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Filipino Food 101: A cheat sheet to understanding the cuisine of the Philippines

Filipino food is usually the underdog so far as the international meals scene is worried.

Simply final month, an Australian author based mostly in Jakarta drew the ire of Pinoys on-line when she referred to as Filipino meals “bland” and the “worst in the region.” She made this statement in response to a rating of Southeast Asian cuisine by a Cornell University professor who had positioned the Philippines lifeless last in his record of the area’s biggest cuisines.

The 2 aren’t alone in their views about Filipino meals. A survey by London-based firm YouGov launched in March revealed that the Philippines has the fourth least fashionable cuisine out of the 34 featured in the research — and solely 36 % of people who have tried it truly like it.

We at Coconuts Manila can’t take this sitting down. Filipino cuisine carries a lot history, selection, and flavor — but outdoors of our nation, it’s pretty misunderstood. So, we put together this primer on understanding the meals of the Philippines. In it, we’ll additionally cover what goes into making five dishes which might be thought-about quintessentially Filipino.

Taste profile

At its core, Filipino meals is huge on three flavors: salty, sweet, and bitter. A stability of all three is present in most landmark dishes, from savory entrees to desserts.

Chef Jam Melchor, the founder of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement, advised Coconuts that the greatest method to get a style of authentic Filipino meals is to go to the provinces, where recent produce is used and dishes are nonetheless cooked the traditional method. And that’s precisely what we did.

We headed to Malolos City, the capital of Bulacan province that’s about 40km north of Manila, last month. There, we met with aunt-nephew cooking duo Rheeza Santiago Hernandez and Niko Santiago, who whipped up five dishes that showcased the selection in basic Filipino food.

Growing up in the kitchen

Niko Santiago cooking puchero. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

“If my life were 100 percent, I’m in the kitchen 90 percent of that,” the 35-year-old Niko stated in Filipino as he prepped the elements for the meal forward.

His aunt Rheeza stated Niko was a born prepare dinner who discovered to prepare rice as early as 4 years previous.

“May vetsin [siya] sa dila (he has MSG on his tongue),” Rheeza stated of his nephew, a household joke meaning he has good taste in food.

Whereas Niko is the prepare dinner, Rheeza is the historical past buff who views meals as an necessary half of the nation’s heritage. She created the menu for that day and admitted that in contrast to different provinces, Bulacan just isn’t recognized for any culinary specialties as a result of most of their staples are thought-about nationwide dishes.

For Rheeza, nevertheless, their heirloom recipes are vital because they’re tied to historic occasions. “That’s our edge, that our food tells stories,” she stated.


Adobo, which accurately means “to marinate” comes in numerous varieties. Other regional variations embrace adobong pula (purple adobo), found in Luzon’s Batangas province and Visayas’ Iloilo, that gets its colour from atsuete (annatto) oil. The province of Laguna, on the different hand, has the adobong dilaw (yellow adobo) made with turmeric.

Adobong atay at balunbalunan. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)Adobong atay at balunbalunan. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

A prime instance is adobo. The one they prepared was an adobong atay at balunbalunan (hen liver and gizzard adobo). Rheeza stated this was served during the Malolos Congress, when the proclamation of Philippine independence was ratified in 1898.

The adobo recipe recognized internationally is made with hen, pork, toyo (soy sauce), suka (vinegar), garlic, and peppercorns. However there’s was an adobong puti (white adobo), which leaves out the soy sauce.

It started, as most Filipino recipes do, with sauteed minced garlic and purple onion. Once tender, the liver and gizzard have been added over a low hearth and cooked until the meat’s juices oozed out.

Sautéed garlic and red onion. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)Sautéed garlic and purple onion. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

Then, sukang paombong (coconut water vinegar) was added together with salt, pepper, and the secret ingredient —  a pinch of sugar. The sugar, Rheeza stated, provides an umami edge comparable to that derived from MSG.

We’re unsure how to back that up scientifically however can say that the adobo was very savory, leaving no room for us to miss the soy sauce. The pieces of meat have been dense and retained their form even after a spoon and fork reduce by way of them. The liver was creamy, with its bitter taste mellowed by the oily and barely acidic sauce that coated it.

