Food Holidays In The Philippines - Episode Transcript
Find the transcript of my interview with Clang Garcia below.
Welcome to Exploring Filipino Kitchens. I’m your host, Nastasha Alli.
I am so excited for this episode, though to be real, I’m always excited when I get to spend some time with you wonderful food loving listeners. Today we’re talking with Clang Garcia, who published a book called “Food Holidays Philippines” and runs a travel company called Jeepney Tours, based in the Philippines. We’re gonna be talking about food tourism this episode and I’m literally bouncing in place here. It’s about two of the great things I love - travel and food!
So I picked up “Food Holidays” last year - a year after it came out, in 2016. If you’re listening to this podcast, you legit need to order a copy of this book online because there’s nothing else right now that comes close to it. And I say that honestly, as someone who has a very big collection of both food and travel books - nothing’s been written about the Philippines in this particular way. It’s a travel compendium; a series of essays with some recipes and a travel itinerary packed into one book. You can’t afford to miss out on it if you’re planning a trip to the Philippines specifically for its food. As someone who’s worked in the hospitality and travel industry for over ten years - basically all my adult life, since I moved to Canada - it’s something I can relate to really well. Reading through the essays in this book, you really feel, hear, see and almost taste the different regional foods and specialties that people from those places are so proud of.
02:20 Food is inescapably a part of travel
One thing I know for sure is that food is inescapably a part of why people travel, because everyone needs to eat. And so many people, especially in the last ten years or so, make that act of going someplace to eat - to experience the tastes, ambiance, the whole environment surrounding food and travel experiences - it’s a really big driver to why people spend money. That also underlines the economic power in recognizing just how much we can tap into food itself as a reason for travelling.
As a concierge in downtown Toronto, my job was basically to recommend places to eat, drink and visit - both for visitors and locals, who wanted the full “staycation” experience, something I enjoy a lot too. Seeing how much people value experiences that are “book-ended” with a great meal or drink on a patio sets the tone for a trip, and I understand why people yearn for those kinds of experiences. Food is never just about food. It’s always a story about the people who make it, the place you’re eating it in, the history behind what brought that particular dish or ingredient from its origins to your place.
All of these things came together for me very recently. I’m happy to share that I am now a food tour guide, with a company called Savour Toronto. I know, right - dream job! What we basically do is take small groups of guests through different neighbourhoods of the city, eating our way through Toronto, while we learn about the history of that neighbourhood, the people who live there, and foods they produce. Nowhere else as diverse, I like to think! It’s a bit easier for restaurants to break into the “scene” here, I mean, compared to someplace like New York - and you can’t ask for a better audience of people whose palates are ready to try everything. Over half of the people who live in Toronto were born someplace else.
Anyway - I live and breathe food and travel, and naturally, I just needed to know what that intersection between food and tourism looks like in the Philippines.
We’re gonna cover quite a bit today, so let’s go to it!
CG: Thanks for inviting me on your podcast! I’m Clang Garcia. I’ve got multiple personalities. I’m a tour operator, publisher and wanderer. I continuously educate myself on learning about the rich culinary heritage of the Philippines. I had an opportunity to work with “Mabuhay,” the in-flight magazine of Philippine Airlines; after that I became a media representative for Emphasis - they’re one of the biggest media publishers who handle international airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and British Airways. I worked with them for ten years. Also through “Mabuhay,” I got to produce an in-flight video that featured Philippine destinations. So I’ve merged all the wonderful experiences I’ve had in what I do. I enjoy designing and crafting special tours around the Philippines.
NA: And for Clang, all of this comes together in “Food Holidays”, a book that won “Best in the World” at the 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
CG: “Food Holidays” was born out of passion. It’s a pioneering guide on culinary heritage tours around the Philippines. Because I’m a tour operator, I want to promote the country as a culinary destination. The books guides you around the Philippines - it’s already "itinerary-based” - to find regional dishes. I’ve filtered and curated it, did a dry run with everything. All you have to do is follow the trail, in one book.
NA: And because the story about writing this book really begins with her travel company, called Jeepney Tours, I ask Clang to tell us a little more about it.
08:00 What makes the jeepney so special?
CG: Jeepney Tours for me encapsulates a cultural icon of the Philippines - the jeepney. When people talk about the jeepney, there will always be stigma and a negative connotation to it.
