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Slow Food vs Fast Food in the Philippines
Philippine cuisine – It’s the mix that matters

Manila fast-slow food

The food culture in the Philippines is more than just the typical Southeast Asian cuisine. Diversity and contrasts have shaped and have been continuously shaping its food traditions. And this is apparent in the way fast food and slow food go hand in hand in the country.

Close your eyes and think about the Philippine cuisine. Which images come to mind? Surely dishes that are typically associated with the Southeast Asian cuisine. When thinking about Filipino food, people usually imagine ’traditional’ Southeast Asian cuisine consisting of rice, vegetables and curries. Many tourists are surprised when they finally arrive in the Philippines and realize that besides the street kitchens, fast food restaurants play a large role in the Philippine food culture. Unlike many of their Southeast Asian neighbors, the Philippine cuisine is not embodied by chili-hot dishes, but is more of a combination of Eastern and Western ideas. The culinary influence of Spain -- under which the Philippines was a colony for more than 300 years -- can be seen in common dishes such as meat stews, grilled vegetables and fish, and especially in fried rice, which recalls to mind the Spanish paella. The subsequent colonization by the United States of America introduced the idea of convenience cooking to the Philippines and therefore also the idea of fast food restaurants.

Fast Food – a Mixture of Western and Philippine Food

While walking through Manila, the capital of the Philippines, an interesting mix between both street kitchens and fast food restaurants can be observed. Fast food restaurants, such as Mc Donald’s, Subway, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King and Wendy’s, to name only a few of them, can be seen strung together in the bigger streets, while the smaller side streets are full of street kitchens. The biggest fast food chain in the Philippines, which is not an American one, is Jollibee, which was founded in the Philippines. In the beginning, Jollibee was just a little ice cream shop founded by Tony Tan Caktiong in Quezon City. Over the following years it evolved into the biggest fast food chain in the country with over 750 stores. This makes the Philippines the only country in the world in which a local provider managed to assert dominance over Mc Donald’s sending it over to second place. Even though many people treat the terms “fast food” and “junk food” as the same, fast food actually simply identifies food that is made in order to be consumed fast. Jollibee’s popularity can probably be explained by the fact that they offer western dishes such as burgers and pasta, as well as dishes common for the Philippines. This differentiates Jollibee from its American competitors in the Philippine market and is probably its recipe for success. The fact that Jollibee covers 65 percent of the food market shows the big impact fast food has in the Philippines – but how do the Philippines do with slow food?

Slow Food – Culture and Tradition

Slow Food can be seen as the countermovement to the uniform and globalized fast food and it shapes the concept of pleasurable, conscious, and regional food. The Slow Food Movement begun in Italy. It promotes the preservation of regional food involving local vegetables and animal products and endorses a conscious approach to production and consumption. Furthermore, a traditionally cooked dish shows the history and culture of a country. The topic of slow food was widely discussed even before the term slow food was introduced in the Philippines. Authors, such as Doreen Fernandez, who is a Filipino teacher, author, culture historian and scholar, have highlighted the link between food, culture and agriculture. A whole book regarding the Slow Food Movement in the Philippines, based on the Slow Food Movement initiated by Doreen Fernandez, was recently published, and consists of a compilation of essays and recipes on traditional Philippine cuisine. Since the Slow Food Movement was introduced to the Philippines, the main focus has been to make farmers more aware of the varieties of species on their farms and to promote recipes that make use of those. Pacita Juan, an active member of the Slow Food Movement in the Philippines, emphasizes the importance of heirloom crops and native animals for the food culture, as those help the food production system in the Philippines preserve biodiversity. For this reason, the Slow Food Movement in the Philippines is particularly committed to protecting them.

The fact that culinary life in the Philippines isn’t dominated by fast food shows that the street kitchens are able to hold their ground. They keep to their culinary traditions, even though they aren’t consciously concerned with the Slow Food Movement. Without thinking about it, they do exactly what the Slow Food Movement preaches again and again. Local products are used to prepare traditional dishes, not only for locals but also for tourists who prefer the experience of traditional food. Street kitchens naturally use seasonal products and ingredients from the environment. Aside from the typical Philippine food such as rice with a variety of meat and grilled fish, the street kitchens often offer a delicacy called balut. It is a fertilized duck egg cooked during the later stages of its development, which means it contains a nearly full grown duck embryo which already has a developing beak and feathers.

Slow Food and Fast Food shape Philippine cuisine together

So how exactly can one describe the Philippine cuisine? The food in the Philippines has always been a mixture of numerous influences and this can still be clearly seen today. Fast food restaurants and street kitchens exist side by side in the Philippines and both are well received by the population. Crowds of people can be seen anytime inside the Jollibee stores, while the street kitchens don’t run out of customers themselves. Philippine food clearly differs from those of other Southeast Asian countries as Spanish, American and Chinese influences make it as unique as it is. In the end, the traditional Philippine cuisine is not only preserved in the street kitchens, but also in the fast food chain Jollibee -- and that might just be the key ingredient (quite literally) to their continued success.