In celebration of the vibrancy and community of The Philippines’ dining scene, Tatler Dining spoke to some of our F&B industry’s leading lights—capturing the cherished memories, delicious ingredients, favourite meals, and unforgettable experiences that best encapsulate their love for this country

We wanted to know what it was about The Philippines that has captivated the hearts and minds of some of our biggest foodies and industry experts. How have the flavours from our many islands, our iconic hospitality and unmistakable Filipino charm, or cultural nuances found a place in their hearts? What facets of our country's culinary character caught their attention over the years? While Filipino food has not exploded into mainstream popularity internationally (yet), there is no doubt that our dining scene is thriving, and taking on an energetic life of its own. Find out what these F&B leaders love about the Philippines, as they share their favourite food memories with us: 

1. Elbert Cuenca

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Elbert Cuenca
Above Elbert Cuenca

Restaurateur, partner at Metronome, founder of Elbert’s Steak Room and Elbert’s Pizzeria

In 2018, I attended a pop-up dinner in Paris, featuring my Metronome chef-partner, Miko Calo. She had a Filipino menu with base ingredients, but used French techniques. Visually, none of the dishes looked like anything from back home. The sinigang looked like an elegant fish soup garnished with sliced veggies, but once I tasted it, I was reminded of the home-cooked meals I had growing up. I was blown away. It was a proud moment because Philippine cuisine stood out in this Parisian setting.

See also: Top Female Chefs On How They Reached Success

2. RJ Ledesma

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RJ Ledesma
Above RJ Ledesma

Co-founder of Mercato Centrale, host, consul of Monaco

The new normal led to collaborations across the entire industry that had been unthinkable–from high-end restaurants to fast-food chains, and bazaar merchants. A few months into the first lockdown, Mercato Centrale opened up Bonifacio High StrEat–an al fresco market that brought together an eclectic mix of food tenants. At the market, you could literally taste the love and hope that went into every dish. Furthermore, patrons knew that with every dish they ordered, they were helping a business – whether big or small – get back on their feet.

See also: Mercato Centrale Opens A Cloud Kitchen

3. Jordy Navarra

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Chef Jordy Navarra
Above Chef Jordy Navarra

Chef-owner, Toyo Eatery

One of my most favourite things to eat is Filipino BBQ; there are so many great examples all over the country. With different cuts of pork, or chicken, all places have their own styles and techniques for tenderising meat, and their own dipping and basting sauces too. I’ve always loved the taste of the grill, and the rough, raw setting of the street under the late afternoon sun. Pair that with a soda along with a fun, friendly conversation, and you have an afternoon well spent.

See also: Filipino Cuisine: Do We Really Need International Recognition to Push the Industry Forward?

4. Colin Mackay

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Chef Colin Mackay
Above Chef Colin Mackay

Chef, Sala Bistro, Sala, People’s Palace, and Blackbird

The Filipino merienda is such a delightful idea...a ritual that I enjoy as much as British afternoon tea. Bibingka galapong from Glenda Barretto’s iconic restaurant Via Mare, is one of my favourite merienda treats. Freshly cooked in banana leaf over charcoal, these fluffy, slightly sweet cakes made with ground rice, local white cheese, salted duck egg, topped with butter and freshly grated coconut, are a delicious Filipino delicacy.

See also: Colin Mackay On The Importance Of Teamwork In The Restaurant Industry

5. Stephan Duhesme

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Chef Stephan Duhesme
Above Chef Stephan Duhesme

Chef-owner, Metiz

For me, it isn’t a particular dish or restaurant. It’s a combination of events, past and present, that evoke a deep sense of nostalgia and familiarity. It’s the aroma of garlic and bagoong hitting the oil in a smoking hot wok. It’s the redolence of vinegar and soy sauce simmering away proteins in a pot, or the distinct fragrance of freshly cooked white rice. It’s the kick that awakens the palate with every dip of sawsawan. It’s the sense of community that can be shared between complete strangers when food hits the table. That is what I love about home.

See also: Metiz Restaurant's Chef Stephan Duhesme Re-Interprets Filipino Food

6. Josh Boutwood

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Chef Josh Boutwood
Above Chef Josh Boutwood

Chef-owner, Helm, Savage, and The Test Kitchen

When I came home in 2010, I was met with a whole new world of ingredients, unfamiliar and foreign. Little did I know at that time, how much our local produce would shape me as a chef. I have had many fond memories of food and dishes, but what sticks out the most is our act of eating as a group, the sharing of stories and conversations. Our culture is like no other and anyone coming to the Philippines needs to experience the social aspect of the dining table as well as our local ingredients.

