By Anne Marie Ozaeta
Anthony Bourdain jetted into Manila for a lightning quick appearance at the World Street Food Congress held at the SM Mall of Asia concert grounds last May 31 to June 4. This chef-turned-writer and TV host has garnered a huge following since he published his bestselling memoir Kitchen Confidential 17 years ago. These days, he hosts an award-winning travel show, Parts Unknown, produces TV shows and documentaries, and continues to write articles and books. While in Manila, we got the chance to quiz him about his take on Filipino food, what he loves about it, and if we’ll be seeing Pinoy dishes at his mammoth project, Bourdain Market, set to open in New York City by 2019.
Anthony Bourdain with K.F. Seetoh at the World Street Congress 2017 in Manila
FOOD's exclusive interview with Anthony Bourdain, K.F. Seetoh and Claude Tayag
Why he loves sisig
“I think the number one Filipino dish that would really set the world on fire and has the highest possibility of success for export anywhere in the world is sisig,” declares Bourdain. When Claude Tayag asked him why this Kapampangan pork dish appealed to him so much, he answered, “Super flavorful, delicious, and goes perfectly with beer.” You may recall that Tayag first introduced pork sisig to Bourdain in Angeles City back in 2008, and he has since become a convert. He expounds, “It’s the ultimate drinking food, anywhere people like to drink, anywhere people like beer in particular it’s really perfect. And it fits right in with the current pork-centric zeitgeist of young, hip people who go out all the time.”
Is our lechon still “the best pig ever”?
We all remember Bourdain declaring the lechon he had in Cebu as the “best pig ever” back in 2008. Since then, he has had the chance to eat a lot of amazing pigs around the world, including an “incredible” whole roasted pig in Bali and a fantastic lechon in Puerto Rico. So is his Cebu experience still the best? He answers, “I think in any serious pig culture, there’s going to be the possibility of someone on any given day making the best pig in the world. But I’ll tell you my first truly transcendent great whole roasted pig, one of the best lechon I ever had in my life was that time in Cebu.” Then he hedges, “It is better or at worst, at least as good as any pig I have ever encountered.” OK fine, it’s not a rating game, but as far as mind-blowing lechon experiences go, our lechon is still a winner!
His and his daughter’s love for the bee
During his talk at the World Street Food Congress, Bourdain made special mention of his daughter’s special connection to the Philippines. “My daughter, like so many American children, has been largely raised by Filipinas. Her brother from another mother is a Filipino kid. She probably speaks more Tagalog than me. She’s more intimately acquainted with sinigang and lechon. A 10-year-old American kid who likes balut is a rare thing to find, but she adores it.” And like most any Filipino, she often goes to Jollibee in New Jersey. “My daughter eats there a lot. She loves it. She grew up with it.” And he admits, “Yes, I like to enjoy my aloha burger. Not the sort of thing I want to tell anybody at first, but I really enjoy it!”
His take on Filipino food in the United States
Anthony Bourdain is gung-ho about Filipino food’s growing popularity in the United States, especially the Instagram-friendly restaurants that have recently cropped up. “Over the last few years, we’re starting to see basically what I call Filipino hipster food, meaning people who pride themselves in eating the next big thing, trying the hot new food item. And they’re increasingly looking to the Philippines and Filipino food culture for that next big thing.” He elaborates, “There are restaurants now where people are serving either classic Filipino food or riffing on or influenced by Filipino food, often second generation Filipino and Filipino-Americans and it’s getting a lot traction, a lot of appeal and that’s great.”
Filipino dishes at Bourdain Market
Thanks to his love for what he calls “real fast food”—hawker centers and streetside stalls in places like Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Mexico—he is set on transporting these food experiences to New York City. So his visit to the Philippines served a purpose—to discover the best vendors to invite to be a part of this ambitious new project. At a hush-hush town hall with potential vendors from around the Philippines and neighboring countries, he spoke about the Bourdain Market and what it hopes to achieve. Which Filipino vendor will be fortunate enough to be invited to join? It may be too early to tell, but one thing is for sure, Bourdain promises there will definitely be sisig and lechon present!
The World Street Food Congress was organized by Makansutra and presented support by the Tourism Promotions Board Philippines.
Photography by Patrick Mateo