Taking root: Why Toyo Eatery is the most important Filipino restaurant right now
It is not news to anyone that the food at Toyo Eatery is extraordinary.
Anyone who has ever dined at the unapologetically cool 50-seat space tucked in a corner of Chino Roces Avenue knows exactly the sort of wide-eyed wonder that fills you as soon as Chef Jordy Navarra’s tomato meringue amuse bouche collapses between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, giving way to tender shreds of langka slicked in thick, savory coconut cream.
You do not need to be told just how good their octopus starter is, about how the tentacles, tender as can be, are scorched just so around the edges and coiled over a broth that tastes so much of the sea that you’d swear you were standing by the shore at dawn, watching as the fishermen brought in their catch for the day.
Neither does anyone need to be reminded of the marvels of Richie Manapat’s bread, with its open crumb and dark, well-baked exterior, the slight tang of fermentation acting as a through line between the crusty country loaves and the moreish tocino buns.
It was then no surprise to Filipino diners when it was announced that Toyo Eatery had been awarded the Miele One to Watch Award for Asia. It was something that was bound to happen, and it was only a matter of time before the global culinary elite finally took notice of what is arguably one of the best restaurants in the Philippines.
It is interesting to note, though, that the award does come at a seemingly fortuitous time in the food world. Filipino food is now at the crest of a wave, having just found purchase in the collective consciousness of diners the world over.
The food of our childhood is suddenly making headlines outside of the Philippines, with publications like the New York Times and Bon Appetit giving ample space to stories about the familial language that is Filipino cooking, of how the Filipino diaspora had inadvertently brought with it a tradition of sharing good food rooted in a homeland oceans away.
Suddenly, the vernacular of our cooking started making its way to media outside of our own and Filipinos yearning for culinary representation beyond our shores finally had it in their grasp.
What makes Toyo so interesting at this very moment is that it is just as focused on reacquainting Filipinos with the true indigenous roots of our cooking as it is with bringing it to the world stage, if not more so.
The work and research that Chef Jordy and his dedicated team put into bringing their innovative take on Filipino food to life is as much a conservation effort as it is a culinary one. If you look closely at the menu at Toyo you’d discover that it is an ingenious mix of the quintessential quirks of contemporary fine dining and unashamedly local techniques and ingredients deeply rooted in our history.
Every single bite at Toyo Eatery has been precision engineered with tweezers, dehydrators ,and a Cryovac machine, but at its beating core, the food here is a distillation of centuries of Filipino flavor and technique.
The plates here may not look too familiar – think perfect fillets of fish adorned with edible flowers and powdered cured fish roe – but it is in the vivid acidity, in the almost brazen charring of meat, in the briny echoes of the sea, and in the deep, earthen bass notes of vegetables we are all too familiar with, that you will be able to find the food’s striking Filipino spirit.
A meal at Toyo Eatery, it seems, is as much about reinvigorating our need to connect with our identity as Filipino cooks and eaters, as it is about giving diners from anywhere in the world one hell of a good time.
The flavors here are truly evocative, just as much harkening to days spent on the seashore eating grilled fish on the sand, as it does to ancient techniques unfamiliar to many of us, and it is exactly this specificity that makes Toyo Eatery so special to Filipinos, more than anyone else. – Rappler.com
Chino is a freelance culture writer and food stylist.
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