How will you define Philippine cuisine?
When we say cuisine, it is the manner of food preparation, the dishes itself, and the eating customs of the Filipinos.
But what makes it Filipino?
In no particular order, here are eleven characteristics that make a dish truly Filipino:
Due to its geography and its colonizers, Philippine cuisine is a fusion of Polynesian origins mixed with Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Spanish, American, and Japanese influences. Even the most original Filipino dish that you could think of has that particular foreign inspiration in it.
HIGH IN ALMOST ALL ASPECTS
If you’re going to observe, the Filipino diet is high-fat, high-protein, and high-carbohydrates. Not healthy if you compare it with Asian diets. But we are living in a tropical, agricultural country. Our race works hard under the sun, thus we need all the nutrition and energy we could get. Our dietary motto is “moderation in all things”.
The Filipino taste centers on the mixture of sweet (tamis), sour (asim), salty (alat), and spicy (anghang).
However, different regions have different tastes — take for example in Luzon, the biggest and northern island of the Philippines. The Ilocos and Cordillera regions prefer their food salty; Pampanga in Central Luzon is known for its sweet taste in food; and in the Bicol region in Southern Luzon is known for its fondness of all things spicy.
Filipino foods are simple to prepare. Usual food preparations include boiling (kulo), steaming (sinaing), and roasting (inihaw).
Other methods of preparation like saute (ginisa) came from foreigners due to trade and colonization.
This is the distinctive characteristic that defines