Why are there so few Filipino restaurants?

On Sunday I ate at a Filipino restaurant. This was a first; prior experiences of Filipino food had been solely at friends’ houses. Restaurants were simply just not around. In fact, some googling seems to indicate there may be less than 10 in the entire state of NSW.

Which is strange considering the population of Australians of Filipino ancestry. The 2006 census gives 92300 people who speak Tagalog at home. This compares to 53900 speakers of Turkish. And Turkish eateries are ubiquitous.

Ethnic restaurants are one of the standard features of  the experience of immigration. Why has it not occured with the Filipinos?

I asked the proprietor.  He said that there were “a few out west” (this was in Dee Why) that served lower quality cut of meat with “more bone and gristle” to Filipino diners that “mainstream” customers wouldn’t like. He had chosen Dee Why, and was using modified ingredients to appeal to mainstream diners.[fn1]

I didn’t press the point (the place was quite busy) but I found this unsatisfactory. After all, the “few out west” appears to be a couple in Lidcombe and Blacktown, which is where  there are larger populations of Tagalog speakers, but that is still astoundingly few compared to other ethnicities, including smaller ones. Why the discrepancy?

I’m generally wary of  explanations that involve preferences since they seem like non-explanations to me – they appeal to something (tastes) that are only observable in terms of the consumption patterns you’re seeking to explain in the first place, and it’s a poor explanation that explains a phenomenon based on the phenomenon itself. That said, they are particularly weak in this instance. To attribute diners of a non Filo background with a lack of taste for Filo food is to mistake the causality with other cuisines. There, ethnic cuisines became popular with the broader population only after the restaurants were founded to serve diners familiar with the food. It is only after exposure from these restaurants that the cuisines enter cookbooks and TV shows and get bastardised packet mixes in the supermarket. Even now, most cuisines will have restaurants that predominately are patronised by people of that ethnicity. This is true of Vietnamese or of the massively proliferating choice of regional Chinese cuisines (it’s more than Cantonese!); strikingly it’s still true of the very widely popular Italian. But these restaurants exist nonetheless. So it’s difficult to attribute the lack of establishments to non Filo preferences. The alternative is to say that the Filipino population is far smaller that other ethnic groups or has a special disinclination to eat their own cuisine at a restaurant. The first is easy to refute, the second seems absurd.

So I think the answer must be supply based.

There’s a reason ethnic restaurants proliferate. A diaspora community is always more likely to go into business. Even when domestic institutions aren’t explicitly exclusionary, as was the case with European Jews and SE Asian Chinese, alien customs, culture and language make them difficult for migrants to enter. So they are more likely to choose self employment as a result. Hence the stereotypes of business acumen amongst said Jews or Chinese, or the Greek greengrocer or Indian service station owner. Additionally, a important part of the skills required for a restaurant (cooking a cuisine) has already been learned by being of that culture. Sometimes this can extend to neighbouring cuisines which have been picked up, such as the plethora of Japanese restaurants that are more likely to be run by Koreans instead of the relatively small and middle class professional Japanese community.[fn2]

Why is the Filipino community different, despite having a good supply of Filipino cooks?

Perhaps the clue lies in another statistic from the census. 61% of the speakers of Filipino at home are women. If we assume that a large portion of these are children born here and who are gender balanced, this implies the adult population of migrants is even more skewed. No other language on the list is that skewed.

What might this mean? We don’t need to resort to inate differences in gender to see how this might explain the restaurant question. One possibility: If these women are married, we will have a migrant group that is disproportionately made up of people whom are less expected to be main breadwinners in our still patriarchal society. This gives them an option of avoiding the workforce or entering low skilled part time work – options not socially acceptable for men who, alienated to some extent from most paid employment, gravitate towards self employment.

Alternatively, it may just point towards a feature of the community. A large part of the Filipino diaspora has left the Phillipines specifically to find work in low skilled sectors abroad, just as the 19th century Irish diaspora spread towards labouring jobs Unlike the Irish however, the low skilled jobs around today that they seek, in aged care or domestic service, are “feminine” occupations, both in the Phillipines and abroad and for both cultural and yes, preference, based reasons in supply and demand. The women leave because they can find work and the men stay because they can’t find work and war does not force them to leave; unlike any of the diasporas escaping from war ravaged Europe, the Middle East, Indochina or post Tiananmen China. Hence the gender discrepancy. If you’re in a low skilled job, you need not take the risk of self employment. Those for whom these jobs are less accessible are back overseas and therefore aren’t starting restaurants.

Unfortunately there are other communities that are not refugee in origin (although many, if not most are). For instance the majority of the non-Cantonese Chinese community is not related to the class of student admitted by a teary Hawke in 1989, but despite coming in the same era of feminised low skill work, the splits is 51-49 female to male if we take “Mandarin speakers” as a flawed proxy – we have an astoundingly large selection of differing regional Chinese cuisines to eat is restaurants as well. We’d also need to explain why the Philippines is apparently the only country exporting low skilled workers here – something beyond my capacities although I am sure it is possible.

