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My favorite food vloggers  

By Norma Olizon-Chikiamco, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 10, 2022 5:00 am Updated Nov 10, 2022 12:54 pm

Since the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, I’ve become more of a TV viewer than ever before. Finding myself marooned at home, I’ve turned to television to while away the time and to escape, even for a few hours, the harsh realities this pandemic has imposed upon us.

While I sometimes venture into HBO and streaming shows, it’s YouTube that has grabbed my attention. In YouTube, I’ve learned information both trivial and profound, such as the coldest place on earth, the secrets of the pyramids, and how to raise big, fat crabs.

Often I find myself gravitating towards the food vloggers, people who video their trips to restaurants far and near, big and small. And there are plenty of them. It seems every Tom, Joe and Mary who can eat and can hold a camera has ventured into this genre. They record themselves while devouring their food then upload the videos on YouTube for all the world to see.

Watching these vloggers with their exuberance, their wholesome appetites, and their cuteness overload, I can only sigh and pray that in this troubled world of ours, may there always be peace and prosperity.

But not all food vloggers are created equal. As someone once said, some are better than others. I generally avoid vloggers whom my editor calls “power trippers,” the ones who center their videos on their narcissistic selves. I also avoid groups who waste screen time dishing out private jokes that are boring and irrelevant.

On the other hand, there are food vloggers who are a joy to watch. Their videos are informative, entertaining and helpful. They also edit their vlogs to excise any superfluous scenes, thereby giving their vlogs a professional look. Of these virtuous vloggers, here’s a quick rundown on five of my favorites:

Dada Koo and Sweetie: Who says vlogging is only for the young? Dada Koo is a senior citizen, and he has 350,000 subscribers. Some of his posts have over 400,000 views, so take that, you baby millennials! He’s so popular that some of his followers send him money “pang gasolina.” Not that he needs it. According to a data analyst, Dada Koo can earn hundreds of thousands on a good month.

Dada Koo and Sweetie love to order lots of items on the menu.

What makes Dada Koo so endearing is his folksy style. Simple and sincere, he tells it like it is: Masarap ito! Ang lutong! Kain tayo! are just some of his expressions. Those, and “Ano ito?” when he can’t tell what that thing is on the table. It could be caviar, or foie gras, or truffles. Whatever it is, Dada Koo doesn’t shy away from asking, which makes him even more relatable. After all, many of his viewers probably don’t know what those dishes are, either.

Dada Koo’s provincial accent adds to his charm. It reminds me of a dear uncle or grandfather who has remained steadfast to his country roots in the midst of modernity. Often he teases Sweetie, his wife and faithful companion, who can hold her own when it comes to tasting and reviewing the food, whether it be the lavish buffet in a five-star hotel, or a simple repast in a rural restaurant.

Because he has good video equipment, Dada Koo can vary his shots: from aerial shots taken by a drone, to close-ups of the lechon on the table. These variations make his vlog even more interesting.

Mike Dizon: Whenever we watch Mike Dizon’s channel, my husband and I are reminded of a college friend who looks so much like him. That’s one reason we first started watching him. The other is that we learn a lot from his posts, such as the restaurants that serve the best dim sum in Banaue; or where to buy tamales in Pampanga. Dizon explains his raison d’etre as “nagsimula sa patikim-tikim,” (it started with tasting-tasting). But he certainly covers more than just small bites now.

Mike Dizon does more than just "patikim-tikim": He analyzes food  with good humor and in a friendly, conversational tone.

With his baseball cap and eyeglasses, Dizon sometimes looks like a little boy delighting in his toys. Only, the toys are the food he relishes from place to place. As he savors them, he gives a running commentary on their flavor, texture and consistency. His friendly, conversational tone, with expressions like “Gaboom!” “Pamatay!” and “Sobrang sarap!” creates an easy bond with viewers.

While his occasional jokes make the blog entertaining, Dizon can at times be introspective, especially in his voiceovers. During his visit to Malabon, he seemed particularly touched by the stories told him by Aling Tessie and Aling Nena, which he narrates against a soundtrack of soft, dreamy music. While in Davao, he sounded nostalgic, recalling past visits to the city with affection.

As for visuals, close-ups of the food augment his descriptions, and make the food look mouthwatering, whether it’s the glistening sweet-and-sour pork in a Davao restaurant or the meat and vegetable filling of a siopao in Binondo. Watching him, I sometimes feel compelled to rush out and grab some of the food myself.

Despite the growing popularity of his vlog, Dizon says his main livelihood is still his rock band, Sandwich, where he’s drummer/songwriter. No wonder some of his scenes are punctuated by the rhythmic beats of his drums. His “patikim-tikim” was inspired by the lyrics of Laklak, the first song he ever wrote, which became a hit.

