More than 300 years of Spanish rule greatly influenced Philippine cuisine, especially with the names of the dishes. Centuries of trading with various Asian countries like China, India, and the Philippines’ neighboring South East Asian countries also contributed to how Philippine food evolved throughout time. American influence also came in during the American occupation from the early 1900s to the post-World War II era.
Identity of Philippine Cuisine
Like a number of other Asian countries, rice is the Philippines’ staple food. Whether eating a homemade meal or dining in a feast or banquet, meals are generally served with rice.
Philippine food is often labeled as bland and mild, if compared to other Asian dishes. Yet, Filipinos typically accompany their meals with complementing sauces, spices, and condiments. It is common for each diner to put his/her preferred sauce, spice, or condiment in his/her own plate. Popular ones used in a meal include: patis (fermented fish sauce) or soy sauce (usually blended with calamansi, a green Philippine citrus fruit similar to lemon); native vinegar; and alamang (cream-style shrimp paste).
Must-try Filipino Dishes
Filipinos show distinct preferences for sour and salty flavors especially with soups. The must-try soup sinigang is characterized by its endearingly sour flavor. It is made of lightly boiled sour stock made out of tamarind, guava, or calamansi. The meat used for sinigang can be pork, fish, shrimp, or chicken. The vegetables such as gabi (taro corms), kangkong (water spinach), labanos (radish) sitaw (string beans), eggplant, onion, chili, and tomatoes are added to the stock and the mix is appropriately brought to a boil.
The signature Filipino dish adobo uses pork or chicken cooked in oil, vinegar, pepper, bay leaf, and soy sauce. It is one of the most popular Filipino dishes commonly prepared in both Philippine homes and restaurants.
Menudo is a Filipino meat stew. It is made of sliced pork, calves’ liver, carrots, potatoes, and other vegetables that are cooked in tomato sauce. Aside from its usual presence in Filipino restaurant menus, menudo is also a popular dish served during celebrations such as fiestas and birthday parties.
Lechon is a famous treat during local Philippine celebrations and gatherings. Its presence provides grandness to the occasion. This charcoal-roasted suckling pig has a pale and tender meat. It is traditionally cooked whole until its skin forms a hard brown crust. The skin is crispy and can be used for making pork rinds.
Derived from the English words “beef steak,” bistek uses onions, strips of sirloin beef, soy sauce, and calamansi to create a saucy and slow-cooked Filipino-style beef steak.
The Filipino lumpia is similar to a spring roll. Each piece of it is filled with succulent garlic-slathered pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, or a combination of them, along with finely-cut vegetable fillings all wrapped in a small roll of lumpia paper. It is either steamed or fried, then dipped in a citrus or sweet and sour sauce before eating.