Cover Cathy Feliciano-Chon

The foodie and founder of CatchOn communications agency discusses the dishes she misses most from the Philippines, reveals the treats she fills her suitcase with when returning to Hong Kong, and presents a challenge to Hong Kong’s restaurateurs

For Cathy Feliciano-Chon, the beauty of Filipino food lies in the people who make It and those you eat it with. “That’s really the secret ingredient of Filipino cuisine,” she says. “Clichéd as it sounds, it’s really more fun eating with Filipinos. Few cultures have that same sense of unconditional hospitality, grace and joie de vivre, and all that passion and good nature spill on to the plate and make everything taste better.”

Feliciano-Chon is the founder of CatchOn, a branding and marketing agency specialised in hospitality and travel. As such, many of her clients come from the world of F&B. However, it is not only in her professional life that food plays a big part, but personally too.

“I come from a family of fanatic foodies,” she says. “My parents are avid gourmands and their travels were always filled with ingredients they smuggled back: saffron from Tehran, a paella pan from Spain… Last month, I met my mum in LA and she managed to haul back some 50kgs of meat to Manila. That’s how crazy we are.”

Feliciano-Chon takes after them. On her visits to the Philippines, she fills suitcases with her favourite Filipino treats to ensure that she can take a taste of the place she was born back to Hong Kong with her.

What do you miss most on the food and drink front when you are away from the Philippines or haven’t been back for a while? 

I crave homestyle dishes like laing (taro leaves in coconut milk), buro (fermented rice with fish), pancit palabok, fried bangus, etc. But most of all I really miss the traditional Filipino breakfast spread—tocino, tapa, longganisa and tuyo with rice and eggs!

What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?

My first meal is always at home, and it’s whatever my mum prepares.

Related: 11 Filipino Breakfast Foods To Help You Start Your Day Off Right

Do you have a favourite restaurant in the Philippines—for fine dining or special occasions and for more casual experiences? 

On the casual end, Grace Park, Manam, Little Flour and Sarsa Kitchen are musts. On the more refined end, there’s Toyo Eatery, Gallery by Chele, The Test Kitchen by Josh Boutwood, and Mecha Uma. And an hour outside of Manila, Antonio’s is an institution and a destination because of its bucolic setting, making it worth trudging the city’s ignominious traffic for.

If you have visitors or guests with you, where do go to give them a real taste of the Philippines?

Any of the restaurants above.

Related: This Is Why Chef Jordy and May Navarra Of Toyo Eatery Are Successful

What are your favourite local Filipino dishes and where are some of the places you go to find them?

I’ll always have the rice bowls at Little Flour. At Manam, sisig, pancit palabok and sinigang (a beef short ribs broth which they’ve cleverly sweetened with watermelon) are showstoppers. And at Grace Park, the lechon Sundays are legendary.

One thing most outsiders don’t know about Manila—and the Philippines in general—when it comes to food, is that it’s an insiders’ town with a thriving cottage industry of home makers and bakers with cult followings. You have to be ‘in the know’ to find them or be personally introduced to them. A good example is Cunanan’s ensaymada, a billowy brioche topped with cheese and butter. The matriarch behind that just started making it for friends in the ‘80s. Today it’s a full-on bakery and they still make only limited quantities that must be ordered in advance. When it comes to homestyle bakers, I’ll always make room for baked breads, jams and cakes from Tilde Bakery.

There’s so much more to Philippine cuisine waiting to be discovered and decoded—the regionalism, the cross-pollination of influences, its biodiversity, etc. So much of our culinary traditions were sublimated because of our colonial past and all of that is just coming out now.

Related: Filipino Food—How Can We Go Further? Margarita Forés, Chele Gonzàlez, And More Speak Out

Do you have a favourite café in the Philippines?

It really depends on where I need to meet people because the traffic dictates the location. For coffee, Panaderya Toyo, Blackbird, and Toby’s Estate are fine.

Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?

Not so much visit but buy. I will always buy several pints of Carmen’s Best ice cream when I arrive and eat it throughout my stay. It truly is one of the best. The salted caramel flavour is out of this world. And it’s nearly impossible to find outside the country.

Related: Where To Buy Ice Cream: 15 Of The Best Creameries In Metro Manila

What do you always take back home with you when you leave the Philippines?

This is embarrassing, but I usually travel with two empty pieces of luggage and a standard grocery list that includes: gourmet tuyo, preserved dulong, seasoned vinegars, champorado mix, chicharron, muscovado sugar, pilli nuts, adlai rice, Cunanan’s ensaymada, and chef Margarita Fores’ infamous hand-harvested taba ng talangka (crab fat).

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home in Hong Kong?

Sadly, at home. Hong Kong sorely needs an amazing Pinoy restaurant and I wish any one of the leading restaurant groups had the boldness and vision to do it.

Related: The 10 Best Restaurants For Filipino Food In Hong Kong