FILIPINO food, albeit somehow new to the international palate, is actually not a strange cuisine to the well traveled set.
Thanks to documentaries, expos, Filipino restaurants that sprouted overseas and even contestants in international cooking competitions — Filipino fare has found always found its way to curious foreign foodies as well.
So just in time for its rising popularity alongside the breakthrough of other Asian cuisines outside the region, HBO Asia unsurprisingly tapped Filipinos among regional artists to put together a novel drama anthology titled, “Food Lore.”
Consisting of eight hour-long episodes, “Food Lore” explores human conditions with narratives inspired by Asian cuisines. It is helmed by award-winning Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo and features stories from India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
For the Philippines, the episode “Island of Dreams” — directed by Erik Matti and starring Angeli Bayani, Yul Servo and Ina Feleo — follows Nieves who, armed with a dream of a brighter future for her family, leaves her life in the province to work as a domestic helper in Manila.
Returning home for the annual fiesta, Nieves soon realizes that she may have grown estranged from her beloved family as her jubilant homecoming takes an unexpected turn.
“When we were tapped and asked what kind of food stories we want, we had several permutations. But a lot is riding on a food story with Filipinos kasi we are the most un-Asian in the Asian region,” Matti shared at the show’s media conference in Manila.
“We are more Spanish, more Latin American rather than Asian. Those are the things that we took into consideration. The first questions we asked when we were writing the script was, ‘What do we want to know about the Philippines that the international audience would also be excited to know about?’” he added.
Right then, Matti said he knew he wanted to include the tradition of fiesta in the episode, hence two fiesta scenes where food was depicted as one of the highlights. In effect, it also showcased how food brings together communities.
“With ours kasi it’s a communal thing. We are like the Spanish, we take hours just talking on the table, we are not like the Japanese where it’s more ritualistic. Ours is family style, every one digs in and it’s the conversations of the table that really matters.”
Of course, “Island of Dreams” would not be the masterpiece that it is if traditional food was not mixed in with an identifiable Filipino story.
“So we chose the diaspora of the Filipinos. In ‘Island of Dreams,’ Nieves just came from Manila but eventually, she’s gonna end up in Hong Kong in the story. We felt that would be universal enough but it’s something that Filipinos would relate to.”
Ultimately, Matti said their goal in the episode to make a “very aspirational” Filipino food movie.
“We want to make something that will inspire people to know our food a little more and to see what kind of celebratory life we can also have, na hindi lang naman tayo dukha lagi,” Matti noted.
As of press time, “Island of Dreams” is about to make its world debut at the Tokyo International Film Festival after being selected for such feat.
“We were surprised because we thought HBO was just gonna launch it and then I received a message from Eric Khoo. He said he sent a few of the episodes to the Tokyo International Film Fest and they eventually picked our episode [‘Island of Dreams’ to premiere today] and that of Vietnam [‘He Serves Fish, She Eats Flower,’ which premiered October 30],” Matti detailed.
The entire HBO Asia Original anthology drama series, “Food Lore,” premieres on November 3, 10 p.m. on HBO and its streaming platform, HBO GO.