NA: But, she says…
CG: If we study our history, the jeepney is more than that. Prior to the American colonial period Filipinos were used to seeing carabao-drawn carts or carriages.
NA: And when Americans brought over thousands of these utility jeeps - like, in the hundred thousands, shipped over from the continental US to the Philippines during World War II - Filipinos saw the jeepney as progress. As something that would help local farmers do things like quickly transport fruit and vegetables from faraway fields into town. Remember, horses aren’t native to the Philippines, so this kind of land transport was revolutionary for people who lived in rural areas.
CG: The first time that Filipinos saw these “four wheel drives” was during the war - where there were equally, thousands of casualties (along with the jeepneys).
NA: A war that, I have to note, required Filipinos to fight, and ultimately sacrifice their lives, for the Americans who maintained colonial rule over the country.
CG: It was devastating. But you can’t dampen the Filipino spirit. For me, the jeepney encapsulates that spirit of resiliency, entrepreneurship, artistry, ingenuity and finding humour, even in the midst of devastation.
We do a lot of creative tours around the Philippines. It’s easy to book a packaged tour to Boracay or Palawan; you can find that online. So what we specialize in is promoting cultural tourism.
NA: These character traits - of resiliency, entrepreneurship, artistry, ingenuity and humour - were things that Clang just knew had to be at the core of her travel company. Like guiding principles, to create the kinds of travel experiences that put the stories of Filipinos they met in those communities at the front and centre.
For me, as a balikbayan - as someone who, finally, is starting to see just how much my own identity is inextricably tied to my experiences growing up in the Philippines - this kind of travel has so much potential, and almost screams to be shared with other people looking for ways to connect with their culture and their roots.
10:35 The beauty of our food
CG: I grew up in the kitchen of my grandmother. I know the process of cooking from scratch, appreciating the integrity of ingredients, the whole “slow food” thing. Filipino dishes are never “fast food.” The beauty of our food changes depending on the season. You have meals for weekdays, special meals for Sundays, foods for Holy Week, Christmas and all that.
NA: And this beauty, for foods that are seasonal, that are consumed in the land they’re grown in, is something you can see and feel in “Food Holidays." And being that immersed - feeling like you’re there - is, for me, the hallmark of a great travel book.
In the province of Bulacan, an hour or two north of Manila, Clang shows us what to expect on a tricycle food tour of Malabon, a seaside port town famous for its pancit. And what centuries-old recipes from the town of Malolos can tell us about the First Philippine Republic of Emilio Aguinaldo - like, historically accurate stuff.
South of Manila, in the provinces of Laguna, Quezon and Batangas, you can listen to the storytellers of a town called San Pablo; explore a coconut plantation; and wander around Lucban - a REAL foodie’s city, I don’t even mind using that term. In Lucban, there’s this regional variant of pancit called “habhab,” wrapped in banana leaves, which become your de-facto plate while you walk around, maybe with a side of piquant longganisang lucban on a stick. I may actually done that before. All things you can do in one weekend!
13:00 Day trips, overnight food trips and 3 delicious days
CG: All the contents of “Food Holidays” are actually my tour packages, categorized into three sections: “Day trips from Manila,” “Overnight food trips,” and “3 delicious days.”
I’ll give you a rundown of my favourite destinations. The first is Bicol.
13:15 Bicol's terroir
CG: I love Bicol for its diversity of attractions and intensity of flavours. When we look at food, I try to dissect every ingredient and process. If you’re familiar with “terroir”…
NA: The term that’s often used to describe wine and the region that the grapes for that particular bottle of wine were grown in…
CG: When I went to Bicol, I realized that Philippine cuisine totally has its own terroir expression in food.
NA: And in her travels, Clang found an example of this terroir in Filipino food, in a dish called “pinangat” - something you can only find in Bicol.
CG: Usually, it’s fish cooked in freshly harvested taro leaves and “healing ingredients” such as lemongrass, garlic, ginger and chilies. You pound it all together and cook it with coconut milk, then wrap it up in those leaves. Going back to terroir, I talked to these “pinangat” makers…
NA: And basically asked..
