For the love of food
It was the first time the World Street Food Congress was being held in the Philippines and I had not anticipated the response.
We opened the Jamboree food festival component last Wednesday at 4pm, and by 6pm, more than 5,000 people had filled the little field in Bonifacio Global City in Manila, where it was held.
In many ways, it was a good problem and most visitors were game to try everything, including some dishes that had never before been seen there.
By 8.30pm, almost half of the 25 stalls had nothing left to sell and yet people continued streaming in.
The line outside stretched 500 metres and many visitors had to be turned away as the food had sold out.
We doubled up the next few days and caught up with demand.
Our partners at the Jamboree, Ayala Malls and the Tourism Promotions Board (Philippines), were also taken by surprise.
Ayala Malls' retail director Jessica Santos, who helped bring the event to Manila, says: "I am overwhelmed (by the response)."
Mussels-filled fried spring rolls
Pepitas, the stall that saw the longest line at last year's World Street Food Congress in Singapore, was surprised that it drew as long a line. Its Truffle Paella Lechon is native to Manila.
Here are some of the dishes that sold like, well, hot cakes:
- Babi Iga Bakar, or BBQ pork ribs, from Bali. The seasoning, done with a sweet kicap manis-like sauce blended with sambal spices, was a hit. It moved 700 portions in 2 ½ hours.
- Jin Ji Kway Chap and Braised Duck. Second generation owner Melvin Chew kept shaking his head in bewilderment over the response. The stall cleared the day's stock by 9pm.
- Keng Eng Kee's tempura seafood with three dips (chili crabs, black pepper and salted egg yolk sauce). The crowd initially gave it a miss, until the event DJ and myself announced in detail what the dish was all about. A queue formed and stretched to the edge of the field after that.
- The Zhou Hou Chicken from Foshan, China. Despite offering a plain looking braised chicken over plain rice, this stall also drew in the crowd. It was the intense flavour the crowd fell for. The sauce was made of miso, rock sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, shallots and ginger, and carefully braised over a high, then low fire.
- The Hyderabadi Briyani, which was made from scratch by hawkers under the umbrella of the National Street Vendors Association of India. They had to whip up another batch of 200 portions after the first 600 cleared out by 7pm.
Babi Iga Bakar or BBQ pork ribs
Meanwhile, a World Street Food Dialogue was held in a conference tent across the street.
Woo Wai Leong, the first winner of MasterChef Asia last year, dazzled the audience with his take on Halo Halo, Philippines national dessert.
Also discussed with fervour was how, if and when the Philippines would consider building hawker centres and who would govern them.
The former head of the hawkers department at the National Environment Agency, Mr Richard Tan, presented the Singapore experience and how it can be applied to other countries.
In all, close to 100,000 people are expected to have attended the five-day event by the time it ends today.
We are indebted to the people of the Philippines, and their love for food. Indeed, there is no love more genuine than the love of food.
KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets, his own TV shows on cable, publishing food guides, consultancy and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.