Filipino Food in New York City is Ready for Its Instagram Close-Up
How Jen Balisi of @indulgenteats is introducing her Instagram following to her native cuisine
You may not know her, but you know what she eats. Twenty seven year-old Jen Balisi has become one of the most well-known food Instagrammers in New York City through her wildly popular account @indulgenteats, a collection of seemingly effortless photos of her meals which both impress and inspire. Born to Filipino parents in New Jersey, Jen is still deeply connected to her Filipino culture, especially its native cuisine and traditions. She visits the Philippines as often as her work schedule will allow, with an upcoming trip scheduled this September.
“Food is the center of Filipino culture,” Jen says. Food becomes part of you as a Filipino. I grew up eating my parents’ home-cooked meals and have fond memories of being in the Philippines eating six meals a day: breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, merienda, dinner, and late dinner.”
Through her Instagram feed, Jen has a platform to introduce Filipino cuisine to her hungry audience, exposing them to a cuisine with cultures and traditions many are unfamiliar with. Jen’s photographs are regularly reposted by the most respected food accounts both in New York City and nationally. She is also part of an elite group of social media influencers regularly sought out by restaurants and PR firms to spread the word about new dishes and destinations.
Since the best way to get to know a foodie like Jen is over a meal, we shared brunch at a new Filipino hotspot, Ma-nila Social Club. Filipino food in New York City is flourishing in a new way, allowing many people, myself included, to experience the cuisine for the first time. “When I first moved to NYC [to attend NYU], Cendrillon was one of the only Filipino restaurants in Manhattan and it unfortunately had a relatively short lifespan. But Filipino food is having a welcome resurgence, with a new generation of Filipino-Americans serving their more modern interpretations of Filipino food, like Maharlika, Jeepney and here (Manila Social Club). It’s great because they have been able to adapt the dining experience and make it more accessible. Now when I talk about things like adobo, sisig, and ube, people actually know what I am talking about.”
Jen is also pleased with the breadth of Filipino options currently available, including more fast casual places like Lumpia Shack and 2nd City. As she explains, “Filipino food is typically very heavy, which makes it harder to have as an easy lunch option, so having places that are offering Filipino-inspired cuisine in easy-to-consume formats like rice bowls or tacos helps the cause that much more.” Jen hopes that her photos will be a catalyst for her followers to try a Filipino dish that they had not heard of prior to seeing it on her account. If the comments and reactions to her photos are any indication, her audience is eager to expand their foodie repertoire to include Filipino food and flavors.
SPAM Fries from @maharlikanyc
Our brunch lived up to its hype, with our meals being perfect for both eating and photographing. Jen’s photo of our mango soufflé pancakes with ube ice cream garnered nearly 10,000 Instagram likes and over 236 comments. The tocilog was the most traditional of the dishes we sampled, and the SPAM fries with banana ketchup (6,500 likes) were a gentle introduction to a traditional Filipino ingredient that has yet to be embraced by American palates. As our orders came in, Jen captured her images quickly and expertly, making sure not to disrupt the integrity of the dishes but somehow making each item look its most mouth-watering.
Mango Souffle Pancakes from @manilasocialclub
Longganisa Lumpia from @lumpiashack
For Jen, being an Instagram Influencer has some great perks, including exclusive access to the best restaurants in New York City and the chance to meet culinary icons like Anthony Bourdain. She is grateful for the experiences her Instagram status has given her and admits that at this point, she practically plans her life around food. “Maybe one day [my account] will grow enough to let me do it full time, but for now, I’m just having fun with it.” Luckily for us, we all get to follow along on the ride – even if only through her photographs.