Asian cuisine makes up a huge part of American food culture. People love it — they love ordering lo mein and beef and broccoli for takeout, casually dining at Dim Sum gems, and going out for the hot pot experience while sipping on sake. But the food that my grandmother, a first generation Filipino immigrant, cooked for me growing up was never served at restaurants or included in takeout orders. No one ever says, “Let’s go grab some Filipino!” the way they say, “Let’s go grab some Chinese!” There are 4.2 million Filipinos in the United States, according to a 2023 Pew Research Report, yet there are only 1,400 Filipino restaurants in the United States. For comparison, In the U.S., there are 5.4 million Chinese people, but over 45 ,000 Chinese restaurants.

Filipino restaurants do exist, but not in the way that pho joints and dumpling houses do. These 1,400 scattered Filipino restaurants make up just 1% of restaurants serving Asian cuisine, despite the fact that Filipinos make up 19% of the Asian population in the U.S. In Boston, where I currently live, you can’t find Filipino food in “Chinatown,” even though there are Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, and Taiwanese restaurants. Until recently, Bright Light was the only Filipino restaurant in Greater Boston, a counter-service storefront located 10 miles outside of the city in Quincy, Massachusetts. Bright Light owner Rose Martin argues that Filipino food isn’t as popular in America because it doesn’t have that one iconic dish that you can get everywhere. Japan has sushi, Thailand has Pad Thai, Vietnam has pho, and India has tikka masala. These dishes are a good way to get people to engage in the flavors of a country’s food and can inspire an interest in the cuisine as a whole.

Martin suggests that one iconic dish for Filipino food should be either adobo or pancit. Adobo is a dish made by marinating and slow-cooking meat, whether it be chicken, pork, or beef, in vinegar and other spices. The dish already has a little bit of traction, but it’s not specific to the Philippines — there’s Caribbean adobo, Mexican adobo, and Peruvian adobo as well. And, Filipino adobo is not made exactly the same way everywhere you go.

“The problem with Filipinos is that we’re not all one,” says Martin. “There’s 7,000 islands and everyone has a different way. In my province [Bacolod], we add tomatoes to our adobo. In Laguna, they add an egg.”

Pancit — Martin’s other suggestion — is my favorite Filipino food; a stir fry noodle dish similar to Pad Thai or ramen, except it’s more salty and vinegary than sweet and sour. Pancit bihon is made with thin rice sticks, as opposed to a noodle made of wheat and flour, and topped with vegetables like shredded carrots, snow peas, bok choy, and cabbage, plus a desired protein. Though the toppings can change, the noodles and the flavor stay the same. When I cooked pancit bihon for my partner — white, never having tried Filipino food — he raved that it was one of the best noodle dishes he had ever had. My partner said that he would eat it as takeout comfort food. So why aren’t there more Filipino restaurants nationwide?

The quality and excellence of Filipino food is not accurately reflected in the lack of popularity of Filipino restaurants. “It’s doing okay,” says Martin about Bright Light’s business. “It’s not consistent every day because a lot of people don’t know Filipino food.” Martin runs her business with her husband, Uton, who is Jamaican. Because Filipino food is less known, the Martins also sell Jamaican food, like oxtail stew and jerk chicken, which is a little more popular and helps keep their doors open.

One thing that’s for sure is that when people try Filipino food, they come back. “I have regulars, and my regulars bring a friend, and then the friend brings a friend,” she says. When I took my leftovers from Bright Light home on the train — Martin’s pancit bihon topped with pork belly — even strangers were intrigued. “That smells really good,” one person said to me.

The silver lining with the lack of popularity of Filipino food is that it has not yet been commercialized or Americanized, so anywhere you go will be authentic. In this age, where people are embracing international food with open arms, I implore you to find a local restaurant near you that serves Filipino food. Suggest dining out with your friends, grab takeout and eat it on the couch, or grab fast food at a Jollibee. Filipino cuisine deserves not just money and business, but a spot on your plate.