La Petite Manille mounts the first Filipino food festival in France

Published October 26, 2019, 9:50 AM

by Nina Daza-Puyat


For thousands of Filipino migrants in France, Oct. 6, 2019 will go down in history as a day of many firsts. The first Filipino food and culture festival was held at Paris’ Le Point Éphémère showcasing everyday Pinoy food such as adobosisigpancit, Bicol expresslumpiang shanghaitapsilog, and even street food such as kwek kwek and balut. The first live tattoo demonstration was done by Paris-based tattoo artist Sampaguita Jay and her mentor Elle to a mesmerized audience. For the first time, the Sindaw Philippines Performing Artists from Manila performed a contemporary number at the festival inspired by the unique indigenous dances of the Cordilleras. Three singers from the Association of PinoyJam Paris performed songs and rap music, mixing original OPM, French, and American music. Another first was the well-applauded number by J Crew, spearheaded by professional dancer Emily Toledo, who choreographed an evolutionary dance showing traditional Filipino folk dance steps all the way to modern and hip-hop. Finally, the Igorot in France Association wowed the crowd with a native Igorot dance complete with traditional costumes and headgear.

It was that one unforgettable Sunday when talented Filipino residents of Paris came together to showcase their world-class talents in culinary, music, dance, culture, and the arts, and everyone, including fellow Filipinos, and the French audience, was blown away.


What is even more amazing is how the project came to fruition. Le Food Festival Philippin was conceptualized and organized by a small group of young Parisian volunteers, all of them in their 20s to 30s. A group of pure Filipinos and mixed-race Filipinos based in Paris, they call themselves La Petite Manille.

The main purpose of the event, apart from their collective desire to promote Filipino food and culture, was to raise funds for Cameleon, an association that helps children-victims of sexual abuse in the Philippines and in France. That noble goal was what kept them focused and motivated, and how they eventually managed to get the support of the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) in Europe and other corporate sponsors.

cameleonAssociation Cameleon was the beneficiary of Le Food Festival Philippin

La Petite Manille’s founder and president Leah Fentrouci is the 24-year-old young woman who provided the first spark that ignited the hearts of her fellow volunteers. Leah was born and raised in Paris by her Filipina mother Eliza and her Algerian father Tito Boualem, who incidentally speaks fluent Tagalog. Their family owns a travel agency Visit Philippines by Eliza les Ailes du Voyage in the trendy 16th arrondissement of Paris. After graduating from Business School with a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Leah is now working as the company’s digital marketing manager.

Leah recalls how as a child, she would sell halo-halo every year during the Philippine Independence Day celebrations, and it was always a fun gathering of Filipino families centered around food. In June of 2016, she organized an ukay-ukay event during the Independence Day celebration to raise funds for Cameleon. She invited the French organizers and her classmates, and they were all impressed with the Filipino food served during the event. They all said: “This is amazing! Too bad we know so little about the Filipino culture.”

That same year, Leah noticed that other Asian communities like the Koreans and the Japanese would host their own celebrations in Paris, but nothing big or special was ever done by the Filipinos. She recounts, “I was frustrated that Filipino food was not acknowledged in France compared to other cuisines… And I knew, without a doubt, that they would love it because I’ve organized many dinners in Paris and abroad where I would cook Filipino dishes for my friends of different nationalities. I made them try adobopancit, and lumpia and they always loved the food! Plus of course, the Filipino way of partying!”


Young volunteers in charge of the Boodle FightYoung volunteers in charge of the Boodle Fight

La Petite Manille started with a core group of five young women headed by Leah Fentrouci. Her core group includes Sarah Magracia Sialino (vice president), Lyndel Natavio (general secretary), Marie Angela Liew (treasurer), and Anne Baluyut (program coordinator).

They organized themselves in August of 2018 and started conceptualizing and planning the festival. Being millennials, they first called for volunteers through social media like Instagram and Facebook. Their Filipino friends offered to help with the project, but as tasks grew bigger closer to the event, they realized that they needed more bénévoles.

Leah recounts how things started falling into place. “We received 60 emails from young Filipinos in France, and also non-Filipinos who were curious about our culture. They believed in our vision and wanted to support the cause (to raise funds for Cameleon).”

