According to Campbell’s Culinary Trendscape 2015, Filipino food is on the cusp of becoming the next big cuisine. At a level 1 on their scale (discovery), this means that early adopters are experimenting with the flavors, ingredients, and cooking techniques of this varied cuisine with a multi-cultural influence.
The cuisine’s roots lie in Spanish, Malay, Chinese, and American cuisines. A true fusion cuisine, Filipino cuisine is rooted in love of family. With flavor pioneers like Paul Qui (Qui in Austin) and Cristina Quackenbush (Milkfish in New Orleans) showcasing dishes with a fine dining bent, it is only a matter of time before the mainstream embraces this delicious and homey cuisine.
So why hasn’t the cuisine yet gained the acceptance that Chinese and Thai cuisines seem to effortlessly enjoy?
Surprisingly, one reason is the cuisine’s family focus. Most Filipinos do not go out to eat their own cuisine but rather take pride in family meals with coveted and often time “top secret” recipes handed down from generation to generation. “Why eat out when I can make it better at home?” many Filipinos will ask.
It then becomes even more problematic to categorize the cuisine when you consider that there are 7,000 islands in the Philippines Archipelago. With so many islands, the preparation of a popular dish like Pork Adobo may be authentic in Manila but an imposter to a native of Subic. One region may consider coconut milk to be essential in their preparation of the dish, while another region may consider this addition a sacrilege.
Another distinction that sets Filipino food apart from other Asian cuisines: Filipino food by definition, while flavorful, is not distinguished for its spiciness. Yes, you may find the occasional hot and spicy Filipino dish, but heat does not permeate the cuisine like it does with its closest cousin, Thai food.
To get a better understanding of some of the flavors of this unique cuisine, let’s look at some of the more interesting culinary ingredients:
Kalamansi: also called calamondin or calamandarin, this small and very sour fruit is primarily used for cooking and is thought to be a genetic cross of the mandarin orange and the kumquat.
Ube: a brightly colored purple yam that is high in starchy sugar, the ube is popularly made into a jam, a cake mix-in, and a topping for Halo-Halo.
Santol: an orange fruit almost as large as an apple it contains a tissue like pulp that encloses seeds. It is typically eaten when it is under ripe as it is preferred in the more sour state.
Balut: not for the faint of heart and most likely the most famous Filipino food you have heard, it’s a boiled fertilized duck egg. Typically it contains a fully formed duck embryo. Try it and let me know how you like it.
Pancit: a thin rice noodle typically used in stir fries with the addition of vegetables and meat.
Longanisa: the most common variety is a sweet paprika laden sausage that definitely has its roots in Spanish cuisine. Longanisa is not typical in that it can be made from chicken, tuna or beef.
Lechon: a dish typically reserved for a special occasion, Lechon is a whole suckling pig that is spit-roasted
Lumpia: a Philippine style egg roll typically stuffed with pork and shredded root vegetables, but also can contain caramelized bananas.
Adobo: a braising liquid of soy sauce, vinegar, black pepper, and bay in which chicken or pork is cooked, it is one of the most popular Filipino dishes. It has a characteristically salty and sour flavor profile. Sometimes coconut milk is added to sweeten the dish.
Milkfish: considered the national fish of the Philippines, milkfish is typically served whole and stuffed with native fruits and vegetables.
Filipino food is definitely unique and a cuisine worth exploring. Where are you going to start?