Filipino food traces its origins to colonisation by Spain, and is influenced by the tastes of America, Japan, China and other neighbouring countries. Spain, though, takes the lead in influence as the Philippines were a Spanish colony for around 400 years, from 1565 to the American war in 1898. Food historians claim that 80 % of Filipino food is of Spanish origin.
La Tomatina on your plate
Forget the tomato squashing festival — there’s enough of that red bounty in Filipino-style cooking. Tomatoes, garlic and olive oil are used in abundance in the dishes. Paella, the quintessential rice dish flavoured with saffron, chorizo and overflowing with a variety of meat, shellfish and garnished with hard boiled eggs and roasted peppers, were on the menu of many restaurants that I visited.
I also came across many kiosks hawking empanadas (stuffed pastry, baked or fried) and chicharron (seasoned and fried pork rinds). I was equally awed to see Spanish-inspired pastries and even more by the traditional Spanish dish of ceviche (raw fish marinated with citrus and onions) which includes the exotic addition of coconut milk, capturing the flavour of the Philippines; the sea and the ever present coconut.
Many of the party and fiesta dishes and those served for special occasions have names like relleno, morcon, callos, embutido etc. Noodle restaurants are called panciterias (another Spanish derivation), which is a term referring to a Chinese eatery. Ox tongue in mushroom sauce served with mashed potatoes topped with browned onion bits. It really sounds Mediterranean but, believe it or not, most Filipino restaurants include a version of this dish.
The national dish
The national dish, ‘Adobo’ refers to a condiment of oil, garlic, and marjoram in Spain. However, for the Filipinos, it is not a condiment but cooking anything in a mixture of vinegar, salt or soy, garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaf. In spite of its Spanish name, Chinese soy sauce, and American vinegar, a dish of adobo is truly Filipino, claim most locals. “We have been stewing meats in salt and vinegar for very long”, they say.
Traditionally, Filipinos eat three meals a day with an additional afternoon snack called ‘merienda’. Dishes are mainly fried, steamed and soupy and usually accompanied with rice. Aside from rice meals and soup dishes, dips, condiments and sauces are indispensable to Filipino meals. All in all, the food in the Philippines was fantastic, but definitely outdone by the hospitality with which it was served. I can’t help adding that the parts of the world that were colonised by Spain instead of the British really got a better deal in terms of food.
Kilawin - Raw fish marinated in vinegar
Prito - Fried or deep fried
Ginataan - Cooked with coconut milk
Inadobo - Cooked in soy sauce, vinegar and garlic
Nilaga - boiled with black pepper and onions
Guisado - sautéed with garlic, tomatoes and onions
Inihaw - grilled over coal
Sinigang - Boiled with a tamarind base
Pinaksiw - Cooked in vinegar and ginger