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Dec 23, 2002 02:04 PM

Is Filipino food embarassing?

  • s

I have read statistics that Filipinos are the #1 ethnic minority in Seattle, more in number than Chinese even. And yet, just TRY to find a Filipino restaurant! I know of (counting) 6 places - 3 of which have the same owner. So, basically, 4 restaurants, and 2 "branches".

In contrast, I *think* Seattle has more than 6 Chinese restaurants. Just my gut instinct. Hell, Seattle has more TURKISH or GERMAN restaurants, and there aren't nearly as many of those ethnicities around.

I find the situation similar in most major cities, including Honolulu, with its 28% Filipino population. What's the deal? I love Filipino food, and given the mainstream popularity of Thai (and now Vietnamese lately), it should be quite popular...even among suburban white folks. So why are Filipinos so averse to running restaurants?

[SHORT ANSWER (from Filipino friends) is that Filipinos are the ultimate US wannabes; that they're more likely to open a Jewish deli or a burger stand than a Filipino restaurant. Maybe some truth here, but I'd say the same about Vietnamese, and there's no certainly shortage of THOSE restaurants about.]

I really don't see why we don't have 200 or 300 Filipino restaurants here. I believe the population is greater than Vietnamese and Thai COMBINED.

BTW, I'd appreciate it if anyone knows a few more. I only know of:

Rios - International District
Inay's takeout - in Uwajimaya; branch of Rios
Inay's Manila Grill - U-District; ditto
?name - one more in U-District [something with an "s", I think. "Sari Hut" maybe?]
Kusina Filipina - somewhere on Beacon hill
?name - take out stand in Pike Market

BTW, was the "old" Inay's - also on Beacon Hill - where Kusina is now? If not, is there some OTHER Filipino restaurant in their old location?


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  1. I can't shed any light on why there aren't more Filipino restaurants, but I do have a question regarding the ones that already exist: What's good to eat there? I've tried Inay's in the U District once, and one of the things I had (sorry, can't remember what it was) was so undelightful that I haven't been able to go back. I know what adobo's all about (and enjoy cooking it), but what else is worth trying?

    12 Replies
    1. re: BradS

      I tried the Rios buffet once, and thought that EVERYTHING there except the pancit (chow mein) stunk!! But then I tried Inay's in Uwajimaya - my god, everything I try there is PERFECT.

      For $4.95 most days you can get a combo of pancit, rice, and one of the 8 or so stew-like entrees (two a day chosen as specials; selection rotates daily). The Adobo was spectacular; the Chicken Apritada better, and the Guisantes sublime. I think Pecadillo was the only thing I found bland. But only bland - not out-and-out BAD, as at Rios.

      Imagine my surprise when the girl told me they were the same place!

      BTW, I haven't tried any of the a la carte items (okoy [fritters], shishkebab, sausages), so I can't comment. They look good, tho.

      Nor have I tried many desserts. The bibinka (big round ones on the case) look spectacular, but proved to be rather dull, at least to my taste. I ended up adding more sugar and cheese when I got home.

      But the main dishes...OH-LA-LA!

      As a general rule, I would recommend anything BRIGHTLY COLORED. The stuff that looks like Thai curry. In contrast, the black/brown dishes tend to be heavy, greasy, blobs of meat fat (with the exception of Adobo, of course). If you like, say, pork rinds, you might like them. Me, I stick to the flouresent veggie-heavy stuff.

      I've never eaten anywhere but these 2 places. The counter in Pike Market looks extremely unappetizing, all the moreso after being spoiled at Inay's.

      I mean to make a trek to the other 2 (Kusina, Sari-whatever) one of these days, tho.