CG: Where do you harvest these taro leaves? I’d love to see it. So we walked and it turns out they harvest them from the foot of Mayon Volcano. So for “pinangat,” its essence and flavours really are unique to the Bicol region, to the island of Albay in particular. That’s something to be proud of. Especially with the chilies, there’s that beautiful medley of flavours. For me, it’s terroir with a T. You can’t replicate the Mayon Volcano.
NA: Meaning that no place else in the world - literally - can have the same geographical features, the same climate, amount of rainfall or humidity. Few volcanos, in fact, are as active as Mayon. I remember seeing photos of the last time it erupted, a minor one, in January 2018! If you consider the minerals and salts present in that soil, volcanic as it gets, and in the streams that dot the foothills of Mayon…this stuff feeds the coconut trees and the chilies, the taro leaves and the lemongrass, and the fish that’s used to make this dish - you quickly realize it’s just how special it is. Each ingredient, to some degree, borrows its flavours and distinct taste - its terroir - from roots that run very, very deep in Bicol’s soil.
It reminds me of the Native American technique of growing squash, corn and beans together in the same garden plot, something called the “three sisters” technique - and of dishes like succotash, where those vegetables go into a stew and just harmonize, like they were always meant to be. Some things just fit perfectly.
16:50 Growing businesses around food
NA: Clang’s work in culinary tourism reaches far and wide. In the province of Sorsogon - technically still part of the Bicol region - Clang got the chance to work on a project that went beyond featuring the unique foods of Bicol.
CG: I was hired by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Asian Development Bank to work on projects that helped the country’s (economically) poorest provinces through tourism. I was a consultant, working on product development and marketing.
NA: Clang also reminds us that…
CG: Not all destinations in the Philippines are “culinary destinations.” But the province of Bicol is special - it’s really priceless. I chose to really anchor it as a culinary destination, focus on its culture, and create tour packages from there. One thing I did was tap into local communities. I wanted to help through the “grassroots.”
NA: This desire to tap into grassroots communities - that I’m so happy to see more and more people doing now - has effects that, like the roots of those vegetables that grow at the foot of the Mayon, run deep.
17:50 Redefining "luxury tourism" in the Philippines
CG: I want to connect people in these grassroots communities with the tourism supply chain. If you make that happen - if you make their life comfortable, while celebrating their local culture - that’s when you know that tourism works. In the Philippines, the only time you can really “know” the economy is growing is when you help the poorest of the poor, by giving them the dignity to earn a living.
NA: Here it is again - that concept of providing dignity for people who live at or close to the brink of poverty. People who, for a very long period of time, earned very little and whose skills and intimate knowledge of local farming, fishing and land stewardship has been, as I’ve now come to learn, vastly under utilized.
CG: Going back to our tour packages, I asked them to prepare their heritage dishes and bring them out for us. When I asked tourism officers there, “What are your attractions here?” They’d say, “Nothing. We don’t have anything.” I said, “It’s impossible to have nothing. What do you have in your coastal areas?” Then the tourism officer said they had sea urchins, sea grapes. I said, “That’s it! I want to see how you get those.” Now, we’ve got a travel package which includes sea grape harvesting and something called “uni-all-you-can” (an eat-all-you-can sea urchin, or “uni,” feast). We ask local communities to prepare their heritage dishes with these ingredients on board a bamboo raft, in the middle of an azure sea. For me, that’s just priceless.
NA: I’d say so! Just think about it - you can now travel to Bicol, indulge in as many sea urchins as you can possibly handle, while you’re on a bamboo raft in this impossibly blue sea, lunching with other travellers who like to eat and whom the local villagers have prepared a few regional specialties for.
CG: Our definition of “luxury tourism” (in the Philippines) needs to change. It shouldn’t be limited to staying in opulent properties. It’s also all about enriching experiences - where, at the same time, you’re able to leave something with the communities you visit, just by having fun. We don’t just go there for the food. We want to make sure everybody’s involved.
NA: I wanna take a minute here to reflect on Clang’s perspective, and why it matters in the context of tourism in the Philippines. The thing is, for Filipinos in the upper-middle to higher income classes, meaning the people who have enough disposable income and aren’t worried about day to day living - for these folks, if you plan on splurging for a trip, that “splurge” for many people means something like a nice air-conditioned villa by the beach, or going to Hong Kong Disneyland. They wanna go someplace nice, but keep a certain level of comfort. And for many people, spending their hard-earned pesos and vacation days in what’s still typically seen as kinda “lowly” rural areas just doesn’t make sense - unless you make it matter to them in a whole new way that matters to them, and aligns with their lifestyle habits and choices.
