In 2012, Andrew Zimmern, the buoyant host of Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods, prophesied Filipino food as "the next big thing." In his interview with Today.com, he said: "I want to go on record... it's just starting. I think it's going to take another year and a half to get up to critical mass." Media outlets jumped on this soundbite: "Andrew Zimmern Declares Filipino Food the New Everything," read Grub Street. Good Morning America ran the wordy "Top US Food Critic Says Filipino Food Is 'Next Big Thing' in America."
For the next few years, headlines steadily repurposed Zimmern's declaration. "The Filipino Food Wave Is Coming," wrote National Geographic in 2015. A few months later, Mashable predicted Filipino cuisine would be a "huge food trend you'll devour in 2016." The wave never hit -- sisig and pancit did not become as common as tacos and lo mein -- and in 2017, even bigger names sounded off. First, Anthony Bourdain anointed Filipino food as the hot trend in waiting. Soon after, chef and restaurateur April Bloomfield called Filipino food the "next big thing."
While Filipino food may very well become as accessible as Mexican and Chinese food one day, for now, it's just the latest "ethnic" (a term that NYU food studies professor Krishnendu Ray said tends to signify something as "non-white") cuisine to be declared a trend. And that's a problem.
On the surface, seeing influential celebrities and publications declare a cuisine -- your cuisine -- the next big thing can be exciting. When she first heard Zimmern's proclamation in 2012, Nicole Ponseca, the Filipino-American restaurateur behind two of New York City's preeminent Pinoy restaurants, said she had what she refers to as a "split reaction." Ponseca's restaurants, Jeepney and Maharlika, had just opened. "So, my business mind was like, 'OK, great. This is a voice that will reach people I may have not been able to,'" she said. "Plus, the frequency at which that article got retweeted was marketing that I couldn't afford as a mom-and-pop operation, and at the end of the day, I want other people to try my food."
But declaring an entire "ethnic" cuisine a trend is inherently dismissive. To Ponseca and many others, doing that ignores and blows past the history of a cuisine. Filipino food, for example, is the main source of sustenance for more than 100 million people around the world today and has been eaten for centuries, even in the United States. (There is a long history of Filipino immigration to America, dating as far back as the late 18th century.) Notable Filipino restaurants have been in the country for decades. Unlike, say, molecular gastronomy, Filipino food isn't a new, invented fad that suddenly captivated the restaurant world. So the very nature of tagging something as a trend also gives it a shelf life that is set to expire after its moment of popularity. But that's not how cuisines work.