The first Taste of Manila in Toronto opened today to a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of mostly Filipinos seeking to reminisce laid back life “back home” with samplings of Filipino food. The unfortunate part is, although the use of the word “taste” hints food, Taste of Manila offered little for the foodie at heart.
There were about ten food stalls, if not less, all serving Filipino cuisine. Taking up about two blocks worth, limiting Bathurst Street to one lane for each direction of traffic, Taste of Manila is a hodge-podge of real estate vendors, insurance agencies, discount clothing, satellite TV offerings and the like. There was also an entertainment stage setup on one end where performers took turns strutting their stuff whether it be dancing, singing or a fashion show. The two day event even promised a visit from a celebrity from the Philippines.
Going back to the food, we strategized a divide and conquer seeing how the lines are really long for the food vendors. One by one, upon reaching, or at least close to the ordering, two food stalls we lined up for has ran out of food. We lucked out in one but can only order fish balls (pictured above) and shumai (pictured below). Other than these two, we couldn’t be bothered to try anything else. People at the lines were getting aggressive in that they jump the lines by pretending to be looking at what’s available. Even the Colonial mindset (in this day in age) from food vendors was practiced in the event; white man gets served first. It was utter chaos and a total turn off.
As much as we like Filipino food, this event was an epic fail as a food event. It failed in that it didn’t showcase savoury, and often considered delicacy, that is Filipino streetfood. Instead it was a collection of existing local Filipino restaurants in the area bringing their menu to a tent. We felt it was a missed opportunity here to highlight what Philippine street food is all about. The food vendors offered combos (often rice with 1 or 2 side dishes) like the ones they offer in their restaurants instead of a sampling of authentic dishes that is more conducive to these types of events. There was no opportunity for legit food event goer to get a sampling of dishes. Instead, the food vendors banked on monopolizing the business by offering a slew of dishes in a combo. One to note is the Kabalen Restaurant’s food tent, which offered a buffet table style service. You get a serving of rice and 2 sides of your choice for $9. In fact, Kabalen was such a turn off for us with just overall bad servers (one decided to be mute to patrons but not to fellow staff) and food running out, that we left the queue. Another one to note was Bella’s Lechon, who wasted an opportunity to advertise their lechon (roast pork) by not serving any at all. Just as bad was Grill Heaven, which has ran out of their own specialty (Filipino style skewered pork and chicken) just as the crowd was gathering. We just don’t think the food vendors and organizers get what a “taste” festival means. If this is the Filipino community’s translation of the word, it is an epic fail.
Overall, Taste of Manila was a big disappointment. Even though attendance was in droves, it just wasn’t up to par with other cultural events in the city. We think the organization missed the boat here on possibly highlighting food from the Philippines. Our hope is, should this continue next year, is a thought out plan that will satisfy the foodie in all of us.