In other words, if we can redefine “luxury” as the luxury of savouring and enjoying the indigenous foods that really are fast disappearing in the Philippine countryside - those “enriching experiences,” for Clang and other people who advocate for sustainable tourism - this approach works to benefit both sides equally.
That’s why I’m super excited by the fact that Berna Romulo Puyat - a much respected public service official and former head of the Department of Agriculture - was just this month (in May 2018) named the new head of the Philippine Department of Tourism. It really is exciting times!
23:00 Lessons from travelling the country
NA: Sometimes we, as Filipinos, don’t really know the bounty of what we have in our backyard. Since I moved to Canada, I’ve been working in tourism. I talk to guests, for examples, who want to visit nearby Niagara not just for the falls, but because it’s a wine region, known for its Canadian terroir. I got really curious about what food tourism looks like in the Philippines now because I’ve been exposed to people who go places because they want this whole experience around eating and drinking. Knowing that Filipinos are some of the most hospitable people around - I hope a lot more people are able to see that!
With your work as a tour operator, what were some of the biggest takeaways you’ve learned? For example, maybe working with people in Bicol who’d say “Ma’m, we don’t have any specialties po.” But after asking and prodding, you’d find out more…
CG: We have that “hiya” culture eh, and a social class hierarchy. If you talk to some people on that “level” (as someone from a “higher class” talking to a “lower class”) they’ll continue to have that kind of mentality. So what we can do is empower them; bring them up. Talk to them on “your level,” take them where you know they can go.
Everywhere you go, you have to humble yourself. Because you have to be a “nobody” when you talk to people who obviously know more about their culture (than outsiders ever could). We need to say, “You’re the master, you’re the expert. Show it to the world.” You have to find ways to establish a relationship. In the absence of that, you can’t truly “connect” and get something out of the experience.
NA: These are truths that look simple from the outset, but in the process of breaking free from old mindsets, something I know I’ve had to do - it’s a truth that bears repeating. It gets very personal - to the core of my being - to realize that the societal structure that I lived in for so long still has this one simple truth to learn and carry out. The truth is that we lack respect, in many ways, for our fellow Filipinos, and for the country we come from. Whether you live in the Philippines or outside the country. The only place for me, to start, is with a straight shot of humility. So I asked Clang - how do other people go about that?
25:15 "It's time to compete”
CG: We should start veering away from that “hiya” culture. It’s about time to compete, by celebrating our own culture. No one can promote it better than us. No one can speak about it better than we can. Wala eh - we don’t even have a budget for marketing, on a national level, to promote culinary tourism. We can’t blame the government forever for that. All you can do is carry out your share.
NA: When did food tourism start becoming recognized as different thing from, say, beach vacations?
CG: I don’t know, really. But there’s curiosity.
26:05 Touring chefs for Madrid Fusion Manila
CG: Have you heard about Madrid Fusion? It’s one of the biggest gastronomy events in Europe. The Department of Tourism brought it two years ago to the Philippines and got the rights to make it “Madrid Fusion Manila,” and they asked different tour operators to come up with culinary tour packages for the visiting international gastronomy media, as well as for the visiting chefs. There were some tour operators who’ve been 30, some even close to 50 years in the business. No one had a product that promoted culinary tourism.
My name came about because they knew I’m a foodie and I was already putting together these kinds of tours for my company; even if the demand isn’t as high as, for example, beach holidays, there’s fulfillment and joy in it for me. Because nobody had a solid “food tour” product, when I submitted what I had, the Department of Tourism approved it (right away). Normally, you also need a specially accredited tour guide to lead official government tours. When they asked, “Who’s doing the tours?” (as a private sector guide) I said “I don’t know!” And it took them actually telling me, “Well, you’re the one who made these!” to do it.
I handled international gastronomy media from Europe, Asia and the Americas. But I was only given two days for the whole itinerary - two days! I had to figure out where to take them. We went to Pampanga, because budget-wise, we could only travel by land. The province of Pampanga, as well as Bulacan, are actually very rich in terms of food culture.
