Like many of the world’s cuisines, Filipino cuisine is rooted in a rich, shared history. From the pre-Hispanic meals cooked over an open fire to more elaborate European-inspired recipes, the identity of Filipino food has largely been defined by diversity.
Chibundle’s founders Ira Briones and MJ Yap have long been proud of this dynamic cultural identity as well as the immense potential of Filipino cuisine.
“We love the diversity of Filipino ingredients and the ingenuity of the methods and styles, which make Filipino food unique amidst external influences” says MJ.
From the varied ingredients to the generous portions of many traditional dishes, Filipino food practices are founded upon a culture of sharing and celebration.
“Food is always respected and it is used as a way to communicate love and care towards family,” explains MJ.
And these same principles of sharing and communication drive Chibundle’s goal to create avenues for talented Filipino artisans, to share their products with a wider audience.
“We feel that it’s necessary to share that experience with more people, whether they’re Filipino or not,” emphasizes MJ. “We're proud of Filipino food and believe that it has the potential to go mainstream. Because of its diversity, it can cater to different tastes.”
In Manila, MJ and Ira were traversing different career paths. Ira was working for non-profit organizations, while MJ was employed in a multinational firm. But when they moved to the United States, their shared respect for Filipino food and their heritage set them on the road to a long-held dream.
“We’ve always talked about putting up a business together, but we didn’t really have the courage to shift careers,” shares co-founder Ira.
It was the immigration process and their love for Filipino food that gave them the courage to finally give their shared dream a shot.
And their timing could not have been more perfect.
“Filipino food is finally getting some recognition in the United States, thanks to the tireless efforts of the pioneers in the Filipino food industry here, which laid the groundwork for us,” says Ira.
Recalling life in Manila, MJ shares how they frequented bazaars and weekend markets, where they constantly discovered delicious Filipino brands and products, mostly crafted by small to medium businesses and social enterprises.
Though they now happily call New York home, their love for the flavors of the Philippines has not waned. So this sense of connection, as well as major FOMO (fear of missing out) on the products they loved discovering, helped define their dream business.
And so the idea for Chibundle came about.
A portmanteau of Chibog (Tagalog slang, which functions both as a noun: “food” and a verb: “to eat”) and Bundle, Chibundle seeks to showcase the breadth and depth of Filipino food culture and the passionate individuals who continue to define and reinvent it, one high-quality product at a time.
Even in its early stages, they already knew that the food subscription box venture would give those living in the United States access to premium Filipino goodies as much as it would help empower Filipino artisans in the Philippines to keep creating high-quality products.
Aside from inspiring a deep sense of pride in those who love Filipino food, their hope is to create and build a community of food lovers with a strong relationship with Filipino food and culture, regardless of background.
“The Modern Pinoy Chibundle, we believe, is a good introductory set in how it features traditional flavors while showing that Filipino snacks are accessible,” Ira continues. “They can be as modern and relatable as any other cuisine.”
And in their quest to reach a wider audience, they also want to deepen people’s understanding of Filipino food.
“Part of showcasing the breadth of Filipino food and making it as approachable to people as other more popular cuisines is breaking certain stereotypes,” says Ira, who adds that in the past, many viewed Filipino food as simply exotic.
(Of course, this is not to say they aren’t equally proud of the more traditional delicacies like balut, but they want to broaden the world’s understanding of Filipino food, to show that it’s so much more than the occasional “Fear Factor” challenge.)
After seeking the help of friends and scouring food fairs in the Philippines, they found dozens of brands to possibly partner with, six of whom are featured in the first Chibundle, namely: Oh So Healthy! Fruit Crisps, Just Mango Freeze Dried Philippine Mangoes, Auro Roasted White Choco Cashew Spread, Hiraya Queso de Bola Dark Chocolate Bar, Wrapsody Pili Nut Pastries, and Chichashroom Mushroom Chicharon.
“We believe that it’s in the work of our passionate food artisans that the quality of Filipino food really shines through,” says Ira, adding how, these brands that have minimal distribution definitely deserve a wider audience for their high-quality products.
It’s been quite a year of firsts for Chibundle, but as with any new venture, it has not been smooth sailing.
As first-time entrepreneurs, MJ and Ira were not immune to the usual anxiety and doubts that naturally arise when turning your passion into a brand.
“We’re quite new to living in the US, we had to learn to navigate new processes, contexts and rules. The learning curve was pretty steep. We had to learn as much as we can as quickly as we can,” reveals Ira. “Being honest with ourselves about the limits of our knowledge was important since that allowed us to seek help.”
What urges them on, since they started conceptualizing until now that they are in full distribution, is seeing everything—every triumph and every setback—as a vital learning opportunity. They also credit having a great support system as a key ingredient in this journey.
“We’re fortunate to have a good network of supportive people who are ready and willing to help, guide and motivate us,” says MJ.
2018 was a year of many firsts for all of us at Chibundle. As we head into a new year, MJ, Ira, and the entire team look forward to reaching more people, to doing their part in helping expand the world’s palate for Filipino food.
In the years to come, the Chibundle team will continue to put great care into each aspect of the process, from selection to curation of products to bringing each box across the United States to building an ecosystem where, as MJ says, “more people can build relationships with Filipino food, making the whole experience fun and meaningful.”
“We hope that through the work we do at Chibundle, we’d be able to help elevate Filipino food and culture here in the US and globally,” adds Ira.
Their hope is to reach out and build strong ties with more communities in the United States and beyond, paving the way for homegrown Filipino businesses to access the support they need in order to thrive, to take their rightful place on the global stage.