Hi Buzzfeed people. Congratulations on getting more than a million hits on your Youtube video, you know, the one where you sampled food from Jollibee? No, don’t worry, I’m not gonna get mad at you. This isn’t even a rant. Far from it guys, it’s all good. I just wanted to get that out of the way before I go on.
For the record, yes, I’m Filipino. I love Jollibee just like any other red-blooded Pinoy. And how can I not, when my kids won’t eat anything else when we’re out? Jollibee to Pinoys is what Mickey D’s is to you guys—it might not have the most sophisticated cuisine, but it’s an institution, a tradition that spans back several generations. Just like most of you guys who were practically raised on the Quarter Pounder, we’ve grown up eating the Yumburgers, the spaghetti with hotdogs, and the Chicken Joy, among others. In the Philippines, every city and province has a Jollibee, with some branches just about a kilometer away from each other.
We’re pretty sentimental about Jollibee. See, it’s a place that smells, sounds, and tastes like home to us. It’s where we would go to after school, and it usually is one of the first places we go to after church on Sundays. It’s where some of us celebrated a birthday party when we were younger, and when we grew up and had our own kids, that’s also where their first birthday party will be, you can bet on it.
You’re probably still getting some vitriol for the negative comments you made about the food, and it’s possible that you don’t understand where all the hate is coming from. I hear you. But let me tell you one thing about my people: we are a sensitive bunch that is awfully nationalistic, sometimes, to a fault. If anyone from other parts of the world would say anything negative about our country, our food, our athletes, or our celebrities, we are quick to bristle. Like a porcupine, we can go from smiley to prickly in a second (do porcupines smile? I don’t know either, but you see my point here?). Here’s another thing that you should know: we can make it through typhoons and the worst calamities with a smile on our faces, and we can work in extremely harsh conditions, but even the slightest negative mention of anything Filipino-related will make us howl in outrage. You wonder, how can a seemingly tough race be so touchy about seemingly little things?
Chalk it up to Filipino pride, or to an involuntary reaction to years and years of being under colonial rule, but my people won’t take that sort of thing. Take for instance when one Hollywood actress’s (ahem, Teri Hatcher) character uttered a racial slur against Pinoys in a Desperate Housewives episode. In a scene that had her character questioning a doctor’s credentials, she quipped, “Before we go any further, can I check those diplomas? I just want to make sure that they’re not from some med school in the Philippines.” That line caused a lot of incensed Filipinos to demand an apology from the show. Eventually, the producers of Desperate Housewives issued a statement offering their most sincere apologies for any offense caused by the brief reference to the medical community in the Philippines. Personally, I thought that was an overreaction on our part—I mean, it wasn’t like this was said at a UN Summit or anything like that. It was a line from a show, for crying out loud.
But there were other instances when I too was irked over something that was said about us. In 1992, Howard Stern said that “I think they eat their young over there”, basically referring to us as cannibals. But he didn’t stop there. Oh no. Stern added, “The Philippines is a country where fathers sell their daughters for sex”, and by saying so, he basically lumped all the fathers in the country in the pimp category. In case you were wondering how old I was at that time, I was 12. I was outraged, because it wasn’t fair. Filipinos aren’t cannibals—ok, sure, some of our hard-core drunks will eat barbecued dog, but no one would eat another human being no matter how drunk or stoned he is. And daughters here are cherished by their fathers, and most of us are protected fiercely, not just by our fathers, but by all the males in our respective clans. It’s a wonder how some of us girls even manage to get a date! It was ridiculous. Now what Stern said, that, for me, was out of line.
So, you may ask, why the hullabaloo about your comments regarding Jollibee food? It’s not like you said anything that was as demeaning as what Stern said (or Claire Danes. Or HK columnist Chip Tsao. Look up what they said and you’ll see what I mean). Like I said, Jollibee is a Filipino institution. But of course, nothing as big as this place was expected to limit its reach to its local market. We knew that it would only take a while before Jollibee will go global, and it happened. We also knew that one of the first places where the Bee would land is in the United States, specifically in California, as there are a lot of Filipino workers, expats, and immigrants over there. And we knew that the general public and the media will catch on to what the fuss is all about.
