NEW YORK – Whether it’s traditional Filipino or its Filipino American interpretation, Filipino food has arrived.
That’s according to a new story by the Washington Post, “At long last, Filipino food arrives. What took it so long?” published on April 21.
Three years ago, Bizarre Food host Andrew Zimmern predicted that Filipino food will be the next big thing in the foodie world.
But even before Zimmern’s prediction, in 2011 a Filipino food movement was slowly taking shape on the East Coast to introduce Filipino cuisine to the mainstream.
Restaurants like Purple Yam (formerly Cendrillion) and Talde in Brooklyn, Maharlika Moderno Filipino and Jeepney Gastropub in Manhattan were among those that began serving upscale takes on Pinoy food.
“I think the movement towards supporting Filipino food and the movement towards more Filipino restaurateurs being confident that there’s an audience for them is only on the up,” said Maharlika and Jeepney co-owner, Nicole Ponseca. “I think that as Filipino and non-Filipinos begin to embrace Filipino food more and more, it is now really up to all of us restaurateurs and as proprietors to keep the level up.”
At the center of it all was the boiled fetal duck egg delicacy called balut.
Top TV chefs Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern even ate balut on national TV.
Bourdain said, “This is like the chicken soup of the Philippines, a beloved dish.”
For three years now, Maharlika and Jeepney’s balut eating contest has become a yearly tradition in Lower Manhattan.
What used to be just a fear factor dare became a symbol of the Filipino food movement in America.
Maharlika customer Jermaine Holliway who has sampled balut before said, “This is a delicacy of a culture, of a country, it made it special.”
But when a Business Insider’s story about balut became viral, it caught the attention of an animal rights activist Gabrielle Hardy, who is now urging Maharlika to stop serving what her petition calls disgusting and distasteful for serving an unborn baby duck.
New York Animal Rights Alliance America even calls it “murder” to eat balut. Its co-founder Kay Riviello said there was suffering on the part of the duck fetus since the baby duck is highly developed with a nervous system.
Ponseca said, “I’m not an expert on the emotions of an 18-day-old duck. But the reality if you choose to be a carnivore is that there is a hunting and gathering aspect to obtaining meat and having it on a plate. It’s the realities of eating meat.”
Patrons of Maharlika, whether balut eaters or not, side with Pinoy restaurateurs.
“It’s not murder, not at all, I think it’s disrespectful to us as Filipinos,” Leah Abraham Boca Raton, Fla. said. “I think they do that out of ignorance.”
Steven Raab of Buffalo, N.Y. said, “I’m pro-choice, even balut. You can either choose to eat it or not. But if you don’t like it, it’s not your place to judge us.”
Holliway said, “There’s no actual animals harmed in our view. So let it go.”
Ponseca says, with no sanitation codes or state and federal laws broken, Maharlika will continue to serve this now more than ever popular Filipino delicacy.
“The last time I checked, there was no government ban on eating meat. And last time I checked, my parents moving to America were giving me the opportunity to choose. This isn’t pro-balut or anti-balut. This is a choice to be pro-Filipino, which I am,” she said.
Ponseca says while the stop-balut petition may reach its goal of 5,000 signatures, one thing is for sure — balut is here to stay.
“Thank you to the petitioner to continue to shed light on balut because there’s many more people that have come in now. Thank you,” she said.
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