MILAN, Italy - Filipino food is equivalent to home cooking and fiesta, which is also the reason why it has not received much exposure and just a reminder of home for overseas workers.
In Italy, where there are more than 160,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), Pinoy food is at the heart of every celebration, with lechon and pansit customary - dishes Italians would not know about unless they are invited.
But a group of talented Filipinos has made a major revamp in what is known as the basics in the familiar Filipino dish adobo. Their house specialty octopus in adobo sauce is not only instagram-worthy but takes away the obscurity surrounding Filipino food.
They prepare Japanese-Filipino dishes with heart and passion, food that is universally palatable, putting the gastronomic culture of the Philippines in the Italian scene. For instance, they use adobo sauce as an alternative to teriyaki sauce in their rolls.
“Proud kami as a Filipino nakakagawa kami ng mga Filipino plate na gustong gusto rin ng mga Italian, para sa amin naiiangat namin 'yung mga Filipino sa ganitong way at masaya kami doon,” said Mark Alvaira, chef at Masu restaurant.
(We are proud as Filipinos that we are able to make Filipino plates that Italians also like very much, for us we are able to elevate the Filipino this way and we are happy about that.)
Masu is the first fine dining Japanese-Filipino restaurant in Italy, put up by four OFWs who left their previous jobs and decided to take on a new path and become entrepreneurs.
Some of them had started out as dishwashers, domestic helpers and caregivers but because of their hard work, friendly and adaptable attitude, they learned and mastered preparing sushi and other Japanese dishes. They are now using their talent to build their own brand amid the seeming infinity of restaurants in Milan.
While there is a huge Filipino immigrant population here, only a few restaurants dared to introduce the local cuisine to pasta and pizza-loving Italians. There are more Thai, Chinese, Indian, Korean and Japanese restos than Filipino restaurants in the city, making it difficult to compete.
Randolph Gregorio, also a sushi chef at Masu, emphasized the importance of quality and a higher profile when it comes to serving Pinoy food to foreigners.
“Since marami nang mga Pilipino rito so gusto naming kami 'yung first na maipakita 'yung pagkain ng Pilipino, at the same time, 'yung forte namin kasi is sa Japanese,” said Gregorio.
(Since there are many Filipinos here, we want to be the first to showcase Filipino food and, at the same time, our forte also is Japanese [food].)
Filipino restaurants tend to serve OFWs with less expensive and filling food. Filipinos love eating and do not care much about plating. It is difficult to introduce to foreigners because of its predominating tastes and less appealing presentation. Filipino food is, thus, largely confined within the community.
And so it is a dream come true for the men behind Masu to make new interpretations of Filipino food as well as removing the stereotype that Pinoys are only good in washing plates and mopping floors.
“Gusto naming hangaan nila 'yung devotion ng Pilipino sa trabaho, 'yung kalidad ng serbisyo. 'Yung tagline nga namin dito we dream, create and inspire,” said Giovanni Jose, one of Masu's owners.
(We want them to admire the Filipino's devotion to their job, the quality of service. Our tagline here is we dream, create, inspire.)