But I can’t think of a better explanation as yet. You?

[fn1] It is worth noting that the only other diner who seemed to be of a non Filipino background was dining with someone who  did appear to be so.

[fn2] Anecdotally, in the past at least, many of the astoundingly large number of Thai places were run by Vietnamese, which may explain why they could become a seeming plurality of independent takeaways in the Hunter and Sydney despite a relatively small migrant base.

About Richard Tsukamasa Green

Richard Tsukamasa Green is an economist. Public employment means he can't post on policy much anymore. Also found at @RHTGreen on twitter.
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51 Responses to Why are there so few Filipino restaurants?

  1. Don Arthur says:

    You’re not the first person to ask this question. Here’s a post from a blogger in Wisconsin: Where are the Filipino restaurants?

    Jordan asked:

    … why have I never been to a Filipino restaurant? According to the 2000 Census the U.S. Asian population is 19.9% Filipino — there are more Filipinos in the U.S. then there are Koreans, or Japanese, or Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis put together. So why I have I never even heard of a place where I can get pansit luglug?

    None of the commenters managed to answer the question.

  2. Ken Parish says:

    Hi Richard

    Your hypothesis sounds plausible to me.

    BTW What is the restaurant’s name and where in Dee Why? My extended family all live on the northern beaches so I get down there usually 2 or 3 times per year, and an excursion to a Filipino restaurant is an attractive idea.

  3. pablo says:

    The gender disparity appears to have the most ‘logic’ going for it. But logic never grabbed me wrt much that goes on in the Philippines. Here’s a country that had a vote to resolve the ‘issue’ of whether they should become part of the USA.
    The predominance of Filipinos in the US asian population might partly explain this.
    Then you have a highly stratified society with several hegemonic ruling families who will resort to wiping each other’s supporters out by violence. Then there is the catholicism, the predominance of english speakers, the longest running islamic rebellion, the domestic poverty and the overseas remittances … who’s got time to open a restaurant?
    But it is an interesting question.

  4. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    Don – Then I claim a first for explanation!

    Ken – Right here

    pablo – You’d think they could franchise this at least.

  5. Peter T says:

    There are a lot of food traditions in the Philippines, but the native cuisine is very peasant, and the elite cuisines imported (a lot of Chinese and American, some European). Hard to sell raw duck embryos (balut – standard Filipino delicacy), pig bits and salt fish in Sydney. I suspect that if Filipinos go into the restaurant business, they open up Chinese or Southeast Asian ones, as having a readier market.

  6. rog says:

    As Peter T mentions, Filipino food isn’t that exciting.

  7. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    Unexciting even to Filipinos? As I already pointed out, all the other ethnic cuisines started up restaurants BEFORE the general public got a taste for it. To appeal to a lack of demand from the general public for Filipino food is to disregard the history of every other ethnic cuisine in this country. Even now we can see this happening with cuisines like Korean or even Uighur, which is incredibly unexciting and has a smaller migrant base than Filipino does? So if we assume a demand reason, we have to assume that Filipinos don’t like Filipino food.

  8. FDB says:

    “So if we assume a demand reason, we have to assume that Filipinos don’t like Filipino food.”

    Not grossly implausible. Or they don’t consider it “going out” food.

    To lend further credence, I’m for betting the number of Scots-themed eateries is even more out of whack with the ethnic Scots population than this Filipino disparity.

    The only Filipino dishes I know (that aren’t obvious imports) are somewhat challenging “delicacies” for the most part. If I’m wrong about this, it’s because I’ve never been to a Filo restaurant!

  9. murph the surf. says:

    The split of genders being 61% female might reflect the high incidence of mail order/internet brides/ex bar girls who married “boyfriends”?
    These marriages aren’t entered into in my humble opinion with the aim of years of hard work in a commercial kitchen as the pay off.
    What was the food like anyway? Was it actually “aussified” to be more acceptable to local tastes? lots of curries on the menu for instance?
    Most of the comments about cantonese food also land wide of the mark – very few chinese restauarants serve authentic cantonese food to white customers as the tastes are too alternately too bland – jelly fish or unacceptable- winter melon- ( not really a melon but a sort of choko with lumps)the last word in being bitter and sour all in one!
    No one learns to cook beef and black bean sauce or chicken and almonds at home – they are all made to suit gweilo tastes- you know gweilos they love salty oliy fried stuff!
    I do agree with the observation about other ethnicities running thai places though in my experience it has been a takeover by a lot of cantonese familes as they see where the popular tastes are spending the money.
    Finally the comment about Uigher food is also lacking depth of experience I think – the pancakes and breads alone make a trip to such places worthwhile but as a bread lover I’d say that!

  10. Don Arthur says:

    Richard – The more I think about it, the more interested I get. It’s a great question. But if you want an answer I think you’re going to have to look at demand.