Vinegar added to adobo. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts) Vinegar added to adobo. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts


Bitter soup. Other types of sinigang are made with totally different souring brokers like kamias, calamansi, and even fruits like mango and watermelon.

The sour soup sinigang. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)The sour soup sinigang. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

Most trendy variations of sinigang at the moment are made with powders that instantly make bitter soup out of boiled water. But Rheeza and Niko want nothing to do with that.

To this present day, they still make theirs by boiling sampaloc (tamarind) in water, mashing it, and painstakingly squeezing out the juice by way of a sieve. It takes much more time however they stated it’s value it.

“With powders, there is an after taste … it’s kind of metallic,” Rheeza stated. “Unlike when you use real [ingredients], first it has a slightly earthy taste.”

This earthy aspect provides depth to the dish that goes beyond the 5 primary tastes.

Rheeza preparing ingredients for the sinigang. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)Rheeza getting ready elements for the sinigang. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

After extracting the sampaloc juice, they added extra water, chunks of liempo (pork stomach), and salt for boiling. Once the meat was tender, the vegetables have been added together with gabi (taro root), tomatoes, and onions. Last to be a part of the pot have been sitaw (green beans), labanos (radish), kangkong (water spinach), siling panigang (inexperienced finger chili), and okra.

The sluggish cooking process and use of actual sampaloc gave means to a thick and cloudy soup that was bitter however not painfully acidic, particularly when poured over white rice. The pork was tender whereas the vegetables have been slightly wilted and gentle enough to chew.

Vegetables being added to the sinigang. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)Greens being added to the sinigang. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts


A raw seafood dish that is “cooked” in vinegar and comparable in concept to ceviche. Aside from fish, shrimp, squid, clams, oysters, and crabs may also be utilized in kinilaw. A comparable dish from the northern Philippines generally known as kilawin sometimes uses blanched or calmly grilled meat like goat, beef, carabao, pork, and hen.

Bangus kinilaw topped with kesong puti. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)Bangus kinilaw topped with kesong puti. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

Like sinigang, kinilaw depends heavily on acid. It’s comparable to ceviche in that seafood is “cooked” by mixing it with juice from citrus fruits and vinegar.

Niko started by deboning an entire bangus (milkfish), filleting the meat, and slicing it into 1 1/2-inch pieces. The fish was then “washed” using sukang paombong then squeezed, which helped get rid of the fishy style. Juice from the citrus fruit calamansi was added, together with chopped onion, siling labuyo (chili pepper), bell peppers, ginger, and siling panigang. It was seasoned with rock salt, pepper, white sugar, and a splash of kakang gata (coconut cream derived from the first squeeze).

A little sprinkling. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts) A little sprinkling of salt. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

By the time the combination was executed marinating for about 5 hours, the fish was tender and had become an opaque off-white colour.

Every ingredient popped out on its own — a sweet-and-spicy raw onion comes out first, but you ultimately get a kick from the chili pepper. It was not too spicy as a result of the warmth was toned down by the coconut cream, which additionally cuts the acidity from the vinegar and calamansi juice. We particularly appreciated the slices of kesong puti (white cheese) that have been used as a garnish as a result of they added another layer of creaminess to the already wealthy dish.

Each Rheeza and Niko agreed that kinilaw is greatest paired with San Miguel beer, one other Filipino dining staple.

Kinilaw and its ingredients. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)Kinilaw and its components. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts


A beef and pork stew with a tomato base and components like garbanzo (chickpeas) and chorizo.

A plate of puchero. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)A plate of puchero. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

Among all the dishes coated in this article, puchero is the one most rooted in Spanish cuisine.

Rheeza and Niko went for a standard recipe that’s stated to be a favorite of the historic determine Marcelo H. del Pilar, who additionally hailed from Bulacan.

