Filipino food is an interesting mix of cuisine from several different cultures including Spanish, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Arab, Mexican and American. Spain, however, provides the dominant culinary influence on Filipino food.
Filipino food was largely untouched by American influence until the end of World War II, when canned foods, especially fruits and corned beef, were introduced to the Filipino diet. However, with typical Filipino flair and culinary expertise, these new U.S. ingredients were incorporated into the Filipino food repertoire to create new recipes with a distinct Filipino flavor.
Filipino Food Evolution
In ancient times the food of the Philippines was a simple affair of whatever nature provided: food from the sea and forest and rice from the paddies.
Over the centuries, foreign traders and invaders introduced new ingredients, new cooking styles and new food combinations to indigenous Filipino food staples and methods of food preparation. But despite these outside influences on Filipino culture and diet, modern Filipino cuisine has developed its own distinct characteristics.
Filipino Food and Spanish Influences
As much as 80 percent of Filipino food originates from Spain. Tomatoes and garlic, for instance, both staple Filipino foods, were introduced from Spain, as was the cooking method of sauting using olive oil.
Spain can also lay claim to the delicious range of Filipino desserts and pastries. Baked goodies such as pan de sal (sweet bread rolls covered in fine breadcrumbs) and ensaymada (stuffed pastries covered with butter, sugar and shredded cheese) are of Spanish origin.
Filipino Recipes and Regional Differences
Filipino food differs quite markedly from region to region. Geography, culture, religion, outside influences, local availability and urban and rural preferences have all contributed to the colorful variations in regional Filipino food.
Rice, for example, a staple Filipino food, is less popular in certain regions than cassava or manioc (fleshy, edible roots used to make cassava flour, bread and tapioca). The choice of saltwater, freshwater or farmed fishanother staple of the Filipino dietalso varies according to regional availability.
Religion also plays a part in regional Filipino recipe variations. In areas where Islam predominates, pork, the favorite meat in the Philippines, is eschewed in favor of beef or poultry for religious reasons.
Another fascinating regional Filipino food anomaly is the consumption of frogs as a delicacy on the islands of Luzon and Pampanga.
Filipino Food Etiquette
Filipino food is usually consumed with a spoon and fork, although knives are also acceptable now. The main difference between Western and Filipino etiquette is that the spoon is held in the right hand and doubles as a knife for cutting one”s food into smaller pieces.
Traditional Filipino Recipes
Here are some of the more popular Filipino dishes:
- Almondigas: ground pork balls with onion and celery, served with vermicelli.
- Chicken Adobo: commonly regarded as the national dish of the Philippines, a deliciously rich chicken stew cooked in vinegar and garlic with soy sauce flavoring
- Gulo-Gulong Kamote : deep-fried sweet potatoes, served sprinkled with sugar
- Kare-kare: oxtail stew in peanut butter sauce, served with bagoong (preserved anchovies) or shrimp paste
- Lumpiang Alimango: crab egg rolls fried in a wok and served with noodles and a sweet and sour sauce
- Pescado al horno: fish (usually red snapper) sprinkled with breadcrumbs and baked in a thick tomato, onion and pimento sauce
- Poncit (orPancit): an Asian-influenced noodle dish with sauted shrimp, it can be served as a vegetable dish or mixed with sauted strips of pork, beef, chicken or savory sausage
- Pork Inihaw: pork chops or spareribs marinated in white vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and red hot peppers, grilled and served with a vinegar dip.
- Rellenong Manok: baked chicken often stuffed with ground pork, ham, frankfurters, pepperoni, onion, garlic, raisins and/or hard-boiled eggs
- Tinolang Tulya: ginger-flavored clam or mussel stew, served with a garnish of spinach, onion or watercress
A whole roasted pig or lechon is central to any Filipino fiesta celebration. The pig is so important in Filipino culture that the inhabitants of Balay and Batangas have chosen to celebrate the feast of their patron saint, Saint John, with a symbolic tribute to the popular lechon.