    You suggest that other “ethnic cuisines became popular with the broader population only after the restaurants were founded to serve diners familiar with the food.” If this is right then what you’re really trying to explain is why some ethnic cuisines become popular with the broader population and others don’t. You’re assuming that most ethnic populations will support some restaurants.

    I’ve had a few thoughts:

    1. Some cuisines have become popular by a different route. The early restaurants didn’t serve an ethnic population. I think Mexican and Tex Mex are examples.

    2. In the US, Barbara Gimla Shortridge and James R. Shortridge report: “With few exceptions, we found no strong relationship between the relative strength of an ethnic cuisine and the distribution of most ethnic groups.” Some areas like Detroit and Cleveland have large ethnic populations but relatively few ethnic restaurants. But college towns, state capitals and tourist areas have relatively high numbers. This sounds like demand at work.

    3. As FDB suggests, some quite large ethnic populations don’t produce many restaurants serving their cuisine. Scots are one example, Eastern Europeans another (but saying that reminds me of my favourite Polish restaurant).

    4. Your comments about Thai restaurants look like a clue. It seems to me that demand for Thai food was so strong that many non-Thai’s set up Thai restaurants (which reminds me of a Japanese sushi place in Canberra that is run by Koreans as well as an Irish pub in San Francisco also run by Koreans. In San Francisco the Koreans served us California-style sushi on St Patrick’s Day while we drank Budweiser, an American interpretation of Czech pilsner).

    5. Demand isn’t just about preferences for a particular kind of food. For an area to spawn ethnic restaurants there needs to be a population of people with the desire and means (time, money, social circumstances etc) to eat out. Only then do preferences about cuisine become effective. And as I think you suggest, we’re talking about latent preferences because it may be food people have never seen or tasted before.

    6. As with music, books and fashion, some cuisines may suddenly take off only to fade away again. Some individuals and groups may be particularly important in pushing a cuisine to a tipping point.

    7. So it may be that what we need to explain is the latent preferences of a small proportion of the population.

  11. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    Don – It is fascinating, and I am far from satisfied with my hypothesis. Nonetheless.

    I don’t entirely dismiss demand theories, obviously in the case of fads there is no other explanation, and it’s the only valid explanation we don’t eat Kangaroo as much as we could (since supply is clearly there), but I think they should be looked at after supply explanations have been entirely exhausted, since preference based theories are simply too hard to authenticate – they’re only observable only as they are practiced. Unfortunately for some reason (I suspect a public culture supported by marketing) we tend to go for the preference non-explanation as the first rather than last option.

    A couple of thoughts

    2 – Here for instance, whilst there’s a strong case for demand in the tourist areas, based on counter factuals around the world, I cannot dismiss supply theories in the other cases. The development patterns that hollowed out cities like Detroit and Cleveland haven’t left any commercial real estate suitable for a small business to start up. It’s only easy for greenfield development like fast food places, whereas state capitals and college towns retain traditional shopping areas (“downtowns”) that provide a place for an ethnic restaurant to start up. Additionally, (and this bears further research), if the “ethnic populations” (which may just mean non-anglo celtic) reflects post war migrants that came for jobs in the formally present industries, then they’d have no call for a small business. Low paid work was available easily.

    3- The Scots aren’t too hard to explain from a supply perspective. They were far less likely to experience difficulty finding work – they were already English speaking, protestant (in an age where that mattered) and disproportionately educated. They also came in an era where low skilled work was easy to find, even though they needed it less. The Polish example I had noticed – since groceries and former groceries remain common they were obviously starting businesses, just not restaurants. Perhaps the availability of food at the innumerable Polish halls crowded out the restaurant trade.

    Murph – Feel free to recommend some more Xinjiang places – I was very eager and felt very let down, so I want to find something that impresses me, and I did think about writing “cantonese” before. As for the marriage thing, I’ll just note the Troppo ad engines are now showing ads for filipinocupid.com.

  12. Gene Callahan says:

    My wife is Filipino and I’m Irish. At home, we cook Italian food, French food North Indian food, South Indian food, Ghanian food, Nigerian food, Gambian food, Thai food, Puerto Rican food, Mexican food… two things we NEVER cook? Irish food and Filipino food.

    They aren’t that good.

  13. Gene Callahan says:

    “One possibility: If these women are married, we will have a migrant group that is disproportionately made up of people whom are less expected to be main breadwinners in our still patriarchal society.”

    Boing!!! You suspect that there are lots of Filipino women *who aren’t working*?! Have you ever met any Filipinos?

  14. SL says:

    What is the distribution of Filipino population in US? If they tend to be more localized than other ethnic groups, then you may see an uneven distribution of Filipino restaurants. Eg, there is a well-established and large Filipino community in the San Francisco Bay Area and there are many authentic Filipino restaurants here. Whereas it’ll be hard to find one in the midwest.

