x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

UAE Filipinos celebrate Independence Day with food and culture

Filipinos provide samples of food and produce as compatriots all over the world celebrate winning sovereignty from Spain 115 years ago.

Six young Filipinas dance at yesterday's opening of the week-long Philippine Food Festival at Khalidiyah Mall. Lee Hoagland / The National
Six young Filipinas dance at yesterday's opening of the week-long Philippine Food Festival at Khalidiyah Mall. Lee Hoagland / The National

ABU DHABI // It is a celebration of a proud independence, food, culture and good friends abroad.

And of course, it would not be a Philippine festival without music.

The week-long Philippine Food Festival opened yesterday at Khalidiyah Mall to celebrate the country's 115th Independence Day.

After a live band performance and speeches, Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, cut a cake measuring 1.2 metres by 4 metres and weighing 250 kilograms. It was prepared by four pastry chefs.

Ms Princesa was ably assisted in the task by Ashraf Ali, executive director of LuLu Group.

The cake featured Philippine attractions and landmarks, including the ubiquitous jeepney buses with their flamboyant decorations.

Ms Princesa and Mr Ali later joined a tour of Filipino produce and cooking. They tasted native delicacies, sweets, and chicken and beef dishes, and checked out the more than 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables specially flown in for the festival.

"I'm very happy to welcome you all to the Philippine food festival and congratulate you on your national day," Mr Ali said.

"This is our sixth Philippine Food Festival. We attach great importance to communities from different nationalities in this country."

A cultural presentation, tourism promotion, cooking demonstration and food sampling are some of the activities scheduled.

Yesterday, six girls each held a garland of leaves and flowers attached to an arch overhead as they danced the Bulaklakan, which refers to green orchids or flowering plants.

"We are celebrating our freedom, right?" Alexandra Nicole Nunez, 8, asked her mother Bella while waiting for her turn to sing the Tagalog pop song Anong nangyari sa ating dalawa (What Happened to the Two of Us?) onstage.

It was their first Philippine Independence Day event in Abu Dhabi, their home for six years.

The day marks the nation's independence from Spanish rule on June 12, 1898.

This year's theme is Independence Day 2013: Pitching in Towards Inclusive Growth.

"The Philippines' economic growth for the first quarter of this year is 7.8 per cent, even higher than China," Ms Princesa said.

"Let's buy Filipino products to stimulate livelihood in the Philippines so that we can one day go back to our families."

The ambassador said her countrymen were known for the six Fs: faith, family, fun, fibre, flights and food.

"We have strong faith in God and country, and we love our families and make life easier for them back home," Ms Princesa said. "Our tourism slogan is 'It's more fun in the Philippines'.

"We are known for our fibre and what I'm wearing now is made of abaca, or Manila hemp, and best exemplifies the Filipino - strong, resilient and exceptional."

She told the crowd two Filipino airlines will soon be operating between the UAE and the Philippines.

Starting in October, Philippine Airlines (Pal) will fly to Abu Dhabi and Cebu Pacific to Dubai.

Pal's low-cost brand AirPhil Express may take up the direct Manila to Dubai route.

Daily Emirates flights between Dubai and Clark, 80 kilometres north of Manila, will begin on October 1.

"There will be cheaper fares for you to see your families more often in the Philippines and for the friends of Filipinos to visit our country," Ms Princesa said.

"And let's not forget food. We are the top source of bananas in the UAE and we'll soon introduce pili nuts."

Bananas, pineapples, sausages, sauces and mixes are among the major food exports to the UAE.

"The festival will be an opportunity for Filipino exporters to promote their products to the 600,000 Filipinos in the UAE and to other nationalities," said Jojie Dinsay, the Philippines' commercial attache.

"It's a good venue to introduce new food products and gauge the response of the UAE market."

The UAE is the Philippines' third-largest trading partner in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

"The UAE is an important trading partner for the Philippines," Mr Dinjay said.

"It is our number one export market of the Philippines in the region."

Total trade between the UAE and the Philippines reached US$2.16 billion (Dh7.93bn) last year, with Philippine exports at $220 million.