America is always searching for the new “it” cuisine to fall in love with, and at the 2017 International StarChefs Congress themed “Cook Your Culture,” some of the country’s best chefs were demonstrating the food they grew up eating that has now become trendy. One such chef was Alvin Cailan of Egg Slut and Amboy in Los Angeles, and he was there to speak about what he said is the most-searched ethnic food on Google right now: Filipino food.
Raised in Los Angeles, Cailan differentiates himself from those born in the Philippines. In fact, the term for a person of this background in Filipino slang is “amboy,” which Cailan found to be a fitting name for his “Filipino” takeout spot that will become a full-fledged restaurant once Cailan’s team finds a dedicated space. “[Amboy] refers to America born Filipinos whose clothes, accent, and overall style, is different from Filipinos born in the Philippines,” the website reads.
Because the Philippines has been colonized by “pretty much everyone,” Cailan joked, the culture’s food is inherently fusion. Ingredients like coconut milk, calamansi lime and coconut vinegar are major ingredients, and dishes like lumpia, pancit and ceviche are especially popular stateside. However, Cailan was hesitant to define the Philippines by specific ingredients or dishes.
“It is food that’s made with love and that’s not a cop out” he said. “Also, I say that I make Angeleno food with Filipino flavors.”
He will, however, speak to the importance of coconut in all its forms. While the fruit’s milk is used in everything from ceviche to certain adobos, it’s coconut vinegar that’s especially ubiquitous. For example, while you may not find hot sauce, you will find hot chilis in vinegar.
“In the Philippines, we preserve everything in vinegar,” Cailan said. “Any third world country asks itself how to save food, and preservation is key.”
“I beg you guys to give Filipino food a chance,” he said. “Check out recipes and cook it for yourself.” The timing has also never been better, he added, as “Filipino ingredients are booming right now. Things are starting to become commodities, like calamansi limes, our vinegars and salts.”
At his demo, Cailan wanted to create a dish that may not be a classic recipe but that is inarguably Filipino. He started off with raw Kingfish, which he mixed with calamansi lime juice, coconut milk, coconut vinegar, Amboy’s special hot sauce, micro cilantro and chili threads — it resulted in a spicy, fruity ceviche. While he passed around the dish so everyone in the audience could try, he also used it to assert a point that South America may take issue with, but he’s willing to defend.
“I’m here to say that the Philippines invented ceviche,” he said.
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