Over the last three years, there’s been a lot of hoopla about Jollibee, mainly due to the viral short films the fast food chain uses in their marketing campaigns.

The brand has gained so much attention that we’ve seen vloggers in the US travel miles – even to the next state – just to buy a couple of buckets of Chickenjoy, the tasty fried chicken the brand is known for.

When they get that first bite, they end up falling in love with the “Bee”

We’ve seen videos and articles about Filipinos and non-Filipinos in London waiting several hours in line just to get a taste of the virally (is there such a word?) popular fried chicken and sweet spaghetti.

We’ve also seen food tasting and mukbang videos (live online audio-visual broadcasts), featuring people of different races and nationalities tasting Jollibee for the first time, and when they get that first bite, especially of the Chickenjoy, they end up falling in love with the “Bee”.

Chickenjoy is basically just fried chicken, although it doesn’t taste like any fried chicken you’ve ever tasted. It won’t exactly have you moaning in orgasmic ecstasy, no, but it will most probably leave you panting for more after your first bite (although The Bureau’s Matt Cowan disagrees – he thinks it’s vile).

The overall flavour profile is salty, which according to most Filipino “food experts” is due to Filipinos eating most meals with rice. They say the rice balances out the salty flavour of the chicken. I disagree with this explanation because I’ve seen many Filipinos pour the gravy (which is salty) over their rice, which goes to show these so-called experts are talking out of their hats.

I had a conversation about this with a representative from Jollibee recently and he said it’s more of a marketing strategy than a cultural thing. While it’s true that the Filipino palate is geared towards salty food, Chickenjoy is salty because it helps make customers thirsty. And what happens when customers get thirsty? They buy more drinks. It’s that simple and it makes sense.

At risk of sounding like one of those pretentious Filipino food experts, Chickenjoy just oozes out that umami flavor (whatever that means, but let’s just say it’s salty or savoury). The chicken is also perfectly fried, giving it an extra crispy skin, yet leaving the meat very tender and juicy. With or without gravy, Chickenjoy is literally a joy to eat, although I have to admit I’ve never tried eating it with ketchup. I should try that one of these days.

Jolly Spaghetti, on the other hand, is savoury and sweet. Not candy sweet, but sweet nonetheless. Filipino-style spaghetti is sweet because most Filipino cooks find using real tomatoes, tomato sauce or tomato paste expensive.

Trying to cut costs, these cooks discovered the inexpensive UFC banana ketchup and used this as a substitute for tomato sauce. As it happens, UFC banana ketchup is sweet, not sour. Whether this is because Filipinos like sweet flavours or it’s how banana ketchup tastes, I have no idea, but Filipino kids grow up loving sweet spaghetti.

Somewhere along the way, Jollibee included sweet spaghetti to their menu. Obviously, they based it on the traditional Filipino sweet spaghetti, but I believe they don’t use UFC in the recipe for their sauce.

Filipino cuisine has been influenced by so many cultures that it’s hard to tell sometimes where it originated from. In Jollibee’s case, you can still recognise the food for what it is, even though we Filipinos have put our own spin on it.

As a Filipino, I’m proud of what Jollibee has achieved, and it’s refreshing to see foreigners go bonkers over food from the Philippines, especially given the bad rap it receives most of the time.

[Note: This is not sponsored content]

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 from Jollibee Facebook

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