My colleague Francesca Manto doesn’t want anyone to talk about — or even think about — a culture’s food as a trend. Manto is Filipino-American, and in recent years she’s seen an outpour of trend pieces touting Filipino food as the next-big-thing, and has dealt with people asking her a variation of the following question multiple times: “Well why is Filipino food not as mainstream as, like...Mexican food?”
She’ll answer you in two parts. First she’ll recall the difficulty her family faced after opening and closing a set of Filipino restaurants in Los Angeles in the 1990s, upon first arriving to the States. She’ll also argue that previous representations of Filipino food have failed us all because of inaccuracy — one of the tentpole reasons she created and developed Eater’s newest video series, Halo Halo. “The people who make those trend statement aren’t Filipino,” she says. “It’s vital that it be represented by Filipinos who grew up with the culture, and want to represent it.”
That argument unwittingly brought Manto, who typically works as a video shooter for Eater, in front of the camera for Halo Halo — a four-part series that explores the changing landscape of Filipino food in America. As host and producer for the series, Manto is talking to the Filipino and Filipino-American chef and owners who are running restaurants across the northeast.
Bad Saint — the four year old Washington, D.C. phenomenon that’s one of 38 essential restaurants across America — was the first time Manto heard of a Filipino restaurant truly getting national buzz. “I thought, ‘Wow! People are lining up for Filipino food’,” she remembers. (Bad Saint hopefuls are known to arrive hours before the restaurant opens at 5:30.)
Hearing about Bad Saint in 2014 led Manto to her rediscovery of the food she’s been eating since she was born. “I realized how much I don’t know about Filipino food,” she recalls. Along with her audience, Manto wanted to learn why Filipino food is the way it is, and challenge the notions of what it should be.
“Food in the Philippines is evolving differently, chef’s here are going off of memory,” she says about the restaurants featured in Halo Halo like Bad Saint and New York’s Purple Yam. “Food should evolve just as much as a culture, and it’s making these menus very diverse.”
Now that production has wrapped on the first four episodes, Manto is interested in visiting cities outside the northeast, and highlighting the Filipino-American communities there. “Before doing the show, people only talked about Filipino restaurants in larger cities,” she says. “I want to talk about where there are and aren’t large Filipino communities, and how they are finding home through food.”