She continues, “In the end, there were more than 50 volunteers who came to work that weekend. It was amazing to meet young people from different backgrounds who helped make this festival a reality.” Others who put in their time and effort were Jonah PunzalanAshley and Melanie RazonableMaxel Montenegro, and Julie Nepomuceno. Some guys came into to help as the creative team: Jobz DavidJamie Mendoza, and Jarvis dela Rosa


Vendors busy frying okoyVendors busy frying okoy

One of the challenges the group encountered was convincing the potential food concessionaires—whom Leah fondly calls “Titas of Paris”—to invest their time and effort in cooking one or two specialty dishes in big quantities. Most of them are ordinary folks who were busy with other jobs: some as babysitters or domestic helpers in private homes, others in restaurants or hotels. One of them was a teacher, while some have small catering businesses on the side. But this was the first time that they would have to cook adobopancitcalderetalumpia, etc. for more than 300 to 400 people. The La Petite Manille team found it difficult to convince them to invest so much time, effort, and money for a one-day event.

But Leah was determined. She reminded them of their collective goal to make the Philippines finally shine in France through food and culture. Her team also organized food tastings months before so that each concessionaire could get honest feedback from both French and Filipinos. This proved very helpful in teaching the sellers about food presentation, portion size, costing, as well as food safety and handling.


Le Point Ephemere was packed with ParisiansLe Point Ephemere was packed with Parisians

Venue for the noon-till-midnight event was Le Point Éphémère, a riverside art exhibit space and concert hall. Entrance was free so people lined up as early as 11 a.m., with the line snaking all the way up to the opposite side of the street. Even as late at 6 p.m., there was still a queue with people waiting for their turn to get inside.


tattoo artistsElle and Sampaguita Jay showcase traditional tribal tattoo traditions from Kalinga for the first time in Paris

Sampaguita Jay, a female tattoo artist based in Paris, and her mentor Elle of the Spiritual Journey Tattoo and Tribal Gallery from L.A. gave a talk about the history of Filipino ancestral tribes and tattoo culture in the Philippines. They demonstrated the traditional mangbabatok tattoo technique, the same one taught in the village of Buscalan in Kalinga, where the famous Apo Whang-Od lives.


DANCERS IN PARISSindaw Philippines performing artists make a big splash with their Masskara Parade at the Place du Trocadero in Paris, photo by DOT Frankfurt

To spice things up even further, the DOT flew in the Sindaw Philippines Performing Artists from Manila who danced their way into the hearts of the French in a colorful and upbeat dance and music parade representing the Sinulog, the Maskarra, and the Pintaflores festivals at the Trocadero and Republique earlier that day. DOT tourism director in Frankfurt Margarita Valdes said that curious onlookers even joined in the dances when they were invited to participate, bringing smiles and good cheer all around.


Cooking demonstration of Pancit Noir with Anne Baluyut as translatorCooking demonstration of Pancit Noir with Anne Baluyut as translator, photo by Joan Rodriguez

Two cooking demonstrations were held inside the hall. The first one was by Jessica Gonzales of Bobi, a soon-to-open Filipino restaurant in Paris. She and business partner Aurélie Véchot showed the audience how to make lumpiang shanghai and banana turon.

The second dish was Pancit Noir as inspired by the famous Black Pancit Pusit of Asiong’s Tagaytay. This squid-ink sotanghon was presented to the event sponsors who were treated to a boodle fight.

With simple dishes like adoboembutido, steamed shrimps, and papaya atsara laid out on banana leaves, non-Filipino guests had a blast eating kamayan style. La Petite Manille organized four boodle fights prior to the festival to create buzz in Paris’ social media. They were quite thrilled when French YouTuber and influencer FlorianonAir loved his experience and featured the boodle fight on his channel.


One of the food stalls at the festivalOne of the food stalls at the festival

Leah admits that they received some negative feedback because the venue was too small, but it was a very good start. You can say that La Petite Manille learned many valuable lessons from this experience, so they are excited to plan bigger and better things for the next year’s festival in September 2020. She reflects, “My goal was to change the idea people have of Filipinos here in Paris. They are not only maids or babysitters, they can be entrepreneurs, chefs, and business owners. They have skills and talents that they couldn’t pursue because of various reasons. Their situation as migrants was difficult and they had to sacrifice so much to live abroad.”

Leah proudly announced that the first Filipino Food Festival raised €3,000 or the equivalent of ₱170,000 for Cameleon. Not bad for an event that was organized by Filipino Millennials determined to make a bold and brave statement in France.