Cover Photo: Eiliv Sonas-Aceron on Unsplash

Four local restaurants have won coveted spots on the 2021 Essence of Asia list. Their secret? Sticking to what they know—and love—best.

"I think we're not trying to uplift [Filipino food] because [Filipino food] is up there already. We're trying to level up," says Chef Claude Tayag. The artist, who's proven his finesse in painting, cooking, and writing, has chosen a very specific word—uplift—that has accurately described the mission of all four restaurants on the 2021 Essence of Asia list. This list, which has been put together by The World's 50 Best organisation is one that celebrates "authenticity, culinary culture and community focus". For this year, four beloved Filipino restaurants have made the cut: Hapag, Earth's Kitchen, Bale Dutung, and Farmer's Daughter. 

Today, representatives from three out of the four celebrated eateries speak out on their success, their mission, and on the timely paradox of how loving local has ultimately brought them international acclaim. 

Read more: Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants: 4 Filipino Restaurants Make It To The Essence Of Asia 2021 List

"Pagkain walang kwento, walang kwenta"

Though each of the three kitchens have their own unique offerings and personalities, one thing remains to tie them together. "[They] celebrate the Philippines and Filipino food. They also give back [to the local communities] in so many ways," Essence of Asia project manager and lifestyle journalist, Cheryl Tiu-Snyder remarks. 

Earth Kitchen for one has a very strong advocacy to help the farmers and build a more sustainable food supply chain. Serving fresh and organic is also incredibly important to their ethos. Meanwhile, Bale Dutung is an authentic experience of home-cooked Filipino meals, with Chef Tayag and his wife opening up their abode to serve hungry customers. Lastly, Hapag is a Filipino restaurant that creatively reinterprets local recipes and ingredients. At the heart of each of these restaurants is a story, one that's as important as the food itself.

As Chef Tayag says, "Pagkain walang kwento, walang kwenta (Food without a story is useless)." Excitingly enough, each of these restaurant's narratives seems to have drawn a crowd—people in the Philippines and beyond it are excited to smell, taste, and see these local stories for themselves. 


Keep doing whatever you do best. Eventually, you'll be noticed.
Chef Claude Tayag

Furthering Filipino Food

When asked how Filipinos can gain further recognition for the delicious cuisine it offers, Chef Kevin Navoa of Hapag says it is important to inspire the next generation of students. "[It's also important to] stick to our roots," his partner, Chef Thirdy Dolatre, adds.

Melissa Yap Yeung of Earth Kitchen shares her magnanimous views, saying: "I noticed that everyone really worked to passionately champion local farmers and the local ingredients of our culture. I don't think anybody was doing it to get an award or recognition. I feel like when you champion a cause that's when, at the end of the day, your restaurant [or other endeavour] becomes celebrated." 

Lastly, Chef Claude Tayag adds his two cents with advice to new chefs, experienced chefs, and those in the F&B industry in general. "Keep the passion going," he reminds us. "Keep doing whatever you do best. Eventually, you'll be noticed." 

Read more: Why Filipino Cuisine Is One Of The Richest Food Cultures In The World

Loving Local 

While it's incredibly tempting to move towards more mainstream cuisines, those on the Essence of Asia list stuck to what they knew best—and ironically enough, it's in loving local that they've found international acclaim. Perhaps this is why Chef Tayag so insistently asked us not to use the word "uplift" when it came to Filipino food. Filipino food does not need to uplifted so much as it needs to be given the recognition it deserves. While the restaurants on the list have done a fantastic job in furthering and promoting our gastronomy, we all know that there's more to be done, and more to be discovered. 

Read more:  Meet 5 Pillars Of The Philippine Dining Scene

Content from this feature was sourced from the Kain Na webinar series, by the Department Of Tourism.