Chef Myrna Segismundo on Filipino cuisine: Own it and be proud
HAMBURG, Germany – Anthony Bourdain can’t stop praising it. International media are also all over it. But why is Filipino cuisine still not as popular as those of its Asian neighbors?
One of the country’s top chefs, Myrna Segismundo, says the main reason why Filipino food hasn’t reached its full potential is because of Filipinos themselves.
“We have limited our food to serving it at home – only to family, and our guests, and friends. We have not attempted to sell it commercially. Say, in a restaurant or as a particular product or brand. Or even as an ingredient that can be used as a unique flavor additive,” Segismundo said in Germany. The European country was the last stop of Kulinarya, a Filipino food tour in Europe initiated by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Segismundo had a team of Filipino food experts with her – chef Raul Ramos, pastry chef Jill Sandique, and food writer Michaela Fenix – to help Europeans understand the cuisine better. They went to the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, teaching cooking techniques and letting Europeans taste the country’s flavors.
She says the best way to introduce Filipino cuisine to foreign nationals is through ingredients and flavors. With Filipino food now in the spotlight, there’s already a lot of interest. What’s lacking is Filipinos themselves taking ownership of the cuisine.
“If anything, I think we should brand everything that is Filipino,” Segismundo stressed.
She adds that Filipinos should stop describing Filipino food in terms of food from other countries. “It’s a matter of ownership. Kinilaw is not ceviche. It is kinilaw.”
In fact, the two are quite different with Peru’s ceviche using citrus fruits and the Philippines’ kinilaw using vinegar to cook the seafood. “We have to stop describing our food in a foreign way. Let it be Filipino,” Segismundo added.
Instead of saying certain Filipino dishes are "like" a particular dish from a different country, Segismundo encourages Filipinos to describe them through tastes and flavors. “Talk about our vinegars, our citruses – ingredients that are indigenous to us. Dishes that are truly Filipino that will have a universal appeal.”
Is it truly ours?
A common criticism against Filipino cuisine is that it is merely a mish-mash of different cuisines and that there is none that is truly Filipino. Segismundo disagrees, saying that while there is no need to deny that the cuisine has been influenced, there are dishes that are truly Filipino.
And one thing’s for sure: “No cuisine in Asia tastes like it!” Segismundo quipped.
As for dishes with borrowed themes from other cuisines, the chef asks – is that so bad? She adds that even some of the most popular cuisines have foreign roots. Citing Italy as an example with their famous pasta, the technique in making noodles was actually brought by the explorer Marco Polo from China. “Initially, it matters where [a cuisine] comes from. But does it have any effect on how you judge it?”
Food is also a constantly evolving part of a country’s culture. “I’m here in Germany, but I have yet to taste traditional German dishes. I’m being made to eat currywurst, Asian food, Indian food. Years from now, when people start talking about German cuisine, God knows what it’s going to be!”
Starting the trend
How did Filipino food get noticed in the first place? Segismundo says it wasn’t even about a particular dish but about an ingredient – calamansi, which is a type of lime that is truly ours. It has made its way into the ingredient lists of restaurants all over the world, quietly injecting a distinct Filipino flavor in other cuisines.
This is why Segismundo believes in Filipino ingredients and products and it all comes down to ownership. “The way to be recognized is to be truly Filipino in name. You cannot call it Filipino ceviche. Call it Philippine kinilaw. Philippine adobo. Philippine calamansi.”
During the Kulinarya Tour, the team also brought with them ingredients, liquor, and coffee that are truly Filipino.
Different types of liquor – from coffee to calamansi and mango rum – were brought in to create cocktails enjoyed by guests at the Philippine embassy in Berlin’s independence day celebration.
Culinary students at the Hotelfachschule (Hotel School) Hamburg were pleasantly surprised that the Philippines produces high quality and strong coffee after trying out Gourmet Farms’ kapeng barako (baraco coffee, a type of liberica coffee).
Philippine Ambassador to Germany Melita Sta Maria-Thomeczek says the decision to bring the team to Hamburg and to have a sit-down dinner as the national day reception in Berlin was due to the Philippines wanting to bring the country closer to people through food. “In Asia, food is always the center of every important celebration. It’s very meaningful for us to share our food with our friends,” she said at the event.
With the ball that is Filipino cuisine rolling and finally gaining momentum, Segismundo says that it is the people’s turn to help out. “We just have to keep stressing it’s ours. Tayo mismo (We ourselves), we have to be proud of it.” – Rappler.com
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