In line with the government’s agriculture focus to address food and national security, it is high time to talk about street food innovation and the opportunities that lie with it.
A quick YouTube scan of food vlogs about Southeast Asia shows a big disparity between what is available outside the Philippines versus what we have here. Vloggers such as Mark Weins of Migrationology, Sonny Side of the Best Ever Food Review Show, and Luke Martin of Chopsticks Travel, among others, have been making the rounds of the region and one can see how our Asean neighbors have beefed up their street food offerings to make these distinct, unique and significant for visiting tourists.
In the Philippines, however, our street food has remained the same: fish balls, kikiam, squid balls, chicken necks, kwek-kwek, and perhaps of late calamares, sisig, pares and goto, etc. The manner of cooking is also the same as most of the food is deep-fried or boiled. No industrial equipment is also used to somehow innovate the offering.
This is where the opportunity lies. As an agricultural country supposedly rich in resources — not only livestock but also goods such as vegetables (think about corn, cassava and coconut from a street food standpoint) — there are a lot of product offerings that can be made. One vlog we happened to watch last week showed how roasted coconut and even coconut pudding is sold in Thai night markets, something that should be doable here.
Opportunities in street food innovation include:
Organization. At the grassroots level, there is a need to organize night markets that are accessible and affordable. I’m not talking of the seasonal and other weekly markets that cater to the middle class and above; we should have per-city street food markets that are organized and can showcase unique offerings. Right now, this access is siloed, meaning one will have to do his or her own research, get to that place and try the food. This is how food vloggers do it and most of them actually have the same content which, in turn, are picked up by social media food community groups.
Diversity. What about halal food or other offerings from the many parts of the country that unfortunately have not reached mainstream Manila or other key cities? This is a great opportunity to showcase the Philippines’ varied food choices. One example are angel wings clams, locally known as diwal. Simply grilling and topping these with locally available herbs and spices make for a wonderful appetizer or meal and will definitely please a crowd.
Food innovation. The opportunities are plenty. From a street food perspective, it helps to look into equipment that can be bought and used to make a new product. It may not necessarily be a new item — it could also be a different cooking process or a unique preparation. What else can we do with corn aside from grilling and smothering it with butter? Or, as in some vlogs as of late, from boiling and dumping it with cheese powder? Innovating food will not only provide insights about Filipino street food culture but can also cater to many dietary preferences and/or restrictions.
Food organizations, government agencies and even local governments can look at these opportunities and work together to bring innovations to Filipinos at price points that are affordable and, more importantly, do not compromise health so much.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include food innovation, nation-building and sustainability. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.