Take it from Korea: Use TV and movies to promote PH cuisine

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The delicious “Ulam: Main Dish” documentary shows the “underdog of Asian cuisines” and how celebrated Filipino American chefs are working hard to raise the flag through food.

Over the years, we have made various efforts to promote Filipino cuisine and talent abroad—from launching cookbooks, participating in competitions and doing live demonstrations to organizing collaboration dinners and pop-ups, as well as joining gastronomic conferences, trade shows and events. But there’s something Korea has become quite successful in executing which we, I believe, haven’t fully taken advantage of yet—TV shows and films!

Take, for example, their 2003 historical television drama “Jewel in the Palace,” which heavily featured the royal cuisine of the mid-Joseon Dynasty (16th century). It even spawned a cookbook. Not only did these forms of media educate and spread awareness, but they also had mouths watering via dishes such as hongsijuksunchae (seasoned bamboo shoots with soft persimmon), maekjeok (grilled sliced pork) and saenggangran (honeyed ginger sweets).

It’s all part of their Global Hansik campaign, which aims to send a global message on the national cuisine through TV and film culture. And given the international market and cult following of their shows, many got to know their cuisine, which eventually drove people to visit the nearest Korean restaurant. It resulted in an organic interest, which is perhaps the biggest payback for their collective efforts.

Filipino food films

In the Philippines, we only have a handful of films that involves local food in the narrative. There’s “Namets!,” a 2008 independent movie by director Jay Abello, which showcases the specialties of Negros, including chicken inasal, pancit molo and piaya.

In 2002, we saw the release of the Rory Quintos film “Kailangan Kita,” where the two lead characters share a passion for Bicolano food, and among the regional dishes featured was laing.

Another is “Ulam: Main Dish,” the first Filipino food documentary to receive worldwide distribution. It follows the rise of the Filipino food movement via the chefs actively representing it abroad, such as Alvin Cailan of Eggslut, and brothers Chase and Chad Valencia of Lasa, both restaurants located in the United States.

With food being an efficient and delicious lure to promote tourism, media is something we perhaps can use as an instrument to make more people acknowledge and fall in love with our food. That’s definitely food for thought.

What to watch

In the meantime, here are some suggested food films for you to watch during your pandemic downtime, as recommended by friends in the food and show business industries.

“It would be ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey.’ I clearly remember the scene about Hassan’s spice combination that really stuck with me. I love stories about food memories. The act of cooking in the present only serves good memories for the family in the future. It’s the food memories that will make them come back home whenever one need to feel comfort.”—Luisa Brimble, James Beard-nominated food photographer

“The only food movie that comes to mind is ‘Chef’ staring Jon Favreau. But the food in the movie didn’t have a lasting effect compared to the documentary he did with a Korean-American chef. What I learned? One can’t be close-minded with a particular cuisine. The thought of multiple ways to cook one’s food, trying out different cuisines, will always bring excitement to me. It won’t work 100 percent, but that will always be the challenge of my personal chow journey.”

—Drew Arellano, celebrity and TV host

“My favorite food movie has to be ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey.’ Aside from resonating with my Indian heritage and my grandparents having to flee from India and make a new life in a foreign country, there was a lot to of insight to be gained from watching it. A food-loving Indian family flees to Europe amidst political upheaval and ends up reopening their family restaurant in a quaint French village, situated right across a lavish Michelin-starred restaurant. While the French establishment at first attempts to exert its dominance over the family restaurant by virtue of its elite status, over time the two camps work toward a state of mutual respect for each other’s craft. Juxtaposed against one another, the two restaurants, to me, symbolize the coexistence of the homemade and the luxurious, and that one isn’t better than the other.”

—Roshan Samtani, homemaker and owner of Homemade by Roshan

“‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ and ‘Chef.’ Both movies showcase chefs being ‘forced’ to cook cuisines that they don’t necessarily resonate with, those that are perceived to please critics and the market. In the end, it is in following what’s in their heart—what makes them tick, and what keeps them alive—that they find success and happiness. I know circumstances are different for everyone, but they represent beacons of hope, and perhaps the strength to keep moving toward personal goals and dreams.”

—Cheryl Tiu, food writer and founder of Cross Cultures

“I love the movie ‘Chef.’ To me, it’s such a feel-good film that centers on the importance of cooking great food that you love, and meals that make memories. The movie teaches you to be true to yourself and make sure you are living life for yourself; not for others and not for fame. Another great food film is ‘Tampopo.’ I love how the movie takes a deep dive into every character’s unique relationship to and with food. From cooking and family tradition, to sensual experiences and dining etiquette, the film shows you how intensely important food can be in our lives, in one way or another.”—Isabel Francisco, editor of Tatler Dining and Generation T Philippines INQ



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