“Manila Comes to Town” and how Filipino food is disrupting established western culinary circles

People line up to have a taste of Filipino food. (All photos by Carlo Javier)

Vancouver, B.C.

Eat Your Heart Out

By Carlo Javier

The late summer sun was almost uncomfortable. Yet despite temperatures approaching the mid-30s on back-to-school week, Canada Place and the general Vancouver harbour area looks as exuberant as the peak of summer.

Food trucks peppered sidewalks while locals and tourists alike basked under the summer heat. Traffic police resembled the animated conductors of symphonic orchestras as they navigated vehicles through the chaotic downtown streets. Though the clear skies paved way for Vancouver’s iconic mountainous backdrop, fleeting moments of concern still managed to manifest. The pandemonium of cars and pedestrians, juxtaposed with towering tour buses that expertly maneuvered through the busy traffic could put anyone under the slightest feeling of unease. 

Across the Vancouver Convention Centre, two food trucks stand crowded by lines that would be the envy of other food trucks in the vicinity. One, Max’s Restaurant, brightly stood out amid a sea of people with its striking red paint, while the other, Shameless Buns, cleverly pulled off a delightful design reminiscent of the classic Filipino Jeepney.

The two trucks, alongside La Glace Ice Cream represented a temporary, but all the more necessary presence in Downtown Vancouver, as from Sept. 3 to 5, the city saw the celebration of Filipino cuisine through “Manila Comes to Town”.

The food truck festival – led by the Honourable Maria Andrelita Austria of the Philippine Consulate General’s office – marked an important moment for Vancouver’s branch of the Filipino Diaspora: not only did the event provide a necessary showcase for Filipino food – it also exhibited that our food is not only of appeal to Filipinos and Filipino-Canadians, but everyone else, too.

With their innovative approach to the classic Filipino pandesal, Shameless Buns delighted patrons and first-timers with dishes like “The Little Sausage” – a Longganisa, runny egg, banana ketchup, and Sriracha Mayo concoction. Also popular is their “Sir Spam A Lot”, a variation of their Little Sausage, replacing the sweet and spicy tang of a Longganisa with the salty bite of a crispy-fried cut of spam. 

Beside Shameless Buns’ eclectic truck was the familiar red of Max’s Restaurant. For the uninitiated, the Max’s brand is all too familiar to Filipino immigrants and the restaurants expansion to Vancouver was once seen as a defining moment for the representation of Filipino food in Vancouver. 

Known for their reliable offerings of Filipino classics, Max’s is often seen as terrific gateway to Filipino food, and their presence at the festival couldn’t have been more fitting.

While the success of Manila Comes to Town marked an important milestone for Filipinos in Vancouver, it does present the question of how or when can Filipino cuisine disrupt the western mainstream in the same way other Asian cuisines have. 

A personal theory points towards the lack of a singular, recognizable, and utterly-Filipino dish. Items like Lumpia, Sisig, and Adobo may steadily be increasing in appeal and fanfare, but Filipino food has yet to truly identify a defining-item in the same way that other cuisines have. 

Though the quest for an accessible and recognizable dish may be valiant, maybe the answer towards further popularizing Filipino food doesn’t have to be based on a singular dish. Instead, maybe the answer harkens to Alexandra Cuerdo’s groundbreaking documentary, Ulam

Ultimately, the heart of Filipino cuisine is found in the experience. As Cuerdo masterfully illustrated, kamayan dinners – more popularly known as Boodle Fights – have become not only popular within the western mainstream, but it’s also served as a particularly effective introduction to our food. 

Manila Comes to Town was a number of things. It was successful, it was important, it was a terrific experience, but most importantly, it was hopeful. Filipino food has long been overlooked and underrated, but festivals like these show that there’s much to be proud of and much to showcase when it comes to our food.


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