28:10 Recipes from cooks of Spanish friars in Bulacan
CG: Bulacan, in the 1970s, was the rice granary of the Philippines. They had rich farm land and a rich farm life. I brought them to Malolos (in Bulacan) and had an old ancestral house opened for our guests, built in the 1500s. Jose Rizal (the national hero of the Philippines) had a history of staying in this house. I asked local cooks to prepare their heritage dishes. They prepared foods eaten by the “hacienderos” or the landlords of the rice fields. Back then, “hacienderos” trained their cooks by hiring the “kusinero de kampanilya” of the “frayles” - meaning the cooks of Spanish friars, who previously worked in the walled city of Intramuros, in Manila (the capital of the Philippines during the Spanish era).
So their dishes here are quite different (from the rest of the Southern Tagalog region). For example, what they served was something called “lumpiang kastila.” It’s pretty similar to the regular pork lumpia that most people know, except the filling is made of ground beef with garbanzos (chickpeas) and eggs.
They also had this dish called “kinilaw na bangus na inipit sa kesong puti.”
NA: That loosely translates to “milkfish ceviche stuffed with cheese.” But was it milkfish wrapped around fresh cheese, or was it milkfish covered in fresh cheese? Either way, definitely unconventional…and a tongue twister. Kinilaw na bangus na inipit sa kesong puti! Try saying that five times!
CG: The milkfish wraps the kesong puti. The fish is made “kinilaw” - cooked in liquid fire with vinegar and spices. I blown away with the flavours. Then we did a cooking demo of “hamon Bulakenya” (ham from Bulacan).
“Hamon Bulakenya” is basically made in the process of “inasnan” - through salting. Our way of preserving food before refrigeration. You’d put the “hamon” in an earthen jar for three days then cook it from there. It’s similar to “buro” (a dish of salted fish or meat, fermented in a crock with cooked rice, widely eaten in the neighbouring province of Pampanga). But this “hamon Bulakenya” was sweetened with sugar; they were ahead of Bacolod and Iloilo by a hundred years, in terms of growing sugarcane. So they’d put sugar on top and then “torch” it (when it was served).
NA: Amazing! I didn’t even know this style of wet-cured ham, or hamon, existed!
CG: That’s a very old process; the dish itself is a part of our pre-colonial cuisine. But when the Spanish friars arrived, they found they liked it, because there was familiarity with their version of “hamon.” Some versions, we were told, had wine in it.
NA: So this hamon - in its original version - was basically chunks of pork put into a clay pot with some salt and cooked rice, left out overnight. With temperatures that easily reach up to 30 degress, natural fermentation kicks in, and pretty quickly starts “preserving” the meat.
CG: After the revolution (from the Spanish), people from Malolos celebrated their liberation by removing all the Spanish ingredients in that dish. There are so many stories like this!
NA: I loved chatting with Clang. Of course I wanted to hear the stories. Next, in the province of Pampanga…
32:00 The culinary champions of Pampanga
CG: We spent the night in Pampanga, then I took guests to “Bale Dutung,” the restaurant of Chef Claude Tayag.
NA: “Bale Dutung,” for those who don’t know, is one of those very special places in the Philippines where regional cooking really, really shines.
CG: Claude Tayag has long been a culinary champion of Pampanga. He really presents the integrity of dishes from his home province. He created a degustation menu, filled with traditional Kapampangan dishes.
I brought guests to Atching Lillian, the keeper of heirloom recipes of Pampanga; she used to have a cooking show on TV. I asked Atching Lillian to do a cooking demo of “panecillos de San Nicolas,” which we also shared the recipe for in “Food Holidays.” “Panecillos de San Nicolas” is a 16th century recipe - it’s the oldest cookie recipe we have documented, taught by the Spanish to Filipino bakers.
NA: So when these Spanish guests - the folks who were organizing Madrid Fusion Manila -tasted this cookie, Clang says they got super excited about how closely it tasted and resembled their version of St. Nicolas cookies. By the way, it’s called that because of the St. Nicolas inspired pattern, imprinted onto the cookie with a wooden mold. Those molds are beautiful.
CG: But the taste is different from the original Spanish version, because in the Philippines, we use arrowroot flour. We’ve customized it to what we have. Then we did a cooking demo of “plantanillas.”
