When you ask a Pinoy (a term for a Filipino) what is Philippine food? Many will tell you the most popular dish or their favourites like Adobo [a vinegary pork or chicken stew] or Pancit [noodle dish]. This is how they know how to explain it, by describing it. At the moment Philippine Cuisine is not yet widely known unlike the neighbouring countries.
The Philippine cuisine has evolved alongside the country’s history. Its Islands are surrounded with water,
the ocean, streams and rivers. The indigenous people used these coasts to barter with neighbouring countries. The Arabs from Middle East, Chinese, Indonesians and the two colonial countries Spain, including Latin American countries like Mexico and Cuba and United States. They came with their boats and brought with them different goods as well as different food ingredients.
When Spain ruled the country, Philippine cuisine unlike other cultures was massively transformed, although some indigenous dishes are maintained and some of which still exist today. Dishes like Suman [steamed rice cakes], Sinigang [Sour soup], Kinilaw [fish soaked in vinegar], Kare Kare [peanut stew] and Kakanin [various rice cakes]. They are found all over the country and made with ingredients that are harvested naturally in their environment. Indigenous Filipinos used native sour fruits like Kamiyas, Kalamansi [indigenous lime] and vinegar as their main ingredients. They also embraced the foods, cooking methods and cooking condiments of other cultures of Southeast Asia as their own. The early inhabitants of the Philippines came from islands that are now called Indonesia and Malaysia. One example is the Kare Kare [meat stew cooked in peanut sauce], it’s a Malay dish and its name originated from the Tamil word kari meaning a sauce for a stew. Another food that has survived is the art of making Kakanin, there are so many varieties that it’s difficult to list all of the delicacies because they all differ in each region, localities and even households!
So, Filipino food has a lot of outside influences; The Chinese brought the wok, soy sauce, fermented beans, spices like Szechuan peppercorns and livestock such as ducks and pigs. Eventually they married Filipino women and settled in the communities all over the country. They became the local bakery, storekeepers, and restaurants owners, popularising Chinese food and ingredients. Mexico also played a small part in Philippine culinary adventure. Of course Spain is the biggest influence in the way Filipinos cook their food. Spain ruled the country for 400 years, their galleon trade brought in fruits, vegetables and root crops from Mexico and during this time Filipinos learnt a another style of cooking and new ingredients. With a new style of cooking and more ingredients Filipinos adapted those and made it their own. Today we enjoy these dishes usually during fiestas and birthdays, dishes like Morcons [filled rolled meats], rellenos [stuff dishes], and afritada [dishes fried and simmered in tomato sauce].
Who can forget about the United States, after the Spanish, they came to colonise the country and they introduced American foods to the Filipinos and the locals welcomed it. They brought with them dishes like Hambugers, hot dogs, pizza, soda and fries. These foods were popular during the post war generations and it still continues until today.
What is Filipino food? Well… from fish sauce to shrimp paste, noodles to rice, Filipino food shares it flavours, ingredients and techniques with its Southeast Asian neighbours. Nevertheless through the course of its unique history, the Philippines has developed a diverse and distinct culinary preference of its own. The water that surrounds the country dictates the most important food sources which are fresh seafood, fresh vegetations and coconuts. These ingredients form the centre of the cuisine. However much of the cooking of Southeast Asian mainland demonstrates the Indian influence in bright, aromatic curries, chillies, and herbs. These are far less important in Philippine cooking, in which heavy spicing is irrelevant to the wealth of pristine seafood, vegetables and fruits.
“In other words Philippine cuisine is simple,modest but full of flavours!” — Mae