The Story Behind Food For the Gays, The Little QC Café That Could

Not a lot of people would have the courage to open a business in a pandemic.

lgbt cafe
PHOTO BY FFTG Cafe, Nariese Giangan ILLUSTRATION Warren Espejo

(SPOT.ph) Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or any of the identities and orientations in between isn’t easy in the Philippines. Much of the world today still assumes the heterosexual way as the “default” way; and discrimination and even violence against queer folks persist to this day. But it can feel much more comforting when you know you’ve got a community who may be going through similar struggles and are supporting you in the fight for equality and acceptance—and for many a member of the Filipino lesbian community, Tangina Tibs is a source of that. The social media account dishes out advice and highlights the stories of fellow lesbians, making members of the community feel that they’re heard and not at all alone.

At the helm of Tangina Tibs is LGBTQ+ rights advocate Nariese Giangan, who also recently opened FFTG Cafe or Food For the Gays Cafe—a cozy Quezon City spot that welcomes everyone with a proudly queer motif and great eats. We chatted with Giangan about her story of coming to terms with her identity, her love of cooking, and her journey toward establishing FFTG.

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Nariese Giangan is pretty much a rockstar in the local LGBTQ+ community.
PHOTO BY Nariese Giangan
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Here's how Nariese Giangan came to open LGBT cafe FFTG, or Food For The Gays:

On Coming Out and Making Her Mark on Social Media

“My mother used to make me wear boys clothes as a child,” Giangan shares—and even when her mom was pregnant with her, she thought that she was a boy. “Kasi di ba kapag lalaki ang pinagbubuntis, may signs 'yan…. Pero ayun, girl ang lumabas,” she relays. In her teens, she also cut her hair short and wore boyish clothes—"to a point where my mother would take me to the boy’s clothing section at the mall to shop for clothes,” Giangan explains.

Giangan admits that she doesn’t have a big coming-out story. “My first awakening was when I used to play bahay-bahayan with my childhood friends and being excited playing the role of [the] tatay,” she says. Her attraction towards girls began in her first year of high school, which was also when she started courting. “The idea of liking girls at that time was never an issue for me because growing up I had a lot of tibo friends,” she says.

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Giangan shares that her first awakening was when she was excited to play the tatay during bahay-bahayan
PHOTO BY Nariese Giangan

“As I started wearing baggy clothes, I had this identity issue of wondering if I wanted to be a butch lesbian or not,” Giangan relays. In any case, by the time she was in college, she grew out her hair and started wearing dresses alongside her go-to polos. “I wanted to be comfortable in whatever clothes I [wanted] to wear.”

Giangan started Tangina Tibs in 2012, as Twitter accounts offering advice to different audiences—including Tangina Bro, Tangina Sis, and Shutangina Beks—started gaining popularity at the time. “I enjoyed answering questions and giving advice with regards to love, sex, sexuality, [and] other topics [to the Filipino lesbian community], [as well as] hearing stories and problems from younger people.”

Her Culinary Leanings, and Coping With the Pandemic

Giangan has long loved cooking, having been doing it for herself since she was in high school. “I would watch my lola cook my favorites, then do it myself,” she relays. “I [would] ask her kung ano’ng ingredients, ano ang gagawin, et cetera. My lola was my biggest critic so it was a big deal for me kapag nasasarapan siya sa niluluto ko.” She eventually entered culinary school in 2019, learning baking along the way and fully realizing in the process how much cooking “makes me happy”.

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Right as she was already done with her lectures and was just about to take on their final exams came the first lockdown in 2020. “I didn’t have a stable job back then because I was focusing more on studying… [and] I was supposed to graduate [in] April 2020, but the pandemic happened,” says Giangan.

But with that also came the birth of her food business, where Giangan sold pastries, dips, and sauces. “I decided to use my remaining cash [from my savings to buy] ingredients and [sell] food online,” she shares. “It was a decision born out of necessity to earn money. I wanted to start a brand that allows me to do and enjoy the things that I loved: cooking and baking.” Giangan was also eventually joined by her partner in the business.

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Through FFTG, Giangan sold sweet treats that include her killer Chocolate Babka...
PHOTO BY FFTG Cafe
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...and drool-worthy cookies.
PHOTO BY FFTG Cafe

Giangan thought she’d also focus on the LGBTQ+ community in the process, naming the business Food For The Gays (after the famous pastry, food for the gods), or FFTG for short. “Last year kasi ang daming nagsulputang online pastry shops, so nag-isip ako paano ako maiiba sa kanila,” she relays. “Hindi naman like una kong target market [ang] LGBT folks. Mas gusto ko lang sigurong ipagsigawan na it's a queer-owned business kumbaga.

The Birth of FFTG Cafe

By February 2021, Giangan and her partner went on to open FFTG’s full-fledged café counterpart. Located in Cubao, Quezon City, FFTG Cafe is an extension of the business where you can dine in and hang out with their signature pastries, savory eats (including a highly IG-worthy rainbow grilled-cheese sandwich!), coffee drinks, and more.

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From outside the café, you’re greeted with a colorful rainbow flag—and as you enter, you see a sign on the wall that reads, “You are valid.” It’s a short but meaningful message that—in the face of the many forms of discrimination the LGBTQ+ community faces in the country—could not be more significant. The message of love and inclusivity is also typified right down to the details—like the use of name plates with the person’s preferred pronouns, and their display of works by LGBTQ+ artists.

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"You are valid," reads the sign—and truer words have not been spoken.
PHOTO BY FFTG Cafe
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You can stop by FFTG Cafe for filling savory eats...
PHOTO BY FFTG Cafe
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...and caffeinated drinks.
PHOTO BY FFTG Cafe

But beyond the aesthetic elements that are visible to the naked eye, FFTG Cafe is a safe space, where everyone—regardless of how you identify and who you love—can come in and feel welcome.

The LGBTQ+ Community and Filipino Society Today

As far as the state of the community and how it's perceived by Filipinos goes, Giangan admits there's still a lot of work to be done. "We have a long way to go," she says. "We still experience discrimination, bigotry, homophobia, [and] transphobia, [plus our] trans brothers and sisters are still being killed." On the plus side, there's also been great progress over the years. "Compared to how things were before, we are more represented [and] we are more visible. People are more open towards listening and learning about the LGBTQIA+ Community and SOGIE from the rise of stories and representation in modern media. We are taking small but sure steps towards being accepted."

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