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From Ghost Town to Gold Rush

A Guest Editorial for Georgia Asian Times by Hope Webb 4/15/2022

Time has finally given birth to the latest food trend in Asian culture, and it is finally sweeping the south. While many argue whether Filipinos are even considered Asian on social media forums like Reddit, the food of our people is exploding like wildfire across the US.

From where we stand, the Philippines is almost exactly halfway around the world. It is a southeast Asian Pacific archipelago that was colonized by the Spanish for 333 years. During these conquests the Spanish brought with them potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, and exotic fruits from foreign lands under the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Prior to the arrival of the conquistadors in 1521, however, Filipino food was largely influenced by Indonesia, Malaysia, and China whose trade outposts in the Philippines date as far back as the Song Dynasty. At that time, the Chinese and other great cultures of Asia imparted on the Filipinos their use for bean sprouts, fish sauce, lemongrass, tofu and soy sauce, just to name a few. High volume trade routes to ports in the Philippines from mainland Asia and other coastal countries made it very easy to influence and help shape the foodscape of the Philippines. The impact that economic interdependence and cultural co-existence had on our flavor profiles, food preparations and cooking techniques are still very prevalent to this day. Lumpia (eggrolls), rice noodle dishes like Pancit, and Sotanghon and similarly our rice porridges Arroz Caldo and Lugaw (much like Congee), share a great likeness to various classic dishes throughout Asia. Ube, a purple yam native to the Philippines, has become the next food phenomenon and has garnered a cult-like following of people around the globe who will go to great lengths just to indulge in a semi-sweet purple snack like Sapin sapin, Ube ensaymada, Ube cheese pandesal, and Ube Macapuno chiffon cake.

I visited Atlanta frequently in the years leading up to my residing here in 2018 and what I discovered back then was a scant filipino food scene. If each cuisine was described as a burgeoning town in the Wild Wild West then filipino food was a Ghost Town, complete with tumbleweeds, one watering hole and one sheriff whose boot spurs echoed against the walls of decrepit and vacant efficiencies.

Throughout my research I stumbled upon story after story of Filipino restaurants surfacing to feel the sunshine and then submerging into the dark abyss. It seemed like the city of Atlanta’s foodie population could only support a Filipino Food scene that was limited to a few food stands and pop-ups peppered about town.