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Filipino cookbook inspires healthy eating patterns

By: Siobhan Doyle, United Kingdom

When investigating why there is a lack of Filipino restaurants in Norway despite having a large community there, a Norwegian made a comment that stuck with former resident and food author and editor Jacqueline Chio-Lauri. “Heart disease (and other diseases) are almost an epidemic in the Philippines,” the Norwegian told her. “There is reason to believe that this is because of the food, lack of vegetables in the diet, and over-salting and over-sweetening.”

This comment made Chio-Lauri reminisce about her upbringing in the Philippines. Growing up, her lola always stressed eating right and remembered to always have vegetable dishes and fresh fruits on the table. This inspired Chio-Lauri to reach out to men and women in the Filipino diaspora worldwide, inviting them to submit their stories and recipes that are not only delicious but are good for the heart too.

Chio-Lauri’s investigation spree led to the creation of her book We Cook Filipino and her collaboration with Dr Youssef Roman from Virginia Commonwealth University in the U.S. on the publication of an academic paper about health disparities among Filipino Americans. The goal of both projects is to bring about culturally appropriate health interventions.

The book features a wide range of contributors including chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, bloggers, podcasters and recipe developers from across the globe. “All the book’s contributors wave the Philippine flag wherever they are in the world and whatever it is they do,” she says. “As diverse as Filipino food is, I wanted to get as wide of a range of perspectives as I could.”

Readers will also learn many tips and techniques to balance flavour and heart health in their dishes. This includes how to use Filipino cooking methods to achieve bold flavours without adding extra sodium or sugars to your diet, managing your sodium intake while still using salt to heighten flavour, and heart-healthy tricks such as how to increase nutrient density and reduce the caloric value of a cup of white rice.

Chio-Lauri was born and raised in the Philippines and worked as a science scholar, restaurateur and teacher and lived in seven countries before settling in the northwest of England with her husband and son. Some of her most delicious childhood memories include strolls with her lola from the city’s panaderia (bakery) at the crack of dawn — munching warm, freshly-baked pandesal bread with her lola telling her fascinating stories.

Her latest offering may be the only Filipino cookbook grounded on both health and culture. “It has the same personal storytelling and recipe format as my first book, The New Filipino Kitchen, but besides presenting the extraordinary food culture of the Philippines, it also highlights Filipino dishes and ingredients that are inherently healthy and suggests a healthier approach to cooking many of our Filipino favourites,” she explains.

Chio-Lauri also stresses that Filipino food is hardly represented in healthy-eating media, which may give a false impression that it is not healthy. “I hope the book will help change the narrative about cultural cuisines, such as Philippine cuisine,” she expresses.

Roots & Wings’ UK contributor asked Chio-Lauri about Filipino food in public spaces across England specifically. Here, she expressed her disappointment in the lack of Filipino food representation at food halls or food events, particularly in its northern areas. “Near me, there is a newly opened food hall with kitchens from almost every part of the world. You’d find cuisines, such as Burmese, Ethiopian and Palestinian, but not Filipino,” she says.

The foodie also wishes Filipino cuisines were more popular in the region, especially as it would help raise the image of the Philippines and drive revenue to its people working in the food world. She notes Thailand’s investment in gastrodiplomacy campaigns, hence the number of Thai restaurants around the world. “As the saying goes, ‘The easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach,’” she says.

Chio-Lauri hopes the stories told in We Cook Filipino will inspire fellow kababayans to be happier and healthier, for people outside of the Filipino diaspora to develop a better understanding and connection with our cuisine, to dispel unfair and false notions people might have about Filipino food. “Taking care of our hearts can be a delicious and delightful affair. We don’t have to give up Filipino food to maintain a healthy eating pattern.”

When envisioning the future of Filipino cuisine in the UK, Jacqueline hopes there will be more thriving Filipino restaurants and shops that get the support of both Filipino and non-Filipino customers. Meanwhile, in the comfort of our own homes, she says, ”I hope we keep our Filipino food culture alive using a healthier approach to cooking our Filipino favourites.”

Contributors in the book, to name a few, include R&W’s very own feature editor and award-winning food writer Jennifer Fergesen, award-winning writer, blogger and podcaster Liren Baker (USA), Michelin Star awardee chef Roger Asakil Joya (Norway), and Grace Guinto, chief baking officer of Sweet Cora (Australia).

We Cook Filipino is now available to buy on platforms such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and British book retailer Waterstones. You can also get in touch with and learn more about Jacqueline on her website


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