As an amateur cook and former food columnist for the best newspaper in Cebu, I do have my own opinions about the Netflix series/episode. It’s entitled “Street Food” but here, Netflix, as well as most ethnocentric Filipinos, is using the term loosely.
As Wikipedia states, “Street food is ready-to-eat food or drink sold by a hawker, or vendor, in a street or other public place, such as at a market or fair. It is often sold from a portable food booth, food cart, or food truck and meant for immediate consumption.”
Street food usually can be eaten on the go and can be eaten quickly
Most of the food featured in the episode does not fit this description. While they are mostly sold by the roadside, that’s about the only aspect that connects them to being “street food”.
The stewed eel or nilarang featured in the Netflix Cebu episode is actually a soup, which pretty much makes it hard to consume while you’re walking around. Eating the eel itself is both a delicate and complicated process. You have to separate the meat from the bones, which is hard to do without putting down your bowl and using eating utensils. Add to that the fact nilarang is usually eaten with rice, makes it doubly hard to eat while mobile.
Tuslob-buwa is most often consumed “shabu-shabu” style, with the customers cooking the brain gravy (how it’s typically described in English. I prefer to call them sautéed brains) on portable burners on tabletops. This self-cooking characteristic alone disqualifies tuslob-buwa from being classified as street food.
Which brings me to freaking lechon. Seriously? Since when has lechon been considered “street food”? For years, lechon has been the highlight of many a Pinoy feast, and yeah, while there are stalls on the streets selling lechon, this alone doesn’t make it street food.
You can take any food and sell it on the street, but that’s not the only qualification for calling something street food. That’s taking it too literally. I mean, will selling caviar on toast on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées actually make it street food? The phrase has been bandied about so much that it’s already become a cliché.
And as for those people (Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Cebuano, or whoever) getting butthurt over the “misrepresentation” of Filipino street food, get over it. We all know how regionalistic we are. We want our provinces to be the star of the show, but it ain’t gonna happen.
Also, and with all due respect, Cebu isn’t the only province which has puso. It’s also sold all over Mindanao, especially the southern parts, which means Cebu doesn’t have the monopoly on that particular food item. More importantly, we didn’t invent the damn thing. Puso is both a legacy we inherited from our Indo-Malay ancestors and a direct influence through the intermingling of the races throughout time.
So why don’t we just settle on what’s common street food all over the Philippines? There’s balut (fertilized duck egg), fishballs (balls made from fishmeal which are deep-fried), isaw (grilled chicken intestines), betamax (grilled coagulated pig’s blood, named after the Betamax videocassettes they resemble), helmet (grilled chicken head), and kwek-kwek (battered quail eggs).
The Filipino use of innards and other organs that cooks from other countries would consider waste, came about during the Spanish colonial times. The servants of the Spaniards during those times most often didn’t have enough to eat, hence, they had to cook and eat whatever was left over. This particular effort to use leftovers evolved into these becoming the street food items we Pinoys have all come to love and be proud of.
That being said, it’s pretty obvious the Netflix producers consulted the wrong people, and came up with the wrong concept. The Cebu episode came off more like a human-interest story than an actual feature about food.
And no, Mr. Erik “award-winning Filipino film director” Matti, we can’t freaking use empanada to represent the Philippines because we freaking well got that from the Mexicans.
Words by Jigs Arquiza
Jigs Arquiza is a journalist-turned-mechanic who lives on the island of Cebu, Philippines. He’s been cooking since he was 12 years old, but refuses to go professional because he doesn’t want to get into arguments about how authentic his food is. You can follow him on Instagram at @eatssogood
All photos are screenshots from the Netflix Street Food series