Thai noodles and Indian curries are well known among young, gourmet-loving Japanese women, but dishes from the Philippines have yet to find their way into the hearts and stomachs of this key demographic.
In an effort to remedy the situation — and in the process draw more visitors to the Philippines — that nation’s Department of Tourism organized monthly cooking lessons on traditional Filipino cuisine in cooperation with ABC Cooking Studio Co., the major cooking school chain. The courses were held from September to December.
Their popularity exceeded the organizers’ expectations. Most participants had never tasted Filipino food, and many left the class excited to also have the chance to learn more about other aspects of the country’s culture.
Kyoko Miyamoto, 37, was one of 23 students who joined the final cooking class in early December at ABC’s studio at the Tokyo Midtown shopping complex in Roppongi.
“I have never visited the Philippines. Being involved with Filipino food in this way does make me want to go there,” Miyamoto said.
In the cooking program, students were taught to prepare two main dishes — “pork adobo,” which is meat marinated and simmered in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, “sinigang na hipon,” a soup known for its sour taste and cooked with shrimp and vegetables — and “turon,” a popular Filipino snack made with banana in a deep-fried spring roll wrapper and covered with caramel sauce.
Organizers, who started discussing the cooking class project in 2013, decided to limit each lesson to a maximum of 24 students. They were surprised when they had no trouble filling the slots.
Maiko Kosugi, a 28-year-old food blogger who cooked her first Filipino food at an ABC Cooking Studio outlet with her friends, said: “I was not familiar with Filipino food and had no idea how it tasted, so I was surprised at how there was so much detail in preparing the food. Still, I could easily cook this at home.”
Other students ranging from their 20s to their 30s shared such sentiments and appeared eager to eat Filipino cuisine again, or even visit the Philippines for firsthand experience with the local cuisine.
This is good news for tourist officials in the Philippines, who have been doubling their efforts to boost tourism to the fast-growing Southeast Asian country just four hours from Tokyo by plane. Aside from the cooking classes, they have been promoting the country’s varied cuisine at food fairs.
According to Philippine government data, 433,705 Japanese tourists visited the country in 2013, up 5.15 percent from the year before. This year, more than 460,000 are expected to visit.
“The department of tourism in Tokyo has embarked on tourism promotions to ensure the continued growth of Japanese tourists visiting the country,” said Valentino Cabansag, the east Japan attache and representative at the Philippine Department of Tourism in Tokyo.
At the end of the two-hour cooking class, the participants were given souvenir bags containing tourism pamphlets and dried mangoes.
ABC Cooking Studio also offered cooking classes on “washoku” (traditional Japanese cuisine ), which was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013, in the Philippines this year.
ABC Cooking Studio’s projects in Japan and the Philippines reflect hopes that interest in cooking will boost tourism in both countries.
Miyamoto, who liked her first taste of Filipino food, said, “I think it would be hard for me to travel to a country if I do not enjoy the local cuisine.”