  15. Jack says:

    I just moved from Toronto to Manila for a year. I have these observations. Locals that want to work overseas often already have a job lined up. Agencies help them straight out of nursing, care-giver and merchant seaman schools. Others go as maids to Asian and Arab countries. Again everything has been arranged by the time they leave. Scams that charge people large sums for the promise of an overseas job are a bit of a problem here.

  16. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    Gene – strangely enough the better part of my experiences and anecdotal evidence about the domestic eating habits of Filipinas in mixed marriages come from Irish-Filipino households, and some of these are in direct contrast to your own experience (but not to my own household’s low propensity to cook Anglo-Celtic or Japanese good).
    Also, not having as much pressure to be the main breadwinner does mean a low propensity to work, just more acceptance as someone who can split between part time paid work and unpaid household labour rather than full time paid work.

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  18. pinoy diner says:

    pinoy resto-to-population segment-ratio won’t work when you fellas consider pinoy food.

    you know why? the answer is right on top of pinoy dining tables.


    every filipino dining table if not kitchen has various condiments (fish sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce/powder, calamansi (lemoncito), garlic, pepper, ginger, etc) within easy reach, so that anyone in the family, from lolo & lola (grandparents) to the bunso (youngest child), can customize the flavor mix IN EVERY VIAND ON THEIR PLATE to their heart’s content.

    given this gustatory freedom, it’s not really a good business idea to open a pinoy resto anywhere abroad where pinoys congregate, since they’re not likely to come in droves if the flavor profile doesn’t quite suit their individual palates.

    take adobo, for instance. virtually any earthly creature that has meat on it can be cooked into an authentic adobo dish. in a pinoy restaurant setting, how would you cook it?

    in vinegar? or in vinegar & soy sauce? with garlic & peppercorns? or with potatoes & chives too? take the middle ground, and you may never be able to attract a sufficient number of pinoys to eat it. go regional, and those coming from other provinces would not come back for more.

    cooking for pinoys is that tough. that’s why they’d rather eat at home so they can cook & eat it the way they want. and that’s where you can eat the best pinoy cooking there is.

    good luck!

  19. Yari says:

    I am a Filipino here in Sydney. I love food, particularly Filipino food. Here are the reasons why I think there are few Filipino restaurants even when there is a large migrant population.

    Given that Filipinos are good cooks and hearty eaters, some Filipinos would not want to go out and eat something that they can have at home. This would save them cost. Plus, they can have it prepared exactly they want it to.

    Filipinos are also very adaptive. We blend with everyone. We imbibe the culture where we live in, which means if we’re in America, we can eat American food. If we’re in China, we will eat Chinese food. To illustrate further: I used to work in a Japanese company in the Philippines. My Japanese bosses would only eat Japanese food – at home, for lunch outside, almost every single day. Meanwhile, Filipinos would try the Chinese/Korean/Japanese restaurant, the Italian gelato, the American donuts, etc. etc. So we’re not extremely loyal to our cuisine.

    Filipino food is amazing in taste! But yes, it can be unhealthy with the predominance of salt (patis/fish sauce, alamang/bagoong/dried shrimp) and fat (pork cracklings, pork belly, etc.). This runs contrary to the health/wellness fad in most Western countries.

  20. b says:

    There have been some attempts to launch filo restaurants in Sydney…but they have shut down soon after due to lack of customers.

    My theory – is that filipinos get enough (free) home cooked filo food at our weekly house bday/christening/engagement/21st/18th parties and church events. Its the home cooked filo food that brings the filo community and our families together every week! Why would we go out and pay for it?

    Filo food just doesn’t seem authentic if its not made by one of my Titas!

  21. alison crain says:

    I believe our food is not that popular is because we have adopted the Hispanic culture who ruled the Philippine for a hundred years. Then the Japanese occupation during the war and the migration of some Chinese to the Philippines. Filipino interbreed with so many different culture that when we cook we tend to cook food that taste like other ethnic cuisine.

  22. Spades says:

    I am Filipino and I have lived in Australia for about 10 years.

    My main observation with Filipinos is that we are not naturally risk takers, especially in business. It’s not just restaurants, but we do not venture into retail as much as other Asians do. We are generally easily satisfied with our way of life and do not aim as highly as others do.

    Some Asian cleaners will work for years with the goal of opening their own businesses, whereas Filipinos are likely to be just cleaners for their entire career because it pays OK and they’re able to pay for most bills and still live a decent lifestyle. This may be good and bad depending on how you look at it. On one had we don’t seem as ambitious, but on another we tend to be happier with what we’ve got.

    Going with that argument, I have met a few Filipinos who COULD achieve more if they wanted to but are totally content with their lifestyle as it is “enough” or “pwede na”. We think this way: If I can pay for an older 4 bedroom house with 1 big car for the family, how urgent is it to be able to afford a new 6 bedder with 2 brand new cars? Our answer will be not as urgent, in fact we don’t care, but I think other Asians are more likely to aim for that sort of lifestyle.

