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What is Filipino Food?

Filipino meal with rice, ulam, spoon, and fork.


What makes Philippine cuisine Filipino?

The question perhaps is a mild variant of that other overwhelming question: What makes a Filipino?

The understanding of Philippine cuisine cannot be dissociated from the country’s cultural history and geography. Originating from various cultures while reflecting regional characteristics, Filipino food was prepared by the Malay settlers, spiced by commercial relations with Chinese traders, stewed in 300 years of Spanish rule and hamburgered by American influence on the Philippine way of life.

The multiracial features of the Filipino — a Chinese-Malayan face, a Spanish name and an American nickname — thus inform Philippine cuisine, producing dishes of Eastern and Western extraction.

Of Malayan origin is ginataan, an ensemble of chicken, pork and vegetables cooked in coconut milk, spiced with garlic and offset with vinegar.

A Chinese derivative is pancit, using rice and wheat noodles, which are given a strong Spanish flavor with garlic, onions, shrimps and pork. Other dishes like chopsuey, lumpiang Shanghai, lomi, and siomai bear the Chinese imprint.

Via Spain, the Philippines was introduced to such rice dishes as arroz Valenciana, a more homespun version of paella, which has taken its place in many a Filipino family’s Sunday meal, to say nothing of fiesta fare. Essentially a paella, arroz Valenciana edits out the crabs, clams and squid, only keeping to the basic chicken, pork, shrimp and spicy sausage in a sauce of tomato and saffron, in which rice is simmered until done and fragrant. Spanish cookery is the main influence in Philippine dishes. Informally, some cooking experts say about 80 percent of Philippine dishes are derived from Spanish cuisine. Indeed, every other Filipino dish has a Spanish name and — a most interesting note — even Chinese dishes are usually called by Spanish names.

Until the 1970s, pricey Chinese restaurants all over the Philippines insisted on printing a Spanish menu, sometimes with hilarious liberties on the terms. Through the years of Spanish colonization of the Philippines, Manila was administered through Mexico, decades of interrelationships having been carried through the galleon trade. Yet Philippine cuisine did not get much of the Mexican touch. We have no chili con carne, no avocado dips, no tacos or tamales to speak of. These dishes are indigenous to Mexico, some of them of Indian origin. Apparently, there was a sifting and only the Spanish-derived recipes came through from Mexico; after all, those who did travel from Acapulco to Manila were Spanish expatriates and not really Mexicans.

To be continued…

Signature Filipino Dishes

Lumpia, Sinigang, Tinola, Bulalo, Adobo, Inasal, Palitaw, Ginisang Munggo, Pinakbet, Kare-Kare, Paksiw, Guinumis, Laing, Pinangat

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