How Two Belgians Who Didn’t Know Where the Philippines Was Ended Up Calling it Home
If you could live anywhere in the world (money not being an issue) where would you go? Many of us would probably say anywhere but the Philippines. Funnily enough, not a few foreigners feel the complete opposite. Case in point: Belgians Thomas Zicot and Julien Guiot of Monsieur Waffles. They set out to reintroduce authentic Belgian waffles in the Philippines, but found so much more. They found a home.
Philippines? What Philippines?
Thomas and Julien visited the Philippines a few years back as part of their college internship program in Belgium. Both had no idea what to expect in the country, with Julien literally not even knowing where the Philippines is located.
“I came here in 2013 and interned at the Belgian Embassy. I applied for other countries, but when they said they have an available spot in the Philippines, I had to check the map,” says Julien. “And when I got here, I was so scared something might happen to me even if I was in Makati.”
Thomas, for his part, knew where the Philippines is. But the country he knew from information he got in Belgium was way different.
“We grew up being taught that third-world countries equal crimes and bad news, so we were scared to go the Philippines,” shares Thomas.
After their internship stints in the Philippines, they both went back to Belgium to continue on with their respective careers. Thomas was a facility and operations manager, while Julien also became involved in corporate management.
A love affair
Even if they didn’t know each other yet at the time, both developed a love for the Philippines having experienced the world-famous Filipino hospitality. Both wanted to spread word to their fellow Belgians about how wrong the things they thought they knew about the Philippines were.
“The thing that made me fall in love with the Philippines is the value system that you won’t find in European countries. For example, Filipinos are known for being so kind and generous, but we were brought up to think that it’s because they want money out of me,” Thomas laughs. “But I didn’t encounter that here.”
“When I stayed here the first time, little by little, I discovered how nice the people were, and that you can feel secure anywhere. I’ve never experienced a problem with the people here, and I realized I can see myself living here in the future,” tells Julien.
A chance meeting back in Belgium created an immediate and strong bond over the same love for the three stars and a sun. This led to the idea of creating and putting up something long- term in the Philippines.
“We had the same feeling that we can actually see ourselves living in the Philippines long-term,” recalls Julien. “So, we started thinking of what we can do that will enable us to do that.”
Filipinos are foodies
With both coming from the IT industry, they weren’t well-versed with the food industry in the country. But during their earlier stints, they noticed one peculiar thing—Filipinos seemed to love Belgian snacks. Problem was, they didn’t find anything that accurately represented the true Belgian taste.
“No offense to those who were claiming to sell authentic Belgian foods here in the Philippines, but none of them tasted like real Belgian food,” says Thomas.
Then it was just a matter of what Belgian snack to bring in, so they settled on waffles.
“We saw that there were a lot of stalls selling so-called Belgian waffles here, but they were using powdered milk, powdered flavorings, powdered everything. We wanted to sort of teach the proper way to make waffles,” tells Thomas.
According to the duo, the original Belgian waffles were made by practically every family in Belgium. They use ingredients that were mostly found in their own backyards, far from the chemicals and artificial flavorings used by those who offer what they claim as authentic Belgian waffles in the Philippines.
But without any formal cooking backgrounds, Thomas and Julien had to relearn the authentic way to make Belgian waffles.
The true challenge, however, came from the fact that the Filipino palette is different from that of Western nationalities. The duo realized early on that in order to make their waffles click, they needed to tweak the recipe.
“The original Belgian recipe is a bit bland because the topping makes it savory. Here in the Philippines, everything has to be flavorful, including the waffle itself,” relates Julien. “We also had to make smaller portions, because the waffles back in Belgium were huge.”
Even if they were selling a foreign dish, they also made sure to only use locally sourced ingredients to do their part in helping out the local market. They also went a different approach selling Monsieur Waffles, taking the online route instead of setting up kiosks. They cook the waffles themselves and, most of the time, deliver them personally to clients who contact them online.
Fusing Belgian with Filipino
In a recent event held in partnership with local coffee company SGD Coffee, they went a step further by experimenting with different dips to go along with their waffles. Concocted by renowned Filipino chef Cocoy Ventura, the dips were made out of local fruits that, surprisingly, go well with waffles.
“For the waffles, I was looking for something flavorful like santol. It should be complimentary and has a taste that would cut through the sweetness of the waffles,” shares Chef Cocoy.
Monseiur Waffles is less than a year old and not exactly cheap, but its growth has surprised even Thomas and Julien, validating the Filipinos’ desire for the delectable snack. Its success has enabled them to live out their goal of living long-term in the Philippines.
“Philippines is home for us and moving here is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made,” says Thomas.