See also: 5 Restaurant Tips From Experts: How to Power Through the Pandemic

7. Kimberly Yao

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Kimberly Yao
Above Kimberly Yao

Co-founder of CloudEats and

My mother’s side of the family is from Iloilo and I had spent a lot of time there when I was young. My fondest memories always involved the signature sweet treats of this region including barquillos, a very light rolled wafer (my favourite is made with goat’s milk) and piyaya, a muscovado-filled flatbread. The delicacies produced out of this region are so well-loved by my sweet tooth! One of my favourite desserts is ube ice cream with crushed barquillos, sprinkled with pinipig—simply divine!

See also: Behind an Icon: Mark Nicdao and Kimberly Yao Share The Values They Learn At Work

8. Ana De Ocampo

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Ana de Ocampo
Above Ana de Ocampo

Co-founder, CEO of The Wildflour Group

My family has built many memories at our favourite Chinese restaurant, Marco Polo. But the trips we’d take to our province, Zambales, are what stand out in my memory. Within the two-hour travel time northward are infinite tastes that created the foundation for what I look for in comfort food. We’d stop for burong isda in Pampanga. I love those strong fermented flavours tempered by a heap of steaming rice, mustasa, and fried hito. Pinoy elders were also onto something by pouring fresh gatas ng kalabaw onto hot rice—it’s even better, with tuyo.

See also: India's Imperial Sights And Incredible Spices: Travelogue By Ana de Ocampo

9. Bianca Araneta Elizalde

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Bianca Elizalde
Above Bianca Elizalde

Founder, The Wholesome Table

I love the idea of a simple grilled or barbecued piece of meat and vegetables on a plate. Add a squeeze of calamansi, with some soy sauce and chopped chilis and everything is perfect. Chicken inasal is one of my all-time favourite dishes, I will always order that if it’s on the menu. Having said that, I’ll never forget my first boodle fight experience. It was divine! I couldn’t stop eating. For me, it really celebrates and shows off the spirit of the Filipino–simple, generous, vibrant, and always about community and gatherings around a table.

See also: Bianca Araneta Elizalde Shares Her Recipe For Success

10. JP Anglo

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Chef JP Anglo
Above Chef JP Anglo

Chef-owner, Sarsa

I recently shot a series on the cuisine of the Philippine Cordillera region and have to say that it opened my taste buds to an entirely new spectrum of flavours that have been overlooked. The food’s character is mostly formed primarily by smoke, salt, and time. Time in the period it took to cook, and in the means that its traditions were formed. It is food as provided by the land with just the minimum interference of man. Filipino food you can trace to the very roots of our culture.

See also: Chef JP Anglo of Sarsa On The Lessons He Learned During The Pandemic

11. Carlo Calma Lorenzana

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Carlo Calma Lorenzana
Above Carlo Calma Lorenzana

Restaurateur, La Cabrera, Bar Pintxos, Txoko

I love the quirkiness of the Filipino palate that translates into the food offerings across all markets! I guess our colonial past has a lot to do with the food we create and enjoy. Food exposure in the different stages of my life – as a kid, teenager, and young adult, are all my favourite food memories! It also helps that I’m from Davao, grew up in Manila, and married a Cebuana.

See also: La Cabrera's Carlo Calma Lorenzana On The Value Of Great Steak

12. Malu Gamboa-Lindo

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Malu Gamboa-Lindo
Above Malu Gamboa-Lindo

Restaurateur behind Milky Way, Tsukiji, Azuthai, and Cirkulo

If I were to introduce foreigners to Filipino food, I would begin with the simplest
of Pinoy breakfast fare: the ubiquitous sweet beef tapa, glistening red tender tocino bites, or crispy fried dilis. As a child, I remember admiring a glistening piece of red meat with a sunny side up egg in my mum’s original Milky Way on Aguado Street in old San Miguel. Driving up to Baguio, we would make a quick stop at Vilmar, Tarlac, where we would be welcomed with the smell of garlic fried rice and tapa, which signalled that we were more than halfway to our destination.

See also: The Philippine Tastemakers 2021: The Most Influential People In F&B Today

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