Dizon’s vlog has 30,100 subscribers and his episodes can garner over 300,000 views — proof of the mass appeal of his patikim-tikim approach.

Mark Wiens. He bills himself as a “full-time eater,” and indeed, eating is what Mark Wiens seems to do best. Although based in Thailand, he never stays put. One minute he’s feasting on exquisite jamon Iberico in Spain. The next minute, he’s in the wilderness of Azerbaijan, excitedly waiting for the lamb ribs to be cooked. In the blink of an eye, he’s in Japan, eating a bowl of sushi then he’s back in Bangkok, cooking with his mother-in-law.

Mark Wiens (right) and Awesome Planet's Anton Diaz sample street food in Quiapo

Wiens once visited Manila, where he enjoyed the legendary Spiral buffet in Sofitel Hotel and dined in Discovery Primea’s Restaurant Tapenade. True to form, he didn’t limit himself to the safe confines of Makati. He ventured out on the streets of Sampaloc and Diliman to sample street food such as adidas (chicken feet) and isaw (chicken intestines). Encouraged by Awesome Planet’s Anton Diaz, he even ate balut, a half-fertilized duck egg, without squirming.

For Wiens, no place is too far, no food is too strange and every dish is fair game. His analysis of food includes their freshness, mouth feel, and the ingredients that went into their making. More often than not he finds them worthy of his signature swoon, as his eyes close and his lips part into a beatific smile that shows he’s in gastronomic heaven.

Perhaps because he grew up in different parts of the world (in Africa, where the family once lived, then the USA, where he studied college), Wiens exudes a global appeal. Through food he bridges diverse cultures and (hopefully) promotes world understanding. No wonder he has over nine million subscribers.

Manuel Olazo: Previously a butler to a manager in a hotel, then a GM in a Marriott chain hotel in Malaysia, Olazo shifted careers when he felt he had nothing more to prove in the hospitality industry. Because he collects sneakers, he first started vlogging about shoes. When his TikTok account on food received a lot of traction, he started his YouTube channel and a Facebook page focused on food.

Manuel Olazo is like Everyman in search of the good, the true, and the delicious.

In his numerous forays, Olazo reminds me of Everyman in search of the good, the true, and the delicious. Eyebrows knitted, and with a pensive look on his face, he takes hearty bites before rendering his appraisals. “Solid!” he exclaims of the siomai in Muñoz market. “Malasa!” he says of the tender noodles in a bowl of pares (beef stew).

Olazo covers mostly street food, and he does them justice, whether it’s the ramen in Sampaloc, the lomi in Lipa, or the fried chicken in Baguio. It doesn’t matter that jeepneys are whizzing by behind his back as he eats; for Olazo the food is the main event.

Once he challenged himself to discover how far two pesos would go — and he found it in Valenzuela, where Mang Romy dishes out a generous bowl of lugaw for indeed, two measly pesos (years ago, it was just 50 centavos). Lately he has also ventured into Thailand, where he ate stewed pork legs and guitar duck with crispy skin.

Olazo augments his reviews with occasional interviews of chefs and fellow customers, thereby adding others’ perspectives to his own. Upbeat music provides a lively soundtrack and threads the scenes together. His episode on P10 street food in Quiapo attracted 1.3 million views.

Front-Seat Foodies: This vlog, by actors Gabbi Garcia and Khalil Ramos, gives new meaning to the term “dining out.” The pair dines out, all right, but in the literal sense. For them dining out means eating outside the restaurant and in the front seat—of their car.

A screenshot of actors Gabbi Garcia and Khalil Ramos as front-seat foodies 

And there’s the rub. How they manage to pig out on fried chicken or goto bagnet in the crowded space of a car, without creating a mess, is part of this vlog’s appeal. After taking generous bites of pizza or slurping the spicy noodles in a bowl of laksa, they still look neat, they’re still telegenic, and they can still flash winsome smiles. But after all, they’re movie stars, used to having cameras focused on them.

The pair often tries trends on social media, such as the panipuri in an Indian restaurant and the overloaded egg sandwiches of a Korean takeout place. Speaking in English and Taglish, they sound typical of today’s upper-class youth, minus the snobbery (they enjoy eating proletariat food like quekiam and chicharon bulaklak). In between their commentaries (“An explosion of flavors!” “Sobrang creamy!”), they tell narratives, such as Gabbi’s favorite street food when she was in school (kwek kwek) and why they do high fives.

Because they’re actors, their videos have the professional structure not seen in other vlogs. It starts with a catchy theme song and colorful graphics, before segueing to the week’s episode—just like a real TV show.

Watching these vloggers with their exuberance, their wholesome appetites, and their cuteness overload, I can only sigh and pray that in this troubled world of ours, may there always be peace and prosperity.