Filipino Food Hits the Mainstream

 Patrice Cleary, Co-Owner of the Purple Patch. Photo credit:  Bisnow .

Patrice Cleary, Co-Owner of the Purple Patch. Photo credit: Bisnow.

Nearly three years ago, before most Americans could pronounce sinigang, let alone find a place to enjoy the sour soup, Andrew Zimmern predicted Filipino cuisine would soon become the darling of diners who collect restaurant experiences like seashells on the beach. If you survey the dining landscape today, you might wonder whether the “Bizarre Foods” host moonlights as a soothsayer.

From Los Angeles to New York, Filipino cooking has expanded well beyond its no-frills “point-point” eateries (the suburban outlets where diners point to steam-table dishes they want) to more refined restaurants that cater to diners who want wine, not soda, with their meals. D.C. area chefs and restaurateurs, in particular, have taken an interest in Filipino food. Three full-service restaurants, including a fine-dining room overseen by a James Beard Award nominee, now specialize wholly or in part in the cuisine; three more are on the way.

Zimmern is not surprised, nor is he particularly impressed with his prophecy skills. As a globe-trotting food hunter, Zimmern has a rare vantage point from which he can monitor world cuisines. He knows what food is bubbling just below the mainstream. Chefs tell him about it. He may even see them tinkering with dishes to achieve that delicate balance of authenticity and American marketability.

“I had said to some people, ‘If there was a great chef executing Filipino food at a high level, everyone else would line up behind them,’ ” Zimmern says.

Which is exactly what chefs have done since Zimmern made his prediction in 2012: The TV host singles out Paul Qui at Qui in Austin and Cristina Quackenbush at Milkfish in New Orleans as two pioneers willing to take a chance on Filipino food. Others point to Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan at the Purple Yam in Brooklyn or the young owners behind Maharlika and Jeepney in the East Village as the trailblazers who eased American diners into the Filipino fold. Yet regardless of who gets credit, one pertinent question remains: What has made Filipino cooking different from other Asian cuisines, which found acceptance much earlier in mainstream American dining rooms?

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News story courtesy of Washington Post