33:20 Plantanillas: A native Philippine dessert
NA: This is something I had to look up. “Plantanillas” is an old Kapampangan dessert that visually, looks like this smooth, shiny little hardshell taco with a colourful filling. I’m not kidding, they’re really cute. They’re small enough that you can fit two in the palm of your hand, and the pastry - which is really more like a thick crepe - is this super sunny yellow from all the egg yolks in it.
It’s worth remembering that in the Philippines and other Spanish colonies, it’s almost a sure sign that when you see a lot of churches, that co-relates to the number of egg yolk-based sweets produced in those regions. When those churches were built, people needed egg whites to create mortar, to hold the stones of the church structures together. “Plantanillas” is an example of these distinctly Filipino desserts rich in egg yolks. The filling is often made with coconut - either “bukayo," which is grated coconut fried in syrup, or just straight up coconut syrup called “latik." To make “plantanillas”…
CG: You have this big wok where you boil down water and sugar - but not until it gets thick like a syrup.
NA: And basically you drop the egg yolk pastry in this thin syrup, just enough to let the sweetness seep in, and then you take it out and cup it in the palm of your hand to shape into a half moon, and then stuff it with the coconut filling.
CG: You would add “pastillas” in the middle, fold it, then eat it. So there’s this lovely burst of flavour, sweetness, and texture, in layers. In all our tours, we integrate this sense of history and culture with the food we eat and the place we’re in. I always say it’s like a fun academic tour. We make sure there’s lots of interaction and make it the best way to “eat your history.”
NA: I love learning about old dishes and recipes. Like I’ve said before, I would totally travel for that!
35:50 What else is there?
NA: It’s a personal journey for me, and I hope for listeners too. This kind of history isn’t really taught in schools here. A lot of these food discoveries - for example, those cooks who trained in Intramuros then transferred to Bulacan, or Atching Lillian’s heirloom recipes - are such a good demonstration of how Filipino food adapts over time. Not just because we’re adapting ingredients to use what grows here, but also customizing the flavours to “match” with the Filipino palate. It’s exciting, because if we think about how huge the country really is - I wonder, what else is there?
CG: There’s so much to explore! We have over 7,000 islands. We’re just at the tip right now.
NA: If you could describe in three phrases, what it is that drives you to do this - what encourages you to find these stories and bring these foods to more travellers?
CG: I want to rise from the ignorance of not fully knowing my heritage. I want every Filipino to be proud of who they are. We’re more than what we think we are; we’re a very rich people. I want to bring back traditional Filipino culture through food.
NA: Going back to “Food Holidays” - when you were putting that together, you worked with so many talented writers in the Philippines. What was the process like of getting those writers to contribute? What was it like to learn about all those different regional specialties?
38:10 Making "Food Holidays Philippines”
CG: It was crazy. In the beginning I asked for a lot of help. Not everyone said yes; sometimes, when you talk to people with so much passion, they think you’re a little mad. Like, “Who’s this mad woman asking so many questions about food?” Not everyone understood what I wanted to do, but some did. I decided to capitalize on that. There’s something about it, when you have a lot of passion and you share it with the world; I think the universe conspires to give you what you want. I met kindred spirits along the way who shared that passion; they were the champions of culinary heritage in their localities. We bonded over food and stories.
“Food Holidays” for me is a collector’s edition because it brings together local culinary historians in every province we featured. It’s not easy to “tap” these people, because this isn’t something they do professionally. You have to really research and find people who can lead you to the right person with a lot of knowledge on that topic; someone who can talk about it comfortably, with authority and integrity.
When I was doing the book, I was so exhausted. It entailed a larger budget (than I predicted). I was doing this on my own, I burned through all my money. But it was so fulfilling, and you just know and believe in it so much.
39:50 Winning the Gourmand World Cookbook Award
CG: I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
NA: So what happened is that in the lead up to Madrid Fusion Manila, Clang was super busy getting things like the itineraries for those organizers and chefs ready, in addition to putting the finishing touches on her book and just getting it printed and ready for the big event. It took a publisher from The Kitchen Bookstore, based in Manila, to tell her about this award.
