and crisply stir-fried vegetables with rice, is another popular beginner's choice. Low risk. Although the presence of tasty additions like chorizo sausage, shrimp, and fish balls - essential flavour-enhancers to the Filipino palate - can be thoroughly confusing to a Kiwi expecting a "chicken dish" to only contain chicken!

Then, of course, there are the silogs.

Longsilog is another starting-point dish for first-time eaters of Filipino food. With the sweet flavours of the longanisa sausage mixed in with the garlic rice and fried egg, it is both unique, and familiar.
Bangsilog delivers a whole new subtlety to the flavour of fish, with its earthy freshwater taste.

The "foreigner" surveys a Filipino menu
Sisig always gets attention.

Sisig encapsulates the fear some Kiwis have of foreign cuisine – spicy-hot, and made from the pig's head, including the snout and brain!

But sisig also represents the creativity, resourcefulness, and delight of Filipino cuisine, a dish that is experienced, not just eaten; creative, unusual, rewarding and satisfying.

Filipino food is the new frontier for Kiwis  

– and indeed for people around the world – and it brings challenges that mean it won’t be an overnight sensation.

But Kiwis are trying it, Kiwis are loving it, Kiwis are bringing their friends to Turo-Turo to try it – and the good reputation is spreading.

They just have to learn to love that dinuguan …

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