5 things I realized about Filipino Cuisine

Our Filipino merienda (snack) feast at Delmon Restaurant in Karama, Dubai UAE

I am Filipino and I eat Filipino cuisine often, but I don’t claim to be an expert in it. I know what I eat from my own learnings based on what was imparted to me by my food loving parents and my own food experiences from travels around the home country. Tonight, I even learned more about my home cuisine as I explained it to a good foodie friend, who was patient enough to hear more about my Filipino food stories and observations for the 2nd time around.

Here are some of the learnings I’ve realized over the our 2nd Filipino dinner together:

  • Filipino cuisine has a strong Spanish and Chinese influence.

For those of you who don’t know Philippine history (I am guessing all you non-Filipinos out there), the Philippines was a colony of Spain for 333 years. So with a little more than 3 centuries of Spanish colonial rule, you can guess how much of our culture is influenced by the Spanish: our religion (predominantly Roman Catholic), our language, our architecture and, of course, the food. Spanish dishes like Paella and callos have already made it’s way to the Filipinos’ everyday dining table.

Another strong influence to Filipino cuisine is our ginormous Asian super power neighbor, China. Chinese traders made their way to Philippine shores during the galleon trade days and chose to settle down in our tropical paradise, making headway into our melting pot of a culture. So you will find a lot of pancit (noodles) and dimsum (like siomai / siew mai and pork buns / siopao) in Filipino restaurants. A bit of trivia, my family actually has Chinese ancestry, which explains my chinky eyes :-)

  • We do love our vinegar.

Quite a number of our dishes like adobo, kinilaw (Filipino ceviche…See? Spanish influence!), sisig (Apparently, according to Wikipedia, it is a Kapampangan word which means “to snack on something sour”), dinuguan (pork blood stew) have a heavy hand of vinegar. Plus, quite a number of dishes have a vinegar based dipping sauce like tapa (cured beef…in vinegar!), longganisa (Filipino sausage), pritong lumpia (fried spring rolls), inihaw (grilled meats including streetfood grilled items like isaw and the lot), balut (duck embryo), chicharon…I can go on and on! Do I hear ooohhhhh and ahhhs from you Filipinos out there? Can you add more vinegar heavy dishes on my list? Oh and did I mention we practically have different vinegars per province?!? I think that this quirk also goes back into pre-refrigeration times in the Philippines. We had to learn how to preserve food and vinegar was one of the ingredients that helped us to do so.

  • We are not ashamed to add a little bit of fat…Oh, okay we like A LOT OF FAT.

We like the fat because fat gives flavor. We do not remove the skin off the chickens. We hardly skim off the fat in the soups and stews. We fight over the crispy skin of the lechon (roasted pig). We even eat deep fried crispy pork fat…as a snack. Kapeesh?

  • We cook rice in a gazillion ways.

A meal is not a meal without steamed white rice. But aside from this obsession, we have a gazillion ways to cook rice. When I say rice cake, gosh. I do not even know where to begin! There are perhaps a hundreds of kinds of rice cake in the Philippines, of all colors, textures, shapes and sizes. We have rice cake in banana leaves. We have rice cake in bamboo stalks. We have rainbow colored rice cakes (a.k.a. sapin-sapin), I kid not. We have coconut meat covered rice cakes. We have rice cakes with cheese. We have rice cakes with salted eggs. We have rice cakes wrapped in coconut leaves. Ugh. The Philippines has 7,1007 islands (7,1008 islands during low tide!) and each province has one way of cooking it. So can you guess just how many rice cake variations there are? Ha! And that’s just rice cake, what if I include rice porridge? *Faint*

  • We do eat odds and ends because it is cheap.

A lot of our dishes involve the use of odd meat cuts like the awful offal (liver, heart, lungs, ears, tails, tongue, intestines, stomach, bile, blood, the list goes on), insects (Yes, insects! But I haven’t the courage to eat one just yet…) and seemingly inedible animals like frogs, rats and the like. Historically, all the good parts of the meat get to be on the tables of the Spanish colonizers or the more privileged upper class. Hence, all the “bad stuff” gets thrown away. So what’s a hungry poor man to do? Of course, make do of what’s left behind. Filipinos were resourceful enough to make do with the awful offal and the lot to fulfill a basic need: survival. So eventually, the use of the odds and ends in historical cooking have made their way into our regular dining fare. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Whew! That was indeed a mouthful of realizations. Hope you did learn as much about Filipino cuisine as I did.

Delirious about delicious,

Didi

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Comments

  1. says

    Our cuisine is also strongly influenced by our Southeast Asian neighbors…the spiciness of Bicol Express or the use of coconut milk, I think, comes from them rather than the Spanish or Chinese. Our desserts are also very similar with that in Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. :)

    • Didi says

      I think that this is not the influence of Southeast Asian neighbors, but rather us using what is available to us. Coconuts are aplenty because of our tropical terrain; hence, the use of a lot of coconut milk. Though, yes there are some influence, but, in my opinion, not much as our cuisine is much milder in spice versus our SEA neighbors.

      • Manny P. says

        Aside from Chinese,Spanish influences, I believe India having been a power once upon a time, (was this the Madjahapit Empire?)when it ruled over most of Southeast Asia and a good number of Filipinos descending from Malay stock has also a marked influence over Philippine food..This is obvious with the wide use of tamarind as a souring ingredient (tamarind trees are not native to the Philippines), the malungay and much more…

  2. Bruce says

    I agree with Didi… what i have noticed on my travels around our beautiful country is. Pinoy food was born out of necessity. From up north to do down south i always ask the elders why they make a certain dish and they always say its what we have and what we have to work with. for example our adobo can last outside without refrigeration for weeks… in fact it tastes better in my opinion on the 3rd day after it was made. Also the lovely Pinangat (i spelled that wrong sorry) is made in the morning in a large terra-cotta jar and it gets cooked right before lunch time. they leave it at room temp and it stays good until the next day. That dish has coconut cream in it and it is AWESOME the third day again! So we pinoys make do with what we have and we go crazy trying to reinvent things. cuz its fun and we pay homage to our cool ancestors who gave us the food i love! i hate to jump on the band wagon but… Food is hella more fun in the Philippines! (again this is totally my opinion so if i piss anyone off… sorry!)

    B

    • Didi says

      Wow! That’s nice learnings from someone well travelled in the PH :) Thanks Chef Bruce! And I do agree that adobo tastes better with age…kinda like wine :)

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