Take for instance when Jollibee opened in New York. There was a line outside the store, which piqued the curiosity of the non-Pinoys who were in the area. They too joined the queue, and some of them have become fans of the fast food. I’m not saying that they liked everything that was on the menu, but preference for a certain food is personal. What’s disgusting for one person could be delicious for another.
Now let’s talk about what you thought about the food. Let’s start with the Little Big Bites, and what you had was a slice of Spam inside mayonnaise-slathered local bread called pan de sal. You know, that thing isn’t even available in the Philippines, but I could pretty much make that at home and form an honest opinion about it. It might have been underwhelming, but I doubt if the spread was like moisturizer, as one of you put it. You know, spam with bread or rice is a favorite local breakfast here, the same as in Hawaii, where they make so many dishes out of the canned meat. Though the Jollibee version may not be anything to crow about, it couldn’t have been that bad, yeah?
Ok, let’s move on to the chicken. Yes, you’re right, it’s basic fried chicken, and this dish is pretty much universal so no one would be grossed out with it. Those little flags on it, you ask? Yeah, that’s meant to warn you that what you’re about to eat is really spicy, which is how we like some of our food. Maybe you should have tried the classic version first before biting into the spicy chicken? Most people seem to like the Chicken Joy, and you definitely have to try it with the gravy. Any fried food is better with gravy.
You guys seemed to have mixed reactions with the Burger Steak. I can honestly tell you that what you have in that container is a real beef patty, smothered in mushroom gravy, and studded with slices of real mushroom. One of you said that it looked disgusting. Huh. Well, that’s actually a fair observation, as some of our food can be extremely brown, without even a smidgen of green parsley or cubes of carrot to brighten things up. That could have made it more appetizing. But looks can be deceiving, so to the lady who was turned off by how it looks, please give the Burger Steak a second chance. Oh, and here’s a tip: ask for some extra gravy. I know, I know, that will make it even more brown, but take a chance, will you? At least one of you seemed to like it.
The one thing that I couldn’t get out of my mind was how surprised you all were by the halo halo. You, the guy who said, and I quote, “How stoned are the Jollibee people when making this stuff up?” You were particularly hilarious, man. In retrospect, it does seem like the halo halo was the brainchild of a couple of stoners, cause, let’s be honest, who would ever think about putting together beans, bananas, gelatin, crushed ice, milk, flan, and ice cream to create a desert? Only in the Philippines, like one of you said. But when I watched your review again, I noticed that there was something wrong there. I’m talking about the way you guys were eating it. Some were delicately running their spoons over the top layer, while some of you were dipping the spoon towards the bottom of the glass. No wonder you guys didn’t like it!
See, there’s a technique to eating this stuff. What you do is this: you firmly hold your glass to anchor it, and with your other hand, make a stabbing motion with your spoon to churn and mix all the stuff up in the glass. That’s right, stab the halo halo like it did something heinous! Then when the halo halo is more or less blended, mix it up, making sure to have some of the ingredients that were previously at the bottom somewhere in the middle and the top of the ice. By now, you should have a thick, lovely purple mixture in the glass. Now, dip your spoon in and eat it. There…now wasn’t that good?
The next time you go to a Jollibee store or if you want to grab some takeout, I suggest getting the Peach Mango Pie, which is hot, crusty and incredibly fruity, kind of like your pies from Georgia. Or the very Filipino rice noodle dish Palabok. Or how about a serving of the spaghetti, which is meaty, sweet, and tomatoey, all at the same time, and redolent with hotdogs? If one of you has a kid, get him or her to try it—it’s the perfect kid food, trust me on this.
Or if ever you find yourself in the country, feel free to ask any Filipino what’s the best thing to get. Hey, for all you know, I could be that person in front of you in the queue. The Peach Mango Pie’s on me, ok?
PS: I don’t work for Jollibee, and no, they didn’t pay me to write this. I and my kids just happen to like their food. J