Saweetie Wants People to Get More Hip to Filipino Food
The “My Type” and “Tap In” rapper particularly loves sinigang with fish and okra.
Saweetie claims she’s a choosy eater. Though she swears up and down that her food choices can sometimes be captious, her favorite bites aren’t necessarily what you’d expect from a self-proclaimed picky eater. She loves zippy tamarind-infused sinigang made with fish and okra, the latter of which she prefers “when it gets nice and slimy and it feels like you’re eating a slug.” She recently tried sea snail on a trip to Europe, which she enjoyed—describing it as tough and squishy, yet delicious. Her favorite food of all time is oysters, topped with minced garlic, horseradish, a squeeze of lemon, and plenty of hot sauce. She only follows three tags on Instagram: #tapinchallenge, #icygirl, and #oysters. “Girl, after quarantine, I would love to see an oyster fest. There’s hot dog fests, crawfish fest. Where’s the oyster fest at?”
Saweetie’s eclectic food preferences have been shaped by a myriad of things. The rapper, whose real name is Diamonté Harper, credits her childhood spent growing up in the Bay Area as being impactful on how she views the diversity of food. “The Bay Area is such a melting pot. You have Asian food and off rip, you have Filipino food, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese food. And then you have Spanish food. And then of course you have soul food.” She reminisces on afternoons being babysat by her lola, watching reruns of Fresh Prince and Sailor Moon all day (Saweetie even has a Sailor Chibi chain) and eating plate after plate of adobo. She mentions her dad is a great cook, whipping up platters of fried chicken, meat loaf, and spaghetti, but, when it comes down to it, she acknowledges her mom as a major influence to her palate.
“My mom likes everything. I kind of get my taste buds from her,” Saweetie says. Her mom, who is of Chinese and Filipino descent, would take Saweetie to sushi boat restaurants throughout her childhood and introduced her to raw foods. When feeling skeptical about certain dishes as kids faced with slurping down plump oysters for the first time would be, Saweetie’s mom encouraged her to try new foods. She is the person Saweetie says imbued her with her staunch love of seafood.
“Adobo is the hall of fame—it’s a given.”
This passion for fresh shellfish extends into her music. In her 2018 single, “Icy Grl,” Saweetie raps “Cash money mama that be dining in Bahamas/Eating fettuccine pasta with the scallops and the lobster.” It’s not just a lyric; seafood pasta with alfredo sauce and lemon zest happens to be Saweetie’s favorite dish to cook. “I have to always make my batch in my own little pot because people don’t really like squid in their pasta, they like shrimp. But I like squid, shrimp, scallops, maybe a little bit of lobster,” she explains. “I love making my pasta sauces from scratch. I like to taste as I go, so it never really tastes the same, [but] I really like cooking from scratch. It’s fun.”
Aside from the neverending amounts of seafood Saweetie delighted in growing up, Filipino food was also present—her mom and lola made sure of it. “I grew up eating tons of Filipino food. I love sinigang, I love adobo, pancit, lumpia,” she lists off. “Even Filipino breakfast. Filipino breakfast is like a sunny side up egg with spam, Vienna sausage, some white rice. Maybe a slice of mango with some mango juice. That shit is so good.”
For Saweetie, Filipino food isn’t just about the vinegar-laced chicken and stir fried rice noodles. It’s a reminder of simpler times spent with family—gathering together in the home to share trays of lumpia but also a microphone for endless karaoke. “When I was a kid, my titos and my titas [would gather] and it was just karaoke, food, and playing games,” she says wistfully. She’d pull up to her lola’s house, having to maneuver between all the cars parked outside, knowing the party inside would be hopping with aunties belting out their favorite tunes and platters of home cooked Filipino dishes. “Christmas is one of the best holidays because my family was into decorating, like OD going all out. The smell, the holidays, just everything. I feel like both of my families taught me the meaning behind family values, family morals, and just sticking together.”
The fact that Filipino food is becoming more popularized is only a bonus to Saweetie. “I think [before], people just didn’t know. Besides Jollibee, all the Filipino restaurants were in Filipino-specific neighborhoods or Asian neighborhoods and were kind of just a neighborhood spot.”
That’s been changing, drastically. In 2017, Jonathan Gold wrote about the “ascendance of Filipino cooking.” A New York Times piece emerged in 2018, entitled, “Filipino Food Finds a Place in the American Mainstream.” The problem with these stories is the framework that paints Filipino food as new or something that needs to become mainstream in order to be deemed worthwhile. But Filipino food has always been here. The richness of simmering chicken adobo, fatty pork belly sisig with bright calamansi juice, nutty and complex kare-kare—these dishes have been centered in families like Saweetie’s.
“I’m happy that people are getting hip to it, because it’s just so good,” Saweetie says of the growing interest in the cuisine. She recommends people who are just now approaching Filipino food for the first time to, at the very least, try adobo. “Adobo is the hall of fame—it’s a given.”
That being said, there’s a world of dishes out there to taste, from fluffy pandesal to mouth-puckering sinigang to creamy halo-halo topped with beans, ube ice cream, and flan (though Saweetie prefers hers just with ice and sweetened evaporated milk because, like she says, she can be picky). “Filipino food makes me happy,” Saweetie sighs contentedly. “If it’s good, I’ll just savor in the moment. And if it’s really good, I start dancing. I just can’t help myself.”