Food Delivery During COVID-19: What Are Filipinos Eating?

From sushi bake to ube cheese pandesal, your quarantine cravings explained.

Spanakopita. You might not have heard of it, but it's a growing and entirely unexpected hit in an Instagram-based Greek food delivery service, one that is thriving during months of lockdown. Not yet on the ranks of sushi bake and ube cheese pandesal, the spinach-filled pastry proves that after spending half of 2020 under quarantine, Filipinos want an escape, at least through food.

The need to stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19 has made ordering in the new dining out, resulting in a surge in usage of platforms such as Grab and foodpanda and motorbike couriers such as Lalamove and Mr. Speedy that link home cooks to their customers.

You order sweets to share

The quarantined customer likes it sweet and orders for the entire household. Also, there's always time for snacks, according to data from Southeast Asian super app Grab.

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Across the region, basket sizes grew 16% during the quarantine and Filipinos had this unshakeable love for milk tea, said Grab Food Philippines head EJ Dela Vega.

Dessert orders grew 45% and orders during merienda time grew 60% since the lockdown, Dela Vega told reportr. Food fads of the quarantine also made it to Grab Food: sushi bake, cheese donuts and ube pandesal, he said.

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"Although mas madami ang mga nagbebenta ng mga savory or ulam frozen man or ready to eat, I think mas patok ang mga breads and pastries/desserts kasi mas mahirap po kasi ito gawin sa bahay compared sa ulam (Although there are more sellers of savory food and frozen viands, ready to eat, I think breads and pastries/desserts are bigger hits because these are harder to make compared to viands)," said chef Sonny Mariano, who makes a cake out of chocolate chip cookies.

"Siguro sa stress na din sa mga nangyayari ngayon kailangan nila ng something sweet para marelieve kahit papaano. (Maybe because of stress, people want something sweet to take away some of the stress)," he said.

Filipinos are also ordering late into the night, pushing Grab Food to go 24 hours whenever restaurant operating hours and quarantine rules allow, Dela Vega told reportr.

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"As many of our kababayans continue to stay at home, variety of food selection has been one of their key considerations, especially when ordering food online," he said.

If you use Grab for your groceries and want to avoid the rush, Dela Vega said orders peak at 9 a.m. in the morning.

You order to escape

Six months and counting under quarantine, people order food that looks good on their social media feeds and ignite an exchange of happy emojis. Take the colors on and textures on sushi bake trays. People also want to try something new, said Instagram store Greek to Go.

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Before the lockdown, the spanakopita was a sleepy menu item and its owners thought the flavor could be too earthy for the Filipino taste that likes it sweet-spicy. Thanks to word of mouth, Greek to Go now takes orders of spanakopita daily alongside best-sellers like the souvlaki platter and shrimp saganaki. It's Santorini in a take-out box.

"Nag explore po lalo ang tao ngayon sa ibat-ibang klaseng pagkain (People are exploring through different cuisines)," Greek to Go told reportr. Imagine an American breakfast of pancakes and bacon, lunch of tantanmen ramen and dinner of watermelon and feta cheese salad-that's three continents in a day.

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Instagram food critic MasarapBa orders to bring back childhood memories. Tropical Hut hamburgers remind the reluctant influencer of his/her late father. It's their favorite meal during bonding time.

"Ako napansin ko, hinahanap ko yung classics kasi namimiss ko yung emotional connection ko with food and people I shared them with (What I noticed, I look for classics because I miss my emotional connection with food and people I share them with)," MasarapBa said. "It makes me feel less lonely lalo na if literal na alone ka (It makes me feel less lonely, especially if I'm literally alone)."

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You order food that goes the distance

Food deliveries have not been kind to cakes, especially the pretty ones, where the slightest bump on the road would leave more icing on the box than on the cake itself. Same for noodle soups that take some effort to unpack and assemble. Have you tried putting together a delivery taco?

BDO Unibank chief Investment Strategist Jonathan Ravelas, who helped reportr decode the economics of the two-piece chicken, said proper packaging will help businesses adapt to the new normal that relies heavily on deliveries. Tempura and fried chicken, for example, must be packaged in such a way that it's crisp, not limp, when the customer digs in.

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Kix Dinio sells authentic Kapampangan suman and tamales on Instagram and to preserve quality, order cut-offs are set on Wednesdays for deliveries on Saturday. "Hindi rin po madaling i-transport yung products namin kasi temperature sensitive. We have to make sure na may quality talaga yung tamales, kahit dosena or isang piraso order mo, parehas yung effort namin diyan (It doesn't matter if you order one or a dozen, the quality is the same)."

Tamales is both sweet and savory, meat and sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf, the portable kanin at ulam (rice and viand) combo. This is a guaranteed hit, especially for busy heads of household, Dinio said. For locked-down Kapampangans, its a taste of home.

"Then comes cravings once in a while... Naging exciting yung food hunt, from searching for sellers, to ordering and then waiting for your items to be delivered. May satisfaction sa experience (The food hunt is exciting, to ordering then waiting for your items to be delivered. There's a satisfaction in the experience," Dinio said.

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Your order to conquer new tastes

NINMA Wildcrafted Apothecary of Dana Marquez and Teresa Canlas makes herbal remedies look Instagram chic. Marquez said the food delivery boom also opened Filipinos' tastes to vegetarian and vegan options.

Plant-based options are now available on Grab and foodpanda alongside fast food staples like BigMacs and Chicken McNuggets.

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"Isa pang patok sa akin-mga authentic or artisan na International cuisine. Because I love the feeling of being transported by food. Lalo na ngayon at di tayo nakakapagtravel," she said.

Customers are looking for comfort and nostalgia when ordering in, Marquez told reportr. "Food has always been interlinked with emotions and memories, so I suppose yung magic formula for a successful food business right now is to create a product that appeals to both the hearts and tastebuds of the Filipino people," she said.

This story originally appeared on reportr.

* Minor edits have been made by the Yummy.ph editors.

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