This framing is deeply important, said Ponseca. New Nordic doesn’t feel like a “commodity,” she explained. Instead it feels like, “Yeah, I’m riding a wave of being me and cool.” While turning Filipino and other “ethnic” foods into a trend feels like, “Why do I need you to tell me that I’m cool? Why do I need you to tell me that I’m valuable?”
That’s the crux of the problem that all “ethnic” cuisines face: When they become trendy, it is based solely on the approval of white people. “Why does it matter that white people notice?” asked Ho. “We’re already here, and we’ve been here,” said Ponseca. “You’ve just now discovered it, so now all of a sudden it’s a trend.”
It’s this white acceptance that also determines whether or not a cuisine has “made it.” (Whether or not “ethnic” cuisines need this approval is another story.) When Ponseca first had the idea to open a Filipino restaurant in 1998, she canvassed the country, eating at longstanding, beloved Pinoy spots across America, from San Francisco to Chicago to Philadelphia. Still, the cuisine has not yet “landed,” unlike other Asian cultures’. Serious foodies have fish sauce in their fridge these days because Vietnamese food has “made it,” said Ho. Same for Chinese food — there are spreads in magazines breaking down Chinese fermented black beans and different Chinese noodle types. “People picking apart and analyzing and categorizing food in ways to make it more recognizable to the mainstream consumer — that is how you know it made it,” Ho added.