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[#RapplerReads] Understand the link between food and identity with Philippino Food Crawl

Looking for books on Filipino cuisine and food culture? We enlisted the help of a Filipino gastro diplomat

Editor’s note: #RapplerReads is a project of the BrandRap team. We earn a commission every time you shop through the affiliate links below.

When they find themselves in a new place, there is one thing Filipinos love to do: eat the best local food they can find.

For most of us, food is the gateway to any new culture, whether local or international. For example, a trip to my home town of Pampanga would not be complete without a visit to the best sisig restaurant in town. This is according to all my friends who travel around two hours just to eat authentic Kapampangan sisig and grab coffee and dessert at Clark’s many cafes.

The strong link between food and identity has long been the subject of numerous articles and scientific journals. But this month on #RapplerReads, I wanted to unbox it even more by talking to someone who has plenty of first-hand experience with it.

Meet Filipino Food Crawl Host Raf Ignacio

I first came across Raf Ignacio’s website when I was looking for copies of several Filipino food books. Through the site, readers can purchase just about any type of literature – whether it’s a cookbook or a food history book – related to Filipino food. . But he’s not just a bookseller. He is also a host of the Filipino Culinary Experience.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Ignacio has also lived in Japan, Malaysia and India. He moved to New York in 2014, where he started Filipino Food Crawl.

Ignacio shared that he started organizing Filipino food tours in New York in 2018. He saw it as his own way of introducing Filipino cuisine to curious tourists and Filipino-Americans looking to connect with their roots.

“For two and a half hours, I took my guests to eat at different Filipino restaurants in the East Village while telling them stories about the culture and history of the Philippines. However, due to the pandemic, I have had to suspend accommodation. I decided to switch from touring to offering Filipino food and culture books through my online store,” he said in an email interview.

As his tours became more popular, Ignacio was asked for collaborations with various brands. These were all aimed at bringing Filipino cuisine and culture to more people, both local and international.

I’ve always been an advocate for Filipino culture and believe that for someone to truly appreciate a culture, you have to experience it. For me, food has become a tool for others to experience Filipino culture.

Raf Ignacio

So what can this self-proclaimed Filipino gastro diplomat say about food and identity? A lot. Read below for our conversation.

What was the best thing about the Filipino Food Tour?

I love having the opportunity to share experiences and stories about Filipino cuisine with those who are interested and with those who want to reconnect with their Filipino roots. It’s satisfying for me to hear someone say that they were able to learn more about themselves from the food they tried on the tour. I am happy to be part of this (re)discovery of her Filipino identity and culture.

You’ve also worked with brands like Goldilocks and Buzzfeed. Can you share a memorable experience of a collaboration?

I’ve collaborated with Goldilocks on two #EATymology series in which we talked about the origins of the names of some of Goldilocks’ best-selling pastries and bread. BuzzFeed chose to feature Filipino Food Crawl (the tour) on their travel and experiences channel called BringMe. Collaborating with BuzzFeed was fun because it was my first time appearing in a major publication. The final product came out extremely well!

The link between food and memory is well documented, with many agreeing that food is a memory invoker. In your personal experience, is there a Filipino food that really brings you back to a specific memory?

Sisig! The first dish I eat whenever I visit the Philippines is sisig. I like its flexibility – you can eat sisig on its own like a pulutan [food eaten with alcohol] or with rice like Oulam [viand] – and its origin story – tossed pig’s heads have been reimagined as a delicious, one-of-a-kind dish. This story shows Filipino creativity and our penchant for maximizing all our available resources.

As a Filipino living in the United States, do you think food affects your Filipino identity? Why or why not?

Yes, I think Filipino cuisine has allowed me to express my Filipino identity in a society that does not know my experience as a migrant. I see food as a topic of conversation. With each bite, it’s an opportunity to talk about different aspects of Filipino daily life as well as our colonial history. Food also allows me to talk about the richness and variety of our cuisine, including different regional/provincial interpretations of the same dish.

If you could suggest one food list or book that every Filipino should read, what would it be?

I highly recommend Tikim: Essays on Filipino Cuisine and Culture by Doreen Fernandez, the pioneer of Filipino culinary literature. It’s a collection of essays that will give the reader an introduction to the complex nuances of Filipino food culture through its people, places, and flavors.

Another favorite of mine is The Governor General’s Kitchen by Felice Sta. Married. This well-researched book covers little-known stories about Filipino food culture from the days of the Spaniards and Americans, including recipes from that period.

Want to learn more about Filipino identity through food? If you’re in New York and looking for Ignacio’s take on the Filipino dining experience, stay tuned as he mentioned he may start hosting tours again in the future.

But for now, find your next favorite read through its online store. –