Filipino Food Finds a Place in the American Mainstream

For many Filipinos, the dishes of their heritage are inseparable from days of celebration. Food marks the occasion, as at a recent gathering of Filipino-American writers, artists and filmmakers at the New York home of the poet J. Mae Barizo. Credit Dina Litovsky for The New York Times

By Ligaya Mishan/nytimes.com – In 1883, José Rizal, the future hero and martyr of the Philippine Revolution, was a homesick medical student abroad in Madrid. His longing for bagoong, a paste of seafood salted and left to ferment until it exudes a fathomless funk, grew so great that his worried family in Manila dispatched a jar. But it broke on the ship, releasing its pungent scent and, reportedly, terrifying the passengers.

Today, bagoong and other Filipino foods are finally entering the American mainstream, more than a century after the United States Navy sailed into Manila Bay, sank the Spanish Armada and took control of the archipelago, a restive colony of around 7,100 islands and 180 languages. Americans of Filipino heritage now make up one in five of all Asian-Americans, second only to Chinese in number, and the largest percentage of immigrants serving in the United States military were born in the Philippines.

Other Asian cuisines have been part of the American landscape for decades. But only in recent years have Filipino dishes started gaining recognition outside immigrant communities, at restaurants like Maharlika in New York; Bad Saint in Washington, D.C.; and Lasa in Los Angeles.

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