    • Kate says:

      Thank You for your totally honest and very personal answers.
      Although not from the Phils, I completely understand your logic.
      People who can take risks have the financial backing to do do should things go wrong and this is something unfortunately 99% of phils don’t have. Weather wise, things just start to come good and then you get a hurricane, floods etc. It is very hard to get out of the phils for a start and even if you can do this, there are many horrific stories of housemaids enduring the worst humanitariam conditions, being abused, raped and not paid their salaries that they have toiled 24hr days for. The lack of the hardworking, loving and honest Culture that makes the Phils makes no sense when we need them all in Aust NOW.
      THen wee would have loadsd of filipina food stores

  23. My wife is philipino, we have a farm. But I also work off farm, every day she has made a different lunch for me, its always incredible. Workmates all gather around for a taste. Perhaps I should get her to open a restaurant.other philipunos call her now to order food that she makes.

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  25. Jim Rose says:

    Tagalog is the language spoken in Manila and nearly provinces. the Philippines has 170 languages in all.

    70% of Pinoys do not speak Tagalog as their native language. almost as many speak Cebuano as speak Tagalog as native speakers.

  26. Tina Bangel says:

    I am a filipina who has lived in Australia for 35 years after moving here with my parents when I was 3 years old. 35 years ago when my family moved here in the west there was a small filipino population, our parents were busy trying to fit into the country and build a better life for us. My parents were in the accounting firm. When I was younger it was not the norm to eat out as many filipino families would spend their weekends at their friends houses (10 or more families would gather) to catch up of news and each family would share food that they would bring from home. There was no reason to eat out and spend money on cuisine that is easily cooked at home. It was cheaper and it was a time to catch up with friends and family after a hard week of work. 20 years ago my parents together with their friends opened up 3 filipino grocery stores, in the blacktown area, they sold 2 and opened a small eatery specialising in Filipino food. It lasted 10years. Looking back at now it was a great idea as it was ahead of it’s time as it specialised in the filipino desserts such as Halo Halo -similar to the Taiwanese dessert with shaved ice and several sweet beans and jellies. I think if someone has the courage to open up a restaurant similar to the Filipino restaurants in New york e.g. Jeepney nyc it would be a different story all together- it won’t just be like mum or dads’ cooking at home…it would be special and something worth travelling to. We have developed tastes and crave to something more exciting and something to be extremely proud of. Take Nicole Ponseca ?founder of Jeepney nyc and Maharlikanyc (voted best new restaurant by New York times) http://www.maharlikanyc.com- she and her chefs have developed a menu with a modern twist. She includes ways to educate the diner in a fun exciting way- eg Balut eating competitions, Special nights where you eat with banana leaves as plates and eat with your fingers, rappers/dj music nights and signs with the Tagalog word of the day. The decor is modern, stylist and funky promoting images of filipino’s who we are proud of such as Nicole Scherzinger etc. So, I believe there will be a time when someone will be brave enough to start up a concept like this here in Australia. Exciting times to come!!!

  27. Eric De Leon says:

    I’m a Chef moving to Sydney from Brisbane. Here’s my two cents worth:

    Most Filipinos can cook. They would cook at home to suite their taste. Filipino food is very regional. Adobo, every Filipino’s favorite, is different in Manila and different if you drive an hour away, north or south.

    Our condiments are similar but does not necessarily taste the same. Our vinegar is not made from rice but coconut, our fish sauce is more subtle in flavor and our soy sauce is different,too! You can only get it at the Filipino stores which is more expensive than what you can get at Coles. Our shrimp paste is different from other Asian countries,too! It doesn’t stink (as much)! LOL

    Filipino food has a very strong Spanish influence(300 years of Spanish rule). Oxtail is widely accepted at fine dining restaurants but your everyday Aussie would find it “eeew!” LOL Upscale Spanish restaurants would serve Escabeche (fish stew), Estoffado de Lengua (Ox tongue), Crema Catalan (Leche Flan in Filipino). These are food we commonly eat and would be acceptable to Aussies but it’s identified as Spanish food. A Filipino would not pay so much money just to eat that. We can make it ourselves!

    Filipinos coming from the North or South have dishes not consumed in the city (Metro Manila). Primarily because of economics but other factors affect it, as well. “Puto” are rice cakes in MetroManila. In the South, MetroCebu it’s like a porridge with glutinous rice and ginger (and sometimes chocolate). We are 7,100 island afterall.

    The cuts of meat and the variety of fish we eat are not available. We have Dinuguan using pork blood as sauce. You can’t get fresh pig’s blood. However you can get a Black pudding which is acceptable for Aussies. We love sisig which is made from pig’s cheeks and ears. The pigs ears (dried) you can only buy at the dog food section at your supermarket. I wouldn’t buy that!

    Aussies don’t eat whole fish. It has to be off the bone. Fresh tuna is too expensive to serve at a simple restaurant. In 2006,the fish, Tilapia was introduced to Australia. Locals won’t eat it. There is no Milkfish in Australia. The closest, I think,is a Mullet. But Aussies don’t eat them!

