By Ricky Matthew
HAMILTON – Nestled in the heart of Hamilton, a restaurant offering the much sought-after cuisine of two adjacent food meccas in the Philippines is celebrating its first successful year of operation.
Marwen Food and Catering Services has been showcasing the diverse flavours of Pampanga in Central Luzon and Bicol in South Luzon, making it an emerging destination for food lovers in Hamilton and beyond.
Bringing the food from these regions together seemed natural to the restaurant’s founders, Marvin Avesz who is originally from Bicol and his wife from Pampanga.
Through word-of-mouth marketing the restaurant has rapidly become a hub for aficionados of Filipino cuisine, with orders coming from both the Filipino community and even the Pasifika community.
“With the Philippines being one of the world’s largest archipelagos, Filipino cuisine and Philippine traditional food is highly local and regional,” notes food writer Mel Fernandez (www.halohalo.nz). “Bicol and Pampanga are celebrated for their unique culinary traditions characterized by distinct ingredients and flavour profiles,” he adds.
“Our food is mainly influenced by Pampanga and Bicol,” explains Marvin Avesz. “But we also cook other dishes like Igado from Ilocos, which happens to be our best seller in catering.”
The restaurant’s menu boasts an array of dishes that exemplify the differences between Pampanga and Bicol flavours. Among the most popular items are Bicol Express, Sisig and Dinuguan, each prepared with an unmistakable twist.
“Some foods we make like the Pork Asado, Sisig, and Dinuguan are made differently in different regions in the Philippines. The dinuguan is made differently in Pampanga because we use vinegar. Whereas in Bicol, the dinuguan uses some coconut milk. So, it’s all different,” Marvin elaborates.
Another significant aspect of the variation is the differing regional preferences for spiciness and sweetness. Pampanga is renowned for its sweet flavors, while Bicol excels in the art of spiciness. “In Pampanga, they don’t use much chili, they prefer sweet,” Marvin explains. “In Bicol, they like it very spicy and we use coconut milk for everything, even the Pinakbet and Dinuguan.”
The restaurant’s menu also includes more mainstream options such as fried chicken, Filipino spaghetti and fried rice, strategically catering to the broader demographic in New Zealand – a segment that Marvin emphasizes as crucial.
“Our most popular dish is Sisig’. We use pork belly and pig ears for our Sisig, but in Pampanga they traditionally use the entire pig, including the face. We don’t use that here because it is a different customer here in New Zealand,” says Marvin.
Beyond the culinary delights, Marwen Food and Catering Services plays a vital role in promoting Filipino culture and cuisine in New Zealand. The promotion of Pampanga and Bicol flavours signifies the rich diversity of Filipino culinary traditions and serves as a cultural bridge to the Filipino community in New Zealand.
As the restaurant continues to garner recognition and patronage, the owners remain hopeful for the future. “Because we are fairly new, we are just making enough money to cover costs. We will stay in this outlet for now and improve our food as the restaurant is helping with public exposure. The plan is to concentrate more on our catering business,” reveals Marvin.
In essence, Marwen Food and Catering Services is not only a destination for exceptional Filipino cuisine but a vibrant display of the culinary diversity between regions in the Philippines. As the restaurant continues to expand its menu and culinary horizons, it promises to remain a culinary gem in New Zealand’s diverse dining scene.
BACKSTORY – The rapid increase of Filipino migrants settling in New Zealand, a shade over 100,000 according to the Philippine Embassy, has created a corresponding increase in business opportunities catering for this market.
Small business heavyweights who have been honoured with the Business Excellence Award at the annual Filipino-Kiwi Hero Awards over the years have included: Oscar and Mercy Catoto of Tres Marias Trading, Edith Carpenter of Planet Earth Travel, Jeths Lacson of Epiphany Donuts, Lito Banal of Kiwi Roofing and Marjorie Bennett of Boracay Garden Restaurant.
A new generation of start-ups are getting their opportunity to crack into the Filipino and mainstream markets via community events like the trail blazing Halo Halo NZ www.halohalo.nz and other Filipino events.