CG: The publisher was so passionate about the book and I got hooked by his emotions. He sent me an email saying, “Clang, you have to apply for this.” I had no idea about what the award was and initially brushed it off. When I finally looked at it again, it was so close to the deadline (for entries). I said to myself, well, I’ll give it a shot. So I sent my application right on the cut-off date and didn’t expect anything.
After a few months, I got an email from the founder of the awards basically saying, “We’re pleased to announce your book is the national winner for culinary travel.” My god, I cried. I really cried! The book was reviewed by an international panel of judges in the gastronomy world and for me, it was an incredible recognition. At that point, we hadn’t even been recognized by the local government. Then suddenly, there was this internationally known, well-respected panel who recognized the value of the book. I cried because it took so much to put together.
After winning the national category, the email said I could still compete for the international category. “Food Holidays” competed with other culinary travel books from all over the world and I’m proud to say it was awarded as one of the “Best in the World.” I cried again. I couldn’t believe it! I had pure intentions of bringing together the best content that I could for that book.
That led to the TV show I started this year. I was tapped by a leading broadcast network here in the Philippines to host a food and travel show inspired by the book. It’s become an interesting landscape for the Philippines because it’s not just me who wants to get out there (and feature culinary destinations). There’s a growing number of networks and personalities looking to make this kind of travel show. We’re getting there. “Napapansin na nila,” people are noticing. I really believe the Philippines is the next big thing when it comes to culinary travel.
NA: I mean, this is clearly something that I believe in too. So I asked Clang - where does she see food tourism going in the Philippines?
42:45 "We're at the cusp of a gastronomy revolution"
CG: At this point, we’re on the cusp of a gastronomy revolution. There’s a growing consciousness; there’s already that “fire.” Now it’s all about activation. I like to think we’ll get there very soon. There are consolidated efforts, like the work by Amy Besa. There are lots of local champions and little competition; there’s good harmony in getting everyone together.
Even if you don’t get support in the beginning, if you really believe it’s for a good cause, just do it. If you really believe in the work you’re doing, you shouldn’t chase after the money. You can raise money if you have a good product with good intentions.
I’m now working on the second edition of “Food Holidays,” which I plan to release next year. I’m also hoping to take “Food Holidays” on a US road show, and invite chefs in places like San Francisco to collaborate on some pop-up dinners. We talked with the Department of Tourism about this and they’ve agreed to our plans. Sometimes, especially if they don’t have programs like this going yet - it pays to create the program you want yourself, then find partners. Even if it gets difficult, just do it if you believe in it, until it materializes.
NA: That’s really encouraging!
CG: There’s so much of our food culture to share. For that tour, my purpose is to create a channel to tell people about how the Philippines is such an exciting destination for food holidays.
44:30 The appeal of food tourism
NA: When I try to explain to my friends that the idea of going someplace for food is my idea of a vacation, people still go, “Really? That’s all you’re gonna do?” And I go, “Of course not!” The reason I want to go may be driven by eating - but if I know there’s a strong cultural component to it, that the places I’d visit give back to communities, for example - it’s a holistic thing, it’s not just about the food. When visitors directly contribute to the local economy, there’s this consciousness too around uplifting the livelihoods of people around you, in a sustainable way. People are really into that and it’s something that’s so attractive.
CG: I’m happy that you have this podcast dedicated to “Exploring Filipino Kitchens.” You’re a champion and voice for people, too.
NA: That’s where that “fire” is, for me. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a traitor because my family left the Philippines and I never really got to explore the country. I pretty much lived in Manila my whole life, until I was 19. Never even visited Bulacan, which is like an hour or two away. Now that there’s so much awareness around food, being able to tell stories about these “dying arts” are important. Like with how “plantanillas” are made. Hopefully we can keep that going.
NA: My sincerest thanks to Clang Garcia, who met with me in Manila for this interview. Earlier this year, she took a number of Filipino-American chefs on a culinary tour of the Philippines. From what I hear, and as I hoped, it was unforgettable.
Music for this episode is by David Szeztay, Eric and Magill, Podington Bear, Squire Tuck and Blue Dot Sessions.
Visit exploringfilipinokitchens.com for past episodes, and please subscribe and tell a friend if you enjoyed this! I hope the last hour has encouraged you to go on a “food holiday” to the Philippines.
Maraming salamat, and thank you for listening.