      1. re: side dish

        i'm familiar with the food's of the island's. i invested in one of the first filipino restaurants that opened in new york city in 1952 called the "Phillipine Hut" on 47th street between 6th and 7th avenues. it was successful for three years until it lost it's lease and i arrangeged for my partner to work in the "hawaiian room" at the lexington hotel. in hawaii there are many fillipino restaurants that do well and i started a business making sausage and balotes that are still doing very well sending the balotes all over the mainland. in seattle we have had over a dozen attempts starting up various filipino restaurants, sausage makers and bakeries. baked goods of many types are available at central market in shoreline from rolls, cream puff's and empaladas and various jellies and candy as well various sausage products in the freezer and deli sections. i feel that if and when the time comes for some experienced chef operator decides to open a real place it will follow the success of my favorite place the "maylasian satay" restaurant that is probably the best outside maylasia now with 2 locations both special. the most successfull restaurants in asia that offer fillipino, maylay, singapore, indian and chinese food as well as a full european menu have been operated traditionally by filipino-chinese and maylay-chinese seamen who entered the restaurant business in the late 1940ties and 50ties all over asia especially hong kong and do extremely well.

        1. re: irwin koval

          Irwin, I question your assertion that there are "many" Filipino restaurants in Honolulu. In my day there were only 4 or 5 worthy of a phone book listing, and probably a couple dozen more running out of people's garages (thinking Kalihi here). Still, not even CLOSE to the number of Thai restaurants around, despite a population ratio of like 4000-to-1.

          By the way, don't mean to crossthread, but you just mentioned Hawaiian food, so could I ask whether YOU might have a list of places current in Honolulu? For that matter, in NYC and elsewhere as well?

          We really need a Hawaii board here!

          1. re: side dish

            Linked below is the Elsewhere in America board where you'll find many discussions of food in Hawaii in progress and to post your question about Filipino restaurants in Hawaii.


            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Ahhh, very nice. Thank you!

              1. re: side

                You're welcome!

                To circle back to your original question, I find it curious too that there are so few Filipino restaurants in Seattle. On the SF Bay Area board, I've been posting over the last several months on the Filipino food I've found in the town of Vallejo that has less than 150K residents. So far I've stumbled upon 7 independent restaurants, plus LingNam, Goldilocks and Jollibee's which are Manila chains, a bakery, and 4 grocery stores. That struck me as an extraordinary concentration in this little burg. Seems that whatever the reasons might be in Seattle, the reverse is happening in Vallejo!

                I'm just learning about Filipino food myself. There are some amazing posts by RST on the Chicago board that I've found highly educational.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  MELANIE: i'm curious if your aware of the similarity of evolvement in the ethinic dishes from the phillipines, japan, china, macau and hong kong that are based upon the influence on cusines brought about by the jesuit priests to these cultures. the many types of pasrties such as the common use of the word "pan". tempura [fried in dough or batter], abdobo. viga dos, types of sausage, egg tarts, curry puffs, jellied and colorfull desserts, vinegar, spices, chili peppers all started with priests from spain and portugel carried foward to being generally accepted in most regions of asia and india.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    As a relative Filipino newbie in Seattle, I do find it unsettling that my co-workers love filipino food and yet, I can not, for the love of God, really recommend a good Filipino restaurant around the area. Theories have always abounded in my brain on why we don't have good restaurants. It's hilarious that some people, or even Filipinos, for that matter, think that's it about being too assimilated. In fact, my own theory is quite the opposite precisely because we are not mainstream and are afraid to do so. There is some truth to the embarassment concept. Us Filipinos are notorious for the concept of 'hiya' which could be interpreted as reticent shyness but in all honesty, it really is about being afraid to embarass yourself and hurt your pride in the process. I know it totally sounds bizarre to the American mind but it works for our culture. But getting back to the food, a lot of our dishes border on the high 'gross-out' factor for a lot of Americans, as seen, for example in Fear Factor, with the balut (duck embryo)episode that scared the bejeezus of pretty much everyone except for me....I was salivating. There's also dinuguan, sisig and all the intestine stuff that might not be palatable to a non-Filipino taste bud. It embarasses us that everyone else find it gross and we find it so delicious. It embarasses us that we've gotten notices from the apartment landlords because we are frying 'tuyo' and it supposedly stinks up the whole place. So I guess forgive us for sticking to ourselves. That's why the catering business abounds. We are at home only when we are 'at home' precisely because we don't quite fit, which for me is nothing wrong. What is wrong though is that if we become too insular, we loose that cultural identity that goes with food because you don't build a critical mass outside your race here in Seattle. A lot of the younger Filipinos that grew up here haven't even tried the more obscure yet incredibly tasty regional dishes found in the Philippines. That's why I go home every year. That said, what we need is a vision. We need Filipino restaurants that is not Americanized but is catered to the American way of eating either like a deli, which Kusina Filipina, Inay's, D'Unik, and all the other delis in Silverdale, Federal Way and Tacoma delis cater to, or a restaurant style thing where the menu covers the usual appetizer, entree and dessert (which is a totally alien concept to Filipinos coz we always eat Family style),... a restaurant that would be true to the Filipino cuisine spirit but bold enough to venture and fuse cuisine concepts that would put it to another level. It maybe a concept heresy to most Filipinos but the truth is, our cooking is unique because it is a blend of all these cultures from Malay, Chinese, Spanish and American influences. It is so rich in diversity that I feel that it is an injustice that nobody can truly appreciate it for what it is and what it could be. Hopefully, this would be a sounding board rant to us Filipinos here in Seattle to finally put Filipino food on the map and make us truly proud of what it is.

