Jollibee Restaurant Gives Fast Food a Filipino Flavor

The Jollibee mascot poses with patrons on the restaurant’s opening day in Jersey City. (Photo by Aurora Almendral/Feet in 2 Worlds)

Filipino fast food chain Jollibee recently opened a branch in Jersey City, N.J., a state with 30,000 Filipinos. The restaurant, which has outsold McDonald’s in the Philippines, offers more than just burgers and fried chicken, “They’re also selling nostalgia,” reports Aurora Almendral for Feet in 2 Worlds.

For some Filipinos, the restaurant offers a trip back to the Philippines, minus the hefty flight ticket.

Roughly 30,000 Filipinos live in New Jersey, though for the Santos family, the allure of Chickenjoy and Yumburgers was worth the three-hour drive from their home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Randy Santos, who stood in line with his wife and two teenage sons, hasn’t been back to the Philippines in a while, and he says going to Jollibee, “is the cheapest way to…feel like I’m in the Philippines right now.”

Each location — 27 in the U.S. alone — recreates the branches in the Philippines and serves food with a Filipino taste.

Despite the influence of American fast food on Jollibee, it has its own distinct taste of the Philippines. (Photo by Aurora Almendral/Feet in 2 Worlds)

“We make sure that all our ingredients are authentic,” Villamayor said.  ”We even import our spices for the Chickenjoy. The breading and the gravy are all imported from the Philippines. So it’s exactly the same gravy, the same breading that we use in Manila. The pies are all made by the same commissary in the Philippines. We bring them here.”

Jollibee’s fast food does have a Filipino twist. The milkshakes are flavored with ube, a native sweet purple yam. The fries are served with a ketchup made from bananas, but dyed red to look like tomato ketchup.

Amy Besa, who wrote Memories of Philippine Kitchens and owns the Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn, describes the influence of American food in Filipino society.

The Philippines was America’s only colony, which the U.S. bought from Spain along with Guam and Puerto Rico.  During the near half-century of American rule, the United States had its hands in the government and military, certainly, but also the food.  Filipinos were told that their traditional diet of fish and rice was nutritionally deficient, and they set about filling this perceived dietary shortfall with American industrial foods.

Besa says that when she was growing up, “that was one of the things America did to us, they made us feel that our food was inferior.”

In response to accusations that Jollibee is furthering the American convention of unhealthy foods, Besa says that when it comes to Jollibee, “It’s not the food really that they’re offering, it’s a piece of home. And a piece of pride.”

Aurora Almendral speaks with Feet in 2 World’s executive producer John Rudolph in the podcast found below that elaborates on the points she covered in the article. Ever since the Philippines fell into American hands, the foods and practices of a distant country have permeated the island’s culinary traditions. While critics may argue that Jollibee takes on American hallmarks of unhealthy and processed foods, the restaurant nonetheless represents a symbol of pride among Filipino Americans.

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