5 Reasons Why Eating Filipino Food Is A Must (For Filipinos!)
Let’s face it: we take our own cuisine for granted. For so long, we have associated Filipino food with meals eaten at home, automatically labeling it lutong bahay and almost never relating it to anything sophisticated, global, or refined. More and more Filipinos, on the other hand, are becoming pickier when they dine in restaurants serving foreign cuisines.
“Do you make your carbonara with real, fresh eggs or with cream?”
“Does your green curry have kaffir lime leaves?”
“I hope your paella really contains saffron.”
Yes, the Filipino palate has become more international with millions of Filipinos working and traveling abroad, and coming home with a more critical sense of taste.
Ironically, influential culinary personalities are considering Filipino food as “the next big thing.” With more international media attention focusing on our cuisine, and with more of our own chefs going deeper into our gastronomy, it really is about time we take pride in the hallmarks of Filipino cuisine. Here are our 5 ways we can start:
Local vinegars (Photo by Paul del Rosario for FOOD Magazine)
1. Relish the sourness.
Many Filipinos commonly consider sweetness as the prevailing flavor in our food. However, the dominant flavor profile is actually sourness.
In the first Madrid Fusión Manila in 2015, this was brought to the fore both by Filipino and Spain’s Michelin star chefs who used our different native vinegars and souring fruits like calamansi, coconut vinegar, and batwan, among other souring agents.
Whether it’s braising your adobo in piquant vinegar, slurping piping hot sinigang with tamarind, or munching on unripe, green mangoes—it’s the tanginess in our food that prevails. Why, even our blood stew dinuguan is sour!
Sawsawan bar at Provenciano Restaurant (Photo by Marie Francia)
2. Enjoy the personalized approach.
Filipino dishes are almost always presented “family style,” very different from the stylized and Instagrammable single servings common in Western cuisines.
However, what we miss out in presentation, we make up for in personalization through the art of sawsawan. Our panoply of dipping sauces and condiments complement, heighten, or mitigate the flavor/s of the mains, allowing you to take ownership of the meal.
The basic sauces—soy sauce (toyo), fish sauce (patis), and vinegar (suka)—come in different varieties and flavor profiles, especially vinegar. These sauces can also be modified to your own liking, by adding calamansi, sugar, pepper, chili, oil, annatto, onions, garlic, and whatnot.
You can also pair your meals with condiments like fermented shrimp or fish (bagoong), fermented rice (buro), as well as pickled vegetables and fruits (atchara), sinantol and salted eggs.
Beef mechado (Photo by Paulo Valenzuela for FOOD Magazine)
3. Feast on its variety.
This is an exciting and promising time for Filipino food. Jam Melchor, a young chef advocating for the preservation of Philippine culinary heritage, shares, “Our cuisine can be at par with the best in the world. This is because our gastronomy is rich and is blessed with an abundance of flavors, ingredients, and influences. The dishes I presented prove that Filipino food is composed of a myriad yet balanced array of textures, scents and flavors.”
Indeed, our food has a global asset of being an amalgam of indigenous, Malay, Chinese, Hispanic, and American flavors, simmered in the context of trade, religion, politics, and culture.
These influences penetrated our food with the influx, development and adoption of cooking techniques and raw ingredients. Similarly, although we can boast of bounteous seafood and rice varieties, we are also thankful for being a major entrepot during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, which brought tomatoes, cacao, potatoes, cattle, and avocado among many other current staples to our shores.
Pansit (Photo by Paulo Valenzuela for FOOD Magazine)
4. Taste the familiar, celebrate the unique.
More often than not, our dishes are always marketed to be exotic, strange, and bizarre. But there’s far more to our food than isaw and balut.
Ceviche? We have kinilaw.
Sauerkraut or Spanish escabeche? How about atchara.
Pad thai? Dig into pancit habhab.
Admittedly, there are glaring or slight differences. But the point is, our food is not “out of this world.” Caldereta, menudo, and pochero might not taste strange to a Latino, while our pancit and lumpia varieties can whet the palate of our Asian cousins. It’s about time we ourselves be convinced that Filipino food is not embarrassing but is delicious and universally appealing. The key is for us to know it better so that we talk about it more intelligibly.
Kinilaw (Photo by Ocs Alvarez for FOOD Magazine)
5. Relish its historicity.
Last but not the least: Filipinos need to eat and know more about Filipino food because it is historic.
Chef Jam reminds us, “In an archeological site in Mindanao, researchers found tabon-tabon halves similar to how these are used when preparing kinilaw. The study said that the area can be traced back to the 10th century.” Our pre-Hispanic ancestors have been preparing some of the dishes we love for centuries.
With the arrival of the Spanish, the Philippines served as the bridge between the Old World and the New World. Spices, grains, fruits, vegetables arrived in our country through the galleons, while it is also highly possible that we influenced other countries, too. From mangoes to tuba, researchers are starting to assert the Filipino impact on different cuisines thanks to this 250-year-old trade route.
With more research being shared, patriotic chefs and producers at the helm of the industry, and not to mention, the perennial international media spotlight—Philippine food is truly the best cuisine Filipinos need to embrace, appreciate, and understand more than ever.
Adobo photo by Paulo Valenzuela for FOOD Magazine