What Toronto’s Jollibee opening means to Filipino immigrants

Filipino fast food chain Jollibee is opening its first Toronto location on April 1. My mouth is already watering for the taste of Chickenjoy

There is nothing more synonymous with Filipino fast food than Jollibee: the happy looking little bee with a chef’s hat. The chain serves sweet and cheesy Filipino style spaghetti, and chicken so crispy and ‘juicylicious’ that even its name on the menu promises a feeling of happiness.

Chickenjoy (or Jolly Crispy Chicken), Jollibee’s signature dish, was apparently my favourite as a child. Now that they’re finally opening a Toronto location on Sunday (April 1), I’ll be able to see if that still holds true.

When I moved to Toronto as a toddler, I unwittingly left behind the world of Jolly Spaghetti, Palabok Fiestas and Breakfast Joys (traditional Filipino garlic rice, egg and meat-based breakfasts), but I didn’t forget about Jollibee. No, Jollibee stayed with me. With 157 Jollibee locations outside of the Philippines (from Saudi Arabia and Vietnam to the U.S. and Italy), I’m assuming all the other Filipino immigrants who decided to settle abroad felt the same.

Talk of the chain opening in Toronto has been milling around for years. Jollibee’s chief finance officer Ysmael Baysa told Manila Standard Today that they hoped to open their first Toronto location “within the year” — that was in 2015. It’s not surprising then, that a few people (myself included) are half-expecting Sunday’s opening to be a misguided April Fool’s joke. The restaurant, predicted to draw large crowds, will open its doors at the peak fried chicken hour of 7 a.m., rewarding its first 40 customers with a year’s supply of chicken.

While I will not likely be one of the lucky 40 — the thought of camping overnight at the Kennedy Commons parking lot does not bring me any feelings of  joy — I, like any other God-fearing, chicken-loving Filipino, will be making a stop in the weeks to come. 

Truth be told, apart from Chickenjoy, the dish I’m most looking forward to is the Palabok Fiesta, which are noodles served in a delicious shrimp sauce topped with crispy pork chicharron, tinapa flakes, toasted garlic and eggs. One squeeze of fresh calamansi (a Filipino citrus a billion times better than lime) on top and I’m in heaven. Sure, it won’t be as good as my Lola’s, but the novelty of being able to have it at a fast food place, and not only at Tito Marlon’s 63rd birthday party, is a treat.

Finish your meal off with Halo Halo (a drink/dessert combo made with crushed ice, condensed milk, fruit and jellies topped with a scoop of ube and mango ice cream, and a chunk of mother effin’ lecheflan — making it arguably the best fast food dessert of all-time), plus a flakey golden peach mango pie, and you’ll feel jollier than when you first started.

In the meantime, the anticipation of my Jollibee’s visit has me grappling with many questions: will my first bite of chicken immediately draw out subconscious memories of Manila? Will I wonder how I survived most of my life, relying on just KFC and Popeye’s? Will Drake rap about peach mango pies on his next album? Only time will tell.

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