Pre-cooked meat for the puchero. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts) Pre-cooked meat for the puchero. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

After garlic and white onions have been sauteed, pre-cooked beef shank and pork belly have been added to the wok. The meat was seasoned with pepper and fish sauce, which added umami and saltiness to the dish.

Tomatoes have been added after which mashed along with tomato sauce and tomato paste. They poured some inventory to loosen up the sauce and sugar to stability out the flavors. Completing it have been the garbanzo, chorizo, chopped items of camote (sweet potato), fried saging na saba (plantain), cabbage, Baguio beans (green beans), and petsay tagalog (Filipino cabbage).

Puchero with garbanzo and chorizo. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)Puchero with garbanzo and chorizo. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

This was the heartiest amongst all the dishes, thanks to the sauce that dressed all the elements — from the meat to the vegetables. It had an fascinating contrast of textures from the crunchy beans and chewy petsay, to the dense chorizo and starchy garbanzo.

In the event you’re into puchero, then different in style tomato-based stews in the Philippines that you may also like are menudo, caldereta, and afritada.


A dessert that may be a cross between a crème brûlée, leche flan, yema (custard candy), and a tart. Made with crushed plain crackers, evaporated milk, sugar, five entire eggs, and the rind of a dayap (key lime).

The dessert pinaso. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)The dessert pinaso. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

Pinaso actually means “scorched” and that’s precisely what was finished do that dessert. It’s believed to have dated back to the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade and is Mexican in origin, and is the most distinctly Bulakenyo dish of the ones we’ve coated on this article.

Rheeza stated that this recipe is predicated on one from the American colonial period when cooks used elements from the Okay-rations of American G.I.s.

With out turning on the burner, Rheeza first dissolved the sugar in the milk inside a saucepan. She then added the eggs, followed by the crushed crackers. As soon as well-incorporated, she turned on the hearth to low and combined until it was dough-like, with a texture comparable to that of mashed potatoes.

She added the dayap zest earlier than flattening the mixture right into a circle on a plate. A heaping serving of sugar was sprinkled on prime and torched utilizing a metallic spatula.

The theatrics alone will satisfy diners. It was an all-sensory experience, from the sizzle and smoke that came right after the spatula hit the sugar, to the caramel scent that adopted.

Scorching the dessert. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)Scorching the dessert. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

Like a crème brûlée, the sugar on prime cracked when tapped but its custard was rather a lot denser, comparable to cookie dough.

Past the fundamentals

Whereas adobo, sinigang, kinilaw, and puchero might be thought-about classics, these dishes really symbolize only a fraction of Philippine cuisine.

Chef Jam of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Motion advised Coconuts that Filipino food can’t be outlined in easy terms: “Filipino food is regional. So unlike other cuisines, our flavors [are] diverse. So, we’re defined based on the regions that we have,” he stated.

Taste profiles differ depending on the space. For instance, food in Luzon’s Bicol area tends to be spicy and makes use of gata (coconut milk).

The cuisine of the Maranaoans in Mindanao additionally pack-in extra heat than food in other elements of the nation and are made with halal meat as a result of of the area’s Muslim inhabitants. The food there’s extra comparable to those present in Indonesia and Malaysia, with dishes like piarun a manuk (spiced hen with grated coconut) and kuning (yellow turmeric rice).

So whereas the food Rheeza and Niko prepared are worthy primers for newbies, they’re actually solely a gateway into a rich meals tradition that may never be bland.

A Filipino dinner. (Photo: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts)A Filipino dinner. Photograph: Jacques Manuntag/Coconuts

Trending social media posts from #ProudPinoys are placing the nation’s cuisine on the world map, alongside restaurants in the west that promote kamayan-style dinners (consuming with arms), and award-winning local eating places like Toyo Eatery, a motion that would soon convey Philippine cuisine to the similar degree of reputation as its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Should you’re wanting to discover Filipino meals additional, may we propose testing…

Restaurants in Metro Manila serving trendy Filipino meals that gained’t break the financial institution

Palm Grill brings Southern Mindanao’s hard-to-find consolation meals to the heart of Quezon City

Trendy Merienda: Manam Cafe recreates basic Filipino snacks