This is the Filipino food moment — I think we can all agree on that. Restaurants such as Lasa, Irenia and Washington, D.C.’s Bad Saint have become media stars in a way that no Filipino restaurants in America have before, and The Times has been running more Filipino recipes than Korean or Thai lately. If you read this column, you’ve been hearing a lot about chefs like Chad Valencia, Charles Olalia, Ryan Garlitos and Isa Fabro.
République’s Walter and Margarita Manzke, who already own a successful chain of cafes in the Philippines, are preparing to open a Filipino restaurant in the Grand Central Market this summer, and Eggslut’s Alvin Cailan has become a power in the local restaurant scene. The new film “Ulam,” Alexandra Cuerdo’s love letter to Filipino cooking in America, shows at the Million Dollar Theatre this Saturday as part of the L.A. Times Food Bowl. Restaurant enthusiasts work on the pronunciations of “bagoong” and “sinigang” the way they do “pad kee mao” and “cheonggukjang.”
The ascendance of Filipino cooking in Los Angeles makes sense, even if you discount the scores of pop-ups and social-media feeds that the scene inspires. In the idealized form you’re seeing from young chefs and restaurateurs, it can be a light cuisine filled with fruits, vegetables and seafood, and more dependent on dashes of fish sauce, vinegar and citrus for flavor than on slugs of added fat. It adapts well to almost every dietary regimen you might be on. Almost every dish plays on the qualities of fermentation and umami, saltiness and sourness, freshness and age. It is unlike anything you may have tasted in other cuisines, but at its base it hints at the Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and Pacific Islander cuisines.