    Our food is eclectic. People who say that Filipino food is not “good enough” haven’t tasted proper Filipino food. With that said, Filipinos also have an open mind and would patronise establishments serving other cuisine.

    Be reminded that our McDonalds has McSpaghetti. It’s spaghetti bolognaise (with hotdog slices). Fried Chicken is served at Maccas in the Philippines,too!
    It also includes a serve of rice. LOL

    If you don’t like Filipino food or haven’t really tried a proper one, send me an email. I will gladly email you simple recipes that you can try.

    • Hi Eric, you’ve probably learnt this by now seeing as my comment is years late– pigs ears and milkfish are available in Sydney. Would love for you to check out our page. PILYO is owned by professional chefs with over 15 years experience in french-based techniques applying their skills in passionately advocating about our culture through Filipino food.

  28. Mark says:

    I came across this article while searching for “Fiipino catering”, and I’ve read some of the comments which is a great insight of what others think about the Filipino cuisine. I am Filipino by birth who grew up in Australia and loves my Asian food! For those who have not had a taste of Filipino dishes, and the claim that it is peasant-like and has “strange food” is an ignorant comment. I dare you take that plane trip to the Philippines for some culinary education. Better yet, a cheaper option is be-friend a Filipino so you get invited to their family parties.

    On that note, my personal thought why we lack the numbers of Filipino food venues in town is purely and utterly due to bad customer service and bad presentation which is why it is easy to comment that Filipino dishes are peasant-like, etc and you cannot blame anyone who makes this comment based on first impressions unfortunately.

    As an example, the restaurant in Lidcombe has had too many ownership changes and each time, it has never failed to amaze me how poor the customer service was; taking order for drinks is a challenge, it takes over an hour for the food to come out, very stand-of-ish as oppose to being hospitable, and it seems that only good service is provided to family and friends. Some of the take-aways in Blacktown are “dirty shacks” and when I went to the area for some “halo-halo”, I seriously had to wait for 20 minutes for them to tell me that “they did not have ice”. You can imagine all the negative thoughts that came to mind and you just have to ask “would it have been worth it lashing out when you already know what service to expect?”.

    And whilst it is a generalisation, this type of experience is evident in many Filipino businesses it seems. Even the Filipino Fiesta that happens annually can be extremely annoying to attend because the stereotype is far amplified. I’d love to be proven wrong but whilst the Filipinos as a race are proud, the nepotism and selfish culture is strong which is the downfall. There are many Filipinos out there that has this sentiment not just as a matter of opinion but also through experiences which is the reason why the adoption and support of any Filipino businesses is mediocre in comparison to other ethnicities. There are Filipinos in town that works in or owns a chinese/thai/vietnamese restaurant and I can only assume that it is probably because it is easier that way to get away from the unfortunate negative stereotype. It is a shame because it means the cultural education and experience is not wide spread in the community and kept within the occasional family parties and gatherings, thus, answers the question “why are there so few Filipino restaurants?”.

    As a final note and side tracking, Kudos for “La Mesa” who just opened up a branch in Chinatown and keeping their Dee Why venue open. I agree with the writer’s sentiment that the dishes are slightly modified to cater for a different audience. My experience at the Dee Why restaurant was good, I haven’t been to the Chinatown one yet but have heard mixed reviews regarding their, and you guessed it, quality of customer service.

  29. Lita Puyat says:

    Hi, I’m a chef in Sydney, moved here 8 years ago from Manila, where cookbook publisher and I had this discussion many years ago.

    First of all, I defy all those who say the “Filipino cuisine isn’t that good,” may I just say you have not tried *good* Filipino food and that is a sweeping statement which shows a misinformed bias.

    I believe the answer to why there are so few Filipino restaurants here in Sydney is simply this: Most popular cuisines brought by immigrants to their new countries became so because these people prefer their own cuisine *above all others*.

    Sadly, this is practically the opposite with Filipinos, many of whom have a colonial mentality (yes, after Spanish rule from 1521-1898, and American rule from 1898-1946, this is the *result*–we even think that foreigners are *better* than us! WHY, oh why?!).

    Filipinos aspire to be excellent English speakers, to educate themselves overseas, to emigrate overseas where they can have a better economic future. They love Western media and popular culture and the arts, and many think the USA is the *world.* Filipinos’ national identity and pride is so obviously *not* on par with say, an Italian or German who claims that their country and cuisine is the *best*! Far be it!

    (Okay, so I was educated in the USA and migrated to Australia, so I better shut up now, LOL–but I must also admit that my love of Filipino cuisine came out totally once I lived away from my own country! FILIPINO FOOD is AMAZING and I feel sorry for those who have not had it! For those who say it is “not good enough,” you have not had my cooking, LOL!)

    SO– look at CHINESE and ITALIAN restaurants. Why are they *everywhere*? In every major capital city in most countries, they are everywhere! I don’t have statistics to back me up, but you know what I mean!

