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Saturday, January 12, 2008

British tour promoter is gung-ho on Filipino cuisine

AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo

British tour entrepreneur Robert Blake sent me an email after reading my column of November 25 suggesting that we harness glorious Filipino food as a major tourism attraction. Endorsing my suggestion, he hoped that Philippine Tourism officials will take heed and implement it.

Robert Blake promotes Philippine tours in the UK. His company, Go Dive Philippines (www.godivephilippines.com ) charms travelers with the promise of taking them to different dive sites everyday in any of the 80 dive sites that they promote in such places as Anilao, Batangas and Puerto Galera, Mindoro.

Blake validates findings of a study — "The Center of the Marine Shore Fish Diversity: The Philippine Islands" — which names the Philippines as the country with the widest marine bio-diversity in the world. The study was published in 2005 in the Environmental Biology of Fishes Journal No. 72 which is cited in the latest Philippine Environment Monitor (PEM) published by the World Bank.

Other than dive sites in Batangas and Mindoro, Go Dive Philippines offers tour destinations to Subic (wrecks), Mt Pinatubo (land tour, hiking), Donsol (Whale shark interaction) , Tubbataha Reefs (diving in the "Best dives in the Philippines" ), Bohol (Home of the Chocolate Hills) and Cebu (see rare Thresher Sharks).

About Filipino cuisine, Robert Blake remarked: "We have always believed that your glorious Filipino cuisine is underplayed, under-promoted, and underestimated. "

"Most of our clients, if they can find it, come back raving about how good Filipino food is. The problem is how to find it in hotels and resorts in the Philippines! International resorts look down upon it, and tend to have just a token 'sanitized' Filipino dish or two." Robert added.  

Robert made note of a Filipino mindset problem. He said: "Filipino resorts catering for the overseas market are just as bad — they seem often to be ashamed to offer their own food and so end up just offering a poor version of everyone else's cuisine."

"Yet, your cuisine, with all its wonderful regional variations, ranks up there with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian etc ­— you just seem to be afraid to promote it as forcefully as other nations do. Yet it is one of the many selling points unique to the Philippines! " He pressed his point.

"And all this talk about balut and so on is rubbish. Every nation has a weird or bizarre dish or two but that doesn't mean that all their cuisine is inedible. We English eat pig's head (brawn), congealed pig's blood (black pudding), and cow's udder. The French eat snails and frogs. The Scots eat haggis (I don't dare tell you what's in that!). The Chinese eat so many bizarre things you can't even begin to list them. And Americans eat McDonalds. In truth, the only really disgusting thing I have ever tasted in the Philippines is halo-halo!" Robert further drove home the issue.

He even had a take on the roots of our psychological problem. He said: "I firmly believe that it was all those years of American occupation that made you lose confidence in your own food. They spent all their time denigrating Filipino cuisine (as they still do), and as a result you became ashamed of  it yourselves."

Sharing his own personal experience, Robert added: "I remember being attached to the US Army in Seoul in the 70s. They all, without exception, refused to eat Korean food of any kind, describing it as disgusting and saying everything stank of kimchi."

"In fact, I love kimchi myself, as I do bulgogi and all the other great Korean dishes. But my US colleagues thought I was really weird to eat all 'that stuff'. Frankly, it's no use trying to promote any foreign foods to Americans (sorry — I'm going to generalize here!), as they will only eat their own comfort foods plus the odd Italian or Mexican dish if it's not too spicy," Robert said.

He went on: "Your comments on the CBC ladies' reaction to lechon sum it all up. But I can assure you that the British think lechon is the best thing since, well, sliced bread. But the rest of the world would love to eat Filipino food if you would just make it available! Where are all the Filipino restaurants in overseas towns with strong Pinoy populations? All I ever see is Indian, Chinese, etc.

Robert exhorted Filipinos: "Come on Filipinos — get your act together. Be proud of your cuisine and promote it as one of your major selling points! But please, not halo-halo!"

Well, we can allow Robert Blake his pass on our halo-halo. I wonder though if he tried it at the Peninsula Hotel where I easily exceed my blood sugar desired level every time I indulge in their mega sized serving.

In my experience, foreigners rate our cuisine as tops in Asia if they're brought to the better Philippine restaurants. What we need to do is define our cuisine, give it a distinct identity and promote it.

My friend Tina Monzon-Palma of ANC recently featured Chef Myrna Segismundo in her Talkback Christmas and New Year episodes. Chef Segismundo remarked that Filipino cuisine ought to be promoted because it can attract tourists. The lady chef further commented that — sadly, it is us Filipinos who are the first to put down Filipino cuisine.

Indeed, we manage to be our own worst enemies. We Filipinos are not short of foreigners who desire to take advantage of our natural resources and our uneducated poor countrymen. But compared to what we do to our own country and countrymen, predatory foreigners are the least of our worries.

Pagod Ka Na Bang Maging si Juan?
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