              2. re: side dish

                My filipino mom says that we have pacific islander blood(guam, palau, micronesia) in us and are just lazy. :(

                I want to find a good filipino restaurant too, but it's been over 40 years!

              3. re: irwin koval

                My parents owned The Philippine Hut restaurant in NYC when I was a child. My mother doesn't remember Irwin and she said that only the chefs and my father were the investors. My mother worked as the bartender. After the "Hut" closed we opened another one on East 45th St. near the United Nations. Maybe Irwin knew one of the chefs and gave them the money to invest.

            2. re: BradS

              hi, i really recomend you to try kaldereta.. its really delicious.. specially if your fond of spicy foods.. or even bistek... its like beef steak but cooked in a different way.. but its just as delicious.. well i hope u try this things.. enjoy!

            3. Filipinos assimilate into American culture so extremely well, I think in general they just want to become part of the "melting pot" and somehow don't emphasize their "multicultural" background like so many immigrants populations do nowadays. I guess that's the original American spirit. Kind of reminds me of my grandfather, his dad came to US from some country in Europe but nobody knows. All he wanted to do was be American and he always told my grandpa that he was American and nothing else, work hard and don't take a handout from anyone. Well, I think that spirit may be long gone, in favor of multiculturalists, expect maybe the Filipinos (bless their hearts) they somehow represent what was once a great inspiration for unity.

              Sorry for the diatribe!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Fritz

                My first instinct is to agree with you (as my parenthetical comment pretty much said the same thing, tho far less eloquently), but...when you look at those "well-assimilated" Europeans of yore, you find Irish pubs, German delis, and...LITTLE ITALY!! Altho there was a lot less CONTEMPLATION about diversity, the reality was that everyone brought a piece of the "old country" with them.

                Filipinos, FWIW, do have active networks with social events, get togethers, churches outtings, etc. etc., same as the next group. Just no restaurants.

                In all of those events I've witnessed, they're chock full of homemade dishes of a most ethnic variety. So it's not like they've cast off their culture or their food. Just their restaurants!

                A Filipino New Year's party has pretty much the same "feel" as a Viet one or a Thai one. No more assimilated, no less. It remains a puzzle why there aren't hundreds of cafes about town.

              2. r
                Richard Harding

                Even Filipinos see little marketability of Filipino food. What does that tell you?

                I doubt Filipinos don't open Filipino restaurants because they are "white-washed". Someone will open a business if he thinks he will make a buck, assimilated or not. The real reason may be the lack of range in Filipino food.

                Are you Filipino? Why the fascination with the obscure of the obscure of "cusine"?

                3 Replies
                1. re: Richard Harding

                  You're amusing Rich!!

                  To imply that Filipino food has less range than GERMAN just made my day.

                  Hope you have a Happy non-sectarian white-bread-only Holiday! I'm working on goose chowmein for mine...with candied ube....

                  1. re: side dish
                    Richard Harding

                    German food? I am unaware of any German restaurant in Seattle. Ditto with Filipino restaurant, I guess.

                    I don't think I am the only one though.

