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A grand display of Cebu’s sights, sounds, and taste welcomed over 600 global delegates of the inaugural UN Tourism Regional Forum on Gastronomy Tourism for Asia and the Pacific as it formally opened on Wednesday (June 26) at The Marquee of Shangri-La Mactan.

Co-organized by the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT), the UN Tourism, and the Basque Culinary Center, the  event gathered participants from  UN member-states, affiliate members, and tourism stakeholders from national and  international organizations.  A first of its kind in Asia and the Pacific  the forum seeks to become a platform to celebrate the power of gastronomy tourism by bringing together destinations and international experts in an exchange of knowledge and best practices, in order to fully harness the transformative power of gastronomy tourism, especially its benefits to local communities and the environment.

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco, UN Tourism Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, BCC Director of Masters and Courses Idoia Calleja, Lapu-Lapu City Lone District Representative Ma. Cynthia “Cindi” King Chan, Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan, UN Tourism Ambassador for Gastronomy Tourism Chef Vicky Cheng of VEA Restaurant in Hong Kong, and foreign dignitaries led the ceremonial pouring of rice into a giant pusô, a rice cake made by boiling rice in a woven pouch of palm leaves that serves as a major culinary pride of Cebuanos, one of the diverse gastronomic offerings that can be found in the Philippines.

The Philippines holds the honor of hosting this inaugural UN Tourism forum, after its election as Chair of the Commission for East Asia and the Pacific during the 55th Meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission for East Asia and the Pacific held in Cambodia last June 16.

“We’re deeply honored by the confidence conferred upon our nation by United Nations Tourism and its member states to host this inaugural global event that brings together ministers, heads of delegation, heads of mission, experts, stakeholders, enthusiasts from over 40 countries from around the world and Asia Pacific to celebrate gastronomy, to develop and promote tourism, and to cultivate the symbiotic relationship of these two sectors that assures their and our mutual success,” Secretary Frasco said.

Educational Gastronomy Center for the Philippines eyed

In his speech, the Secretary General lauded the leadership of Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco for hosting the inaugural event, noting the warm welcome he received on his first visit to Cebu.

“This event here is a historical day because we are celebrating the first time-ever gastronomy forum in the region, and it’s not only gastronomy, it’s culture,” he said.

Polikashvili said that under his helm, he wants to leave a legacy to the organization and among his proposals is to establish an educational gastronomy center in the Philippines, particularly in Cebu as the country hosts the prestigious event for the first time.

“We know that education is the top priority for your tourists and we will support this initiative to help the progress of UN Tourism,” he added.

Calleja, meanwhile emphasized gastronomy tourism’s massive potential in promoting community’s well-being, transforming societies’ socio-economic needs, saying “Gastronomy is one of the sectors that show the way of life. When we travel we like to discover the local cuisines, destinations, restaurants, the taste, products, traditions, and to be able to have an authentic experience,” the BCC executive said, citing how many destinations have brought gastronomy front and center, driving employment and business opportunities for the entire value chain.

She likewise expressed gratitude to the DOT under Secretary Frasco’s leadership in making the high-level forum possible.


Cebu, a fitting host for historic forum

According to Secretary Frasco Cebu, with over half a millennia of recorded history and deeply embedded cultural heritage, serves as a ‘fitting venue’ for the delegates’ gastronomic explorations and discussions. In her opening remarks, she then took guests through a journey through Cebu’s rich history, specifically the host city Lapu-lapu, its significance in Philippine history being where Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his fleet under the Spanish flag came upon the country’s shores 503 years ago.

The country’s vast and varied cultural and culinary influences including from the Spanish, the Chinese, and Americans, Secretary Frasco noted, have complimented the foundation of the country’s Malay heritage and indigenous origins that have come to define the Filipino identity.

“Filipino cuisine is a diverse tapestry of flavors, reflecting regional characteristics from across our beautiful archipelago of 7,641 islands, from the globally renowned Cebu lechon and the comforting tastes of adobo and sinigang to Mindanao’s distinctive dishes like curacha, pastil, our culinary heritage is rich and varied. We also host delicacies such as balut, a fertilized duck egg, and halo-halo, a refreshing dessert composed of crushed ice, sweet beans, fruits, and leche flan. Through our food, we tell the story of the Filipino. We narrate the victories of our people, our homeland, our history,” the DOT chief shared.

Fast forward to present day, the Philippines, Secretary Frasco shared, has embraced food as a way to tell the story, victories, and history of the Filipino people.

“Food tourism is of course a growing and dynamic sector, offering enormous potential for economic growth and advancement and cultural exchange among nations. By showcasing our local flavors and culinary traditions, we invite the rest of the world to experience the heart and soul of the Filipino, the heart of the Philippines,” she added.

Meanwhile, Mayor Junard Chan of host city Lapu-lapu welcomed the delegates and said “Allow me [in] behalf of the peace loving Cebuanos to formally welcome you all to the historic city of Lapu-Lapu, Cebu. Looking forward to your memorable stay while you’re enjoying our food, the sun, the sand and the sea, our rich culture and history, and our warm reception and accommodation. Enjoy and have fun in Cebu. Love Cebu! Love the Philippines!”

A Regional Showcase

UN Tourism Regional Forum

Leading the delegation, Secretary Frasco and Secretary General Pololikashvili, along with the delegates of the forum ate their way through the Philippines through the Regional Lunch which featured a remarkable coming together of regional chefs from all 16 regions of the country to showcase their native dishes and exemplify the richness of Filipino flavors. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao participated together with partners from the private sector such as Mang Inasal , Dystelleria Limtuaco,  and Chocolate Chamber.

Note: This is a press release. Minor edits have been made by the Bitesized staff.

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