If I ask you to pick your favourite dish from Japanese, Mexican, or Italian cuisine, I’m sure you will be flooded with options. Ramen or sushi? Tacos or enchiladas? Pasta or pizza? However, if I ask you to think of your preferred dish from the Philippines, you will most likely not be able to come up with a single dish. Though five years ago, food writer Andrew Zimmern predicted that Filipino food would be the next great cuisine, its flavours are still largely misunderstood by most people. A perfect example: food stylists continue to place chopsticks next to Filipino dishes, yet Filipinos use forks and spoons.
However, it appears that this neglected cuisine is no longer being ignored. This year, Bloomberg noted that Google searches for “Filipino food” have doubled in six years, and searches for “lumpia near me” have skyrocketed 3,350 per cent. Noted food magazines are listing Filipino restaurants in their best new restaurants lists, and Pinoy food is attracting numbers of loyal customers across the U.S. and Canada, especially in Los Angeles, which has the largest Filipino community outside the Philippines.
Filipino food is the original fusion cuisine, a mix of Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Western, and Pacific Islander flavours that shows the country’s rich and varied cultural history. While the popular Filipino dish known as adobo uses a Spanish term, and kare kare (oxtail stew) gets its name from “curry” from its Indian heritage, Filipino food is entirely its own. It has no dairy or gluten, which makes the cuisine friendly to restricted diets. It is eaten family style, with heaping plates of sharing dishes. It uses vinegar instead of Western sauces full of sodium and fat. While its dishes are pork heavy, seafood and tropical fruit are made into light dishes that are far from bland. And it is full of acids and sweetness more than any other cuisine.
Since most of us are still novices when it comes to this cuisine, let’s explore some of its most popular dishes. Lechon, or whole spit-roasted pig, is crunchy on the outside, and tender on the inside, with a sauce made from vinegar, sugar, and a pinch of liver. Pork Longganisa, a sausage made of ground pork), is a savoury dish, and Jollibee-style spaghetti (pasta with a sugary tomato sauce) is sweeter than you are used to. The flavours don’t blend, but sit like layers, with one tangy, one salty, one sweet. There’s mango and tomato salads dressed with tart calamansi juice and bagoong, a Filipino fermented fish sauce, and tilapia sinigang, an exquisite soup made with the poached whitefish with water spinach and bok choy in a sour tamarind broth, adobong dilaw or vegan empanadas, stuffed with beef, egg, and bean sprouts, fried dilis (sun-dried anchovies) sprinkled with spicy white vinegar and layered on top of thick slices of avocado and black rice, chicken tinola, steamed free-range chicken simmered in ginger rice broth with chili leaves and green papaya. Not all Filipino food is fried or saucy.
Since our palates have been expanded by the flavours of cuisines from around the world, it seems that now is the time we can finally appreciate the layered and nuanced flavours of Filipino food.
Which are your favourite Filipino restaurants? Let us know in the comment!
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