                    Like you said, there are lots of Filipinos in WA but there are very few Filipino restaurants. I just think they are reluctant to open them because of the cuisine's lack of marketability, not because they have assimilated. If there are more Ethiopian places than yours, then you know you have a problem :D

                    Goose chowmein? Sounds good.

                    1. re: Richard Harding

                      Lack of range in Filipino food? The cuisine's lack of marketability? NOPE!

                      Let's put it this way. Not all Filipinos that come to live here in the US either have the capital to start a restaurant business or the skill to cook real good Filipino food. Just like not all Italian grandmothers can cook good Italian food. Filipinos are very particular with taste and what people would think of their cooking that even if they're good cooks, they still feel that they're not good enough. This is because of what we call "hiya" (direct translation: shyness but it's more than that. I wish I could explain more but it's something you won't get unless you experience to live in the Philippines and actually experience the social culture.) Because of this they would hesitate starting a restaurant because they just simply don't want to waste any money if incase the business fails. A lot of Filipinos come here to work and support families in the Philippines. We simply can't afford to waste a dime. Are Filipino food not worth the risk? Of course it is. But if we have to borrow money for capital on business, we just feel that it would be high risk. But heck, you go to California and they're everywhere. It's all about how much money you are willing to risk and whether you have that money and if everything fails, would you still have money to support yourself without being dependent on EBT cards --- because this is something we can't let happen to us. To us, being dependent on the government and the taxpayers to put food our table would mean losing our pride and dignity.

                      Filipino cuisine is wide range. It's beyond adobo or pansit (pancit). Every region has their own specialty; every habitable island has it's own cuisine. Now imagine how many habitable islands there are in the Philippines.

                      Marketability? Definitely marketable. Look at how many filipino restaurants in California are successful. It's just a question of whether a Filipino has the capital and people to actually cook Filipino foods the way they should be cooked. I would know because I am Filipino. Now, if you want real Filipino food, I encourage you t visit Philippines and start your food adventure in Luzon, then Visayas, and wrap it up by visiting Mindanao. And you know what? Food taste better when you meet the people and experience the culture.

                2. Being Filipino, my theory is that many Filipinos don't really need a restaurant because you can just go to someone's house and eat Filipino food for free! My mom and my aunts, for example, always cook waaaayyyy too much food all the time because they are used to cooking for big parties and are always expecting people to come over and eat anyway. Recently, my mom cooked 25 large lumpia eggrolls even though only 4 or 5 people were coming and this is in addition to all the other main dishes she had.
                  The mom of my sister's friend I hear cooks great--she even hosted a cooking show in the Philippines--and she used to just invite people over for food.
                  Of course, this is just my theory. Down in southern California there's a fairly successly chain(?) called Pinoy Pinay so maybe this area just needs some more time for development/consistency?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Carmel

                    I'd like to agree with you, but...see my response to Fritz. The points you raise would apply equally to Thai or Viet households/parties, and yet their restaurants flourish. I cannot quite perceive the material difference here.

                    I haven't heard of Pinoy Pinay, tho I used to live in LA. But I do recall seeing CHOW KING. That alone should put an end to the "Philippine Experiment"....

                    1. re: side dish

                      Well as for Vietnamese cafes, my old Vietnamese roommates and I used to frequent Little Saigon in Westminster, CA and those little cafes that dot many urban areas in the US are also a great part of the Vietnamese culture. My friends told me in Viet nam there are so many of little cafes like them that sell coffee, sandwiches, pho and other dishes. This isn't so much the case in Filipino culture.
                      But maybe also Filipino-Americans may going another route in the ways they get provide they're cuisine which is in catering. I've seen trucks up here in Seattle for example, Seattle advertising that they bake the best puto and have it and other foods available for your event. Come to think of it I can think of more Filipino people and places that did catering rather than have restaurants (Pinoy Pinay of course catered and Rainbow Manila is a catering company in the east LA County area is really good).

                  2. I doubt that Filipinos find their cuisine EMBARRASSING, per se; it just isn't their style to open restaurants -- here in Boston, the sushi places and even some Mexican restaurants are owned by Chinese people! It's just a cultural propensity to own restaurants. (at least, so the Chinese owner of the Japanese restaurant said).