    This is simply because Chinese and Italians LOVE their own food above all others and many even *refuse to eat anything else*. At home, or in restaurants! And because their cuisine then became so present due to the proliferation of their restaurants, it became popular with *all*, not just the immigrants.

    When Francis Ford Coppola shot *Apocalypse Now* in the Philippines in the late 70s, the cast and crew was there for two years, it was a very expensive, extensive and extravagant shoot which is still talked about today! I worked there as an assistant director in films in the 80s, and heard stories from many crew members about how huge sets were built, entire villages occupied by the production, and the large numbers of local crew hired. One story was about how they flew in lots of food supplies from the USA, like thick steaks, and huge cans of olive oil and tomato sauce from Italy. Unheard of, just for film production catering! However, that’s Coppola for you! An true Italian who loves his heritage and food! (The film became a classic, and fortunes were made by some local film production providers, I heard!)

    Going back to my short explanation of why I think there are so few Filipino restaurants, let me say about the Chinese, and why there are tons of Chinese restaurants everywhere—the Chinese diaspora is massive, they are all over the world and since they love their own food and many refuse to eat anything else, they open their restaurants everywhere! Just like the Italians!

    Sad to say, the colonial mentality of us Filipinos is prevalent not only in our aspiring to speak like them (hence, American accents), look and dress like them (looking to America and Europe for fashion trends, or bleaching our skin white!), think like them (education in America, entertainment, media and popular arts), and yes, *eat like them*!

    While many of our countrymen struggle with just providing three basic meals for their family on a very low minimum wage, the more economically well off ones who are exposed or well-traveled prefer to eat foods other than Filipino.

    In our own country, in major cities, Filipino restaurants are outnumbered by foreign ones and Filipino ones are even called “Filipino restaurants.” In our own country!

    Those who travel love to try other cuisines, rather than eating their own! Then when they come back home they bring it back and it becomes popular.

    So that’s my answer, I think there are so few Filipino restaurants in Sydney because Filipinos love all things foreign, including food! And yes, if they can cook it at home, they don’t want to eat it out, why should they pay for it? (Yes, the BEST Filipino food I have had was at home, or in other people’s homes. I went to the restaurant mentioned in this article and it did not wow me).

    It’s a great concept, Filipino restaurants here. But. WHO would go, if we Filipinos ourselves prefer to eat other things??? Think about it.

    • Hi Lita, I agree with you on so many points. It’s quite a big frustration for me really. But together with my partners, we are on a mission to put our cuisine on the Sydney food map. It was only when I lived in California after uni and then moved to Sydney that I learnt to appreciate our culture and can say I am proud to be Filipino. Let’s advocate for our beautiful culture. I would love your thoughts on how we are trying to do this — http://www.facebook.com.au/PILYOsydney and hopefully you can come to one of our dinners!

  30. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    Mark, Lita. Cheers, especially for considering (even in disagreement) the multiple hypotheses in the post and comments, rather than simply reiterating one that has been mentioned and considered unlikely.

    Mark specifically – Filipino restaurants have nothing on South American resturants for comically bad service ;)

    • Mark says:

      Richard, you will have to tell me where some of these “special” please are! :))

      Whilst on the subject, I just ordered a whole 20kg whole pig roast from a butcher at Cabramatta for next week. It was recommended by a fellow Filipino who mentioned that “it taste great” so I can’t wait to try it out and be the judge for myself. :)

      I really wanted to get a Filipino “Lechon”, with it’s golden brown smooth crunchy skin crackling all around and brings me back to my childhood (*stomach growl*), but I couldn’t justify paying over $450 -$500 which is what this place in Blacktown is charging. The Vietnamese version apparently has “bubbly skin crackling” but I opted to get it for next week because it was less than $400. :) There’s a Polynesian grocery store in Mac Fields that sells it and caters for many Filipinos and they charge less than $300. They have plenty of customers in fact and raves on at the fact that it tastes great. However, for me personally, it’s a slight disappointment that they cut the pig in half these days which ruins the whole point of getting a “whole” pig in the first place (they have to cut it because the whole pig does not fit in their oven unfortunately).

      But, back to the whole point of this article (apologies for the long segue), this is probably an example and/or another example why Filipino cuisine adoptions may be low. In my view, it’s too expensive whilst there are similar services in the market for a cheaper price. Again in my view, there seems to be lack of research done by small businesses when pricing their products. Just look at “halo-halo”, I seriously prefer the version in Cabramatta because it’s cheaper and has more quantity than the expensive versions that some of the Filipino take-aways sell. Sure, the ingredients may vary but I seriously don’t see the point paying premium for ingredients that are cheap to buy in the first place. As long as it has shaved ice and sweet toppings whatever they maybe, that’s my “halo-halo” I’ll go for the lowest price and quantity anytime.

      Filipinos still has a long way to go to get it right when running restaurants outside the Philippines so it’s still best to go to someone’s house for that culinary experience.

  31. Heinz Schirmaier says:

    I know I’m a bit late in responding, just came across this site by reading another site.
    I agree with most that the Fil food for the most part does not look appetizing and some of it is downright nasty tasting. I realize that the preparation is contingent upon products at hand, but presentation has nothing to do with this. Only takes an extra minute to make a dish look good and appetizing, I’m a Chef, I KNOW!
    There is only one Philipino Restaurant in the Portland, Oregon, USA area and it sucks. Food is thrown together and the service is terrible. There is a large contingency of Pinoy here in the Portland, OR / Vancouver, WA area and only one mediocre restaurant, what does THAT tell you?
    I cook pinoy foods at home even though I’m German/American and I enjoy it. Asawa ko lives in the visayas and we trade recipes often so that I will get used to the foods when I move there. Will I open a cantina there? probably! simple Fil and American foods at reasonable prices. Probably will sell more hot dogs and hamburgers than anything else, lol! Let’s not forget the karaoke, hahaha!
    The Pinoy I know here are too cheap to eat out, they send their money back home and eat at each others home, there is ALWAYS an occasion to party, they are partying fools.
    There is your answer why no pilippine restaurants! cheap and lazy, still on Philippine Time!

    • Hi Heinz, it is because of opinions like yours that we strive to improve the image of Filipino cuisine. Would love for you to check out our page. PILYO is owned by professional chefs with over 15 years experience in french-based techniques applying their skills in passionately advocating about our culture through Filipino food.

  32. Helen says:

    Heinz, do not generalize on the Pinoys are party fools and loves to eat at their friends house and are cheap. You said it yourself that your wife is from Visayas, we don’t do that too often in Manila and Manileneans do not need to send money to their families in the Philippines (well most of us)! Again, that is a sad bias based on what you see with your wife’s crowd!

    I am well paid on my job and can put out extra money in any restaurants where I want to eat. I just don’t have the patience let’s say to open up a restaurant, hire staff and market my restaurant. If I can earn well into the corporate world, who wants to put up with smelly kitchen and problematic staff? Just saying, not everyone has that “entrepreneurial mind”. Sorry if I hit some nerve.

    It is funny to read all your comments. Funnier to read comments made by non-Filo culture who makes “assumptions”. Whatever your opinion is, I don’t care! If you don’t like Filo food then don’t eat it!

    And by the way, that’s so ignorant of you who commented that 70% of Filipinas here are mail order bride, probably true during your “era” but not during 1990s and year 2000 where most of the migrants here “skilled worker” who works in a white collar job.

    • Will have to agree with you Helen on some points. Being in the restaurant business, especially in Sydney where chef owners have to do more manual work than we would and have done back in the Philippines, is a real commitment. It is all because we are passionate about our culture that we pursue our advocacy through Filipino food.

  33. Maria says:

    A few things about me:
    1. I am Filipino-born
    2. I like Filipino food
    3. I live in NSW
    4. I don’t eat in Filipino restaurants because there is nothing on the menu that I want to eat that I can’t cook myself

    The end

  34. KP says:

    ^^^ What Marla said…

    Its rare to find a chef who cooks Pinoy food and respects balance in flavour and texture. When not done well its simply not as accessible to the mass market and especially not palatable to fine diners.

    I think environmental and situational context has a lot to do with it too. Sisig and Red Horse at 3am at home with your cousins feels right in Manila, in Sydney its not as likely to happen for me, definitely not as likely to happen for people with British heritage… perhaps I’m generalising.

    • KP, interesting opinion. Would love for you to check out our page. We’re professional chefs with over 15 years experience in french-based techniques applying our skills in passionately advocating about our culture through Filipino food.

  35. Mira Hogue says:

    I am a Filipina who has lived in Australia for a long itme.
    I think the reason is that most Filipinos think they can cook better than any restaurant and so don’t go out much to restaurants. In Manila if you go out for the night you ususaly go to a Chinese restaurant or a Western style one, i.e. something different from what you eat at home. Town Fiesta is when you get the best food.

    • Mira, interesting opinion. Interestingly enough more and more Filipino restaurants with a more current approach are sprouting up in Manila and becoming the go to for dinner. And we hope to do the same here in Sydney. Would love for you to check out our page. We’re professional chefs with over 15 years experience in french-based techniques applying our skills passionately advocating about our culture through Filipino food.

  36. Dave says:

    I have been to the Phillipines and love the food I am very happily partnered with a lovely Philipino lady who stole my heart the minute I saw her. However I missed the food and especially the Halo Halo. So I work in Blacktown and went to one of the take aways to get me a Halo Halo. I was disgusted. I was given a plastic cup with crushed ice and vanilla ice cream. Whilst in the Philippines and in other places that sold them I became somewhat of a connoisseur of fine halo halo and this was not a halo halo it only had gelatin at the bottom. The cook in the back looked out the window to see if I would just have it well I have a lot of respect for the Philippine people and this idiot was mocking them by thinking this stupid Aussie would just accept it. If this is the sort of things that take aways are doing I’m not surprised that Australians are not going for it.

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