The Filipino food craze in Dubai in the last decade

In the Philippines, we are craving for fancy, non-traditional food, not necessarily Filipino. In the UAE, a typical Filipino expat would be very excited about home food. That explains why an opening of familiar restaurants here in Dubai is news.

Before 2010, the old "Jollibee" in Dubai was popular for all the wrong reasons - oily burgers, joyless chicken and soggy spaghetti. Obviously, it wasn't the real bee.

Ushering into the 2010s, a sort of Filipino food revolution happened in the UAE. Here's a quick look at how the Filipino taste made its way to follow us overseas.

2010: Chowking and others

Chowking was the best 'known' Filipino restaurant during this time. Actually, it was the only familiar restaurant then.

Golden Fork and other small eateries were doing good this year. Restaurants in Satwa and Karama, like Tagpuan, Bulwagan and Tipanan were among the best ones then. They are the go-to places for Filipino comfort food like Tapsilog, Pansit, Bulalo or Goto, before the arrival of the "big names."

2011: Max's

Max’s Restaurant was the first big franchise to open a restaurant in Dubai after Chowking. Patrons flock the restaurant in Karama for the signature crispy fried chicken, in fine-casual dining setup.

2012: Pork delicacies on buffet

Pork delicacies like sisig,  lechon, and lechon kawali finally came out in the open. La Mesa in Asiana Hotel was the clear favorite among restaurants that serve pork on buffet. Boracay was the frontrunner in the resto-bar category. Then there was Chikka Grill / Kitakits in Marco Polo too.

2013: Buffet some more

Affordable all-day buffet grew aplenty. You can find one next to the other sprouting like mushrooms in many areas in Karama and Satwa. They're not fancy but they satisfy the cravings of a typical Filipino in the neighborhood.

2014: Boodle Fight

The boodle fight was revived and we proudly embrace this culture. Asian Flavors in Qusais started the trend and every new restaurant followed suit.

Seafood in a Bucket also became a hit - though they quietly exited the market the next year.

Shabu-shabu, or hotpot on authentic Chinese restaurants, started to become popular among the community.

2015: The real Jollibee

J.Co attracted long queues just like how it does in Manila but later on found out they are fake.

Dampa was a huge hit when they launch. They are the top favorites until this day. They also started the trend of Instagrammable restaurants in the Pinoy community.

Little Manila also created noise for opening the first Filipino food court in Deira. Old favorite Zagu was a crowd drawer.

The biggest story of 2015 though was when the real Jollibee opened its first store at Dubai Mall. It was pandemonium! For about half year, the lines in Jollibee were crazy. Finally, Pinoy's won't have to ask for a Jollibee chickenjoy from someone traveling from the Philippines.

2016: Isaw and other street foods 

Because we badly miss the taste of home, Isaw, "Adidas", "Betamax" and other popular skewers became a hit in Dubai. It was the golden year for Pinoy street food.  Ihawan's chicken barbecue was to die for.

Yellow Cab also opened doors; then there's Tapa King bringing danggit and tocino along with the tapas; Pan Cake House came next. Thereafter, everybody's guessing what the next franchises to open would be.

2017: 'Manilatown' in Dubai

Centurion Star building in Deira became the lowkey 'Manilatown' of Dubai for its chain of restaurants - Dampa, Bodega, Off The Hook, Carinderia ni Tandang Sora among others.

Razon's of Guagua opened its first store and its unique Halo-Halo style was an instant hit.

2018: Franchise galore

The much-awaited Gerry's Grill opened, BUT sadly without its signature pork sisig, crispy pata and drinks.

Shakeys opened doors in Bur Dubai and they're almost full house every dinner time.

Teriyaki Boy and Sizzling Plate were well-received when they opened their first restaurant in Burjuman. Gozaimasu!

Chef Boy Logro showcased his culinary mastery in Paluto.

Controversies surround some "franchises" as Andoks was thought of to be an imitation. Keen eyes notice the absence of the apostrophe ('s) in the logo. The same goes for Baliwag.

2019: Inasal and Bubble Milktea

The biggest story this year was the invasion of Inasal - that other nationalities thought it is our national food. There's a confusion in the beginning if it was a franchise of the original Mang Inasal or not, because of the close similarities in branding. Even though they're not a franchise, they were able to win the hearts of many Filipinos with their authentic serving of the famous Visayan grill flavor - not to mention, the unli-rice.

As a testament to the strong demand, local food outlets like Taza also offered Inasal in their menu.

We are too late for bubble milk tea frenzy. While Chatime and Sharetea have been here for some years already, it was only when Happy Lemon set foot in Dubai that the craze has been amplified. Soon, local restaurants started to offer bubble teas on their menu.

Irvin's Salted Egg Chips, although non-Filipino, was one of the biggest food hype in South East Asia. They are recently trying to win the Dubai Asian market as well. Not so surprising, Filipinos are their top customers.

The festive delicacies Bibingka and Puto-Bumbong is also having a good fare this Christmas season - particularly in The Market in Al Rigga.

Interesting miss:

Ramen and Samgyupsal were interestingly missing on the obsession. As for my taste, no Dubai ramen has ever come close to at least the average ramen back home - because good ramen is pork-based.

Let's see if Samgyupsal, with all the limitations that go with it, would happen.  Alternatively, we get to enjoy Korean beef and bulgogi in a few Korean joints.


Having lived here for 13 years, and seeing a number of restaurants closing, I can tell that the desire by Filipinos for Filipino cuisine is slowly dipping down. Not that there's something wrong with our food, but we live in Dubai and this place has a whole lot of wonderful gastronomical experiences to offer as well.

What do you think about our food and appetite journey?

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