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| March 14, 2015

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Filipino Recipes and Cooking

Filipino food is unique in its own right. It is yet to become as popular as Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese delights, but it has its own appeal. With more than 7,000 islands scattered across the archipelago, don’t get amazed to find out that there are countless local dishes and varieties of national fares that define each island, province, or region.
It can be easy to whip up any dish but it would certainly be difficult, if not impossible, to capture the actual and distinct Filipino taste without fully understanding the cuisine. It may be hard to define it because it is logically a product of hodgepodge of various cultures.

History of Filipino Food

It is interesting to note that there is a hint of history in every Filipino dish. There is a little of almost every neighboring country in many local delicacies. Before Spanish and American colonizers came, Filipinos were already trading with barter businessmen from China and nearby Southeast Asian countries. And yes, even Japan managed to mount a short stint as a conqueror during World War II.
Philippines Regional Map
Two prevalent cultural influences can be identified—Chinese and Spanish. Native Filipinos learned traditional Chinese cooking as early as 15th century, when Chinese barter traders started doing business and establishing close personal relationships with residents in the archipelago.

When Spain conquered the Philippine islands in the 16th century, it was logical that Spanish influences in food preparation and cooking were infused into native Filipino cuisines. Although Filipinos were already using their own spices that time, their knowledge of cooking chemistry was further enhanced when they adopted Spanish cooking. Mexican influences in food are also evident because the country was initially ruled by Spain’s assigned governors in Mexico, another Spanish colony.

After colonization that lasted more than three centuries, Spanish influences blended well with local cuisines to produce several additions to the unique gastronomic distinction. However, in some local regions, native dishes have overcome the tests of time and have remained uninfluenced.
Filipino ingredients

The geographic location of the country has something to do with the most widely used ingredients in local dishes. To be found in abundance across the archipelago are seafood, vegetables, fruits, and wild game. The vastness of sea is still the main source of food. Thus, there is a plethora of seafood specialties in every menu.

Aside from fish, meat is also considered as a staple in Filipino dishes. Most commonly used in delicacies are pork, chicken, and beef. Meat dishes make local cuisines more interesting, enticing, and sophisticated. Filipinos are very particular about the specific parts of meat. Lean meat is prioritized in specialties but Filipinos don’t run out of ideas about how to make equally sumptuous dishes out of unwanted and unlikely animal parts.

Coconut is a unique ingredient in many Filipino dishes. Its cream and milk serve as base for common dishes in one region (Bicol). Tender flesh of younger coconut is often a staple in Filipino desserts. Coconut juice serves as a refreshing beverage during scorching hot tropical days. It can also be used to produce traditional vinegar.
Expect most Chinese-inspired Filipino dishes to feature noodles. There are just a few kinds of noodles that Filipinos like. Those include bihon (rice vermicelli), mami (egg noodles), lomi (thick egg noodles), canton (wheat noodles), misua (angel hair noodles), and sotanghon (transparent bean noodles).

Believe it or not, several fruits also find their way into the unusual list of Filipino ingredients. Distinctly tropical flair is brought about by typical tropical harvests like mangoes, pineapples, guava, jackfruit, papaya, calamansi, and bananas. Leafy vegetables like spinach, cabbage, bitter gourd, beans, and eggplants will never be out casted. Of course, the most unlikely root crops are also given homage like potatoes, cassava, carrots, taro, and purple yam.

Filipino Herbs and Spices

Garlic and OnionsFilipino recipes create dishes that stand out because of the blend of simple and common spices. The result is a huge burst of flavor in every bite, unlike most other Asian cuisines that make do with subtle hints of oriental flavor. Filipino menu usually comes with a generous amount of herbs and spices.

Local soups and stews would not achieve their flavor without ginger, which is also a staple in Filipino fish and chicken dishes as it contrasts strong meat flavor. Crushed ginger flesh—used to provide enticing flavor and aroma—is usually taken out prior to serving. Lemongrass and bay leaf are added to certain recipes to provide strong aroma and pungent taste.

It is hard to identify any Filipino dish that does not include garlic and onions. These two almost always come in pair, giving more flavor to vegetable and meat cuisines. Native varieties are smaller but are known to feature stronger flavor. Sautéing is a basic technique to unlock the flavor using garlic and onion.

Filipinos are not really into hot and spicy food unlike most people in neighboring countries. There could be a little bite of spiciness, thanks to chili pepper. But there is one region where local dishes go to the extremes—Bicol, where almost everything they cook features a unique combination of coconut milk, shrimp paste, and lots of chili.

Filipino Cooking Techniques

Most Filipino cooks prefer to use traditional kitchen tools and utensils for cooking. Local dishes may taste differently if cooked using modern cooking tools and utensils. It must be separation anxiety that makes Filipino chefs feel unwell if they are forced to use substitutes for what they have been accustomed to use when preparing food. Interestingly, those tools and utensils are quite simple and cheap.

Of course, knives and chopping boards are necessary because there is always a need to cut or chop any ingredient. Most Filipino dishes require specific styles of cuts for meat and vegetables. Pots are pans are more preferred for cooking on a traditional stove. Wooden spoons still exist for stirring.
Filipino cooking techniques

Foreign influences are also reflected on the common techniques for Filipino cooking. However, Filipino cooks have developed distinct and unconventional ways when preparing local recipes. The most common of which is sautéing, wherein chopped onions, garlic, and sliced tomatoes are cooked first in cooking oil before all other ingredients are added. This method is known for bringing out the aromatic and savory flavors and facilitating a sumptuous blend into a subtle mix.

Boiling is a simple process but the way Filipinos do it, the best of all ingredients are amazingly brought out. Beef, pork, prawns, or fish can be boiled along with basic spices like onions, garlic and ginger plus special souring ingredients to create a special dish with a unique soup.

Adobo is actually a dish but because it is uniquely Filipino, it becomes a common cooking technique in the Philippines. Meat is cooked in a pan with soy sauce and vinegar. Originally, this method is used for preserving pork or chicken because refrigerator was not yet popular as household equipment in the country centuries ago. Interestingly, it has a strong sumptuous flavor that makes it perfect as viand for rice.

Roasting is another common cooking technique locally. Pork, chicken, beef, or fish is marinated in special sauce before roasted or grilled in minimal heat. The secret to Filipino roasting is to do it slowly. The longer it cooks, the more intense the aroma and flavor gets. Of course, included in the package are unique condiments that showcase Filipinos’ meticulous preference for dips. Soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, chili, calamansi, and many other ingredients are blended to create perfect accompaniment for roasted dishes.

Filipino Street FoodStreet Food Filipino

According to CNNGo, Manila is among the best street food cities across Asia. Don’t be surprised to find every corner of the metropolis to be filled with numerous street food options. Many vendors use their resourcefulness to go mobile using carts and huge bags so they can peddle their merchandise to more people.

Filipino street food is usually deep-fried, making those more mouthwatering and hygienic (as deep frying could kill germs and other contaminants). The ever popular balut (broiled fertilized duck egg) and isaw (barbequed chicken intestines) may not appeal to non-adventurous food enthusiasts but there are more options that should be tried and enjoyed. Not to be missed are different varieties of rice cakes, taho (silken tofu with caramel and tapioca), and various types of refreshments.

Filipino Food Products

Specially processed specialties comprise the bulk of Filipino food products. Seafood is traditionally salted and dried to produce danggit, tuyo, and squid flakes. Different types of local sausages can last longer without refrigeration, making those ideal for exporting. Chicharon (crispy pork fat) and the famous roasted whole pork are also gaining popularity around the world.
Philippine food products are also noted for the sweets. Goats’ milk is used to make pastillas, biscochos, or barquillos. Durian, a foul-smelling fruit, is converted into delicious candies and ice cream, while coconut flesh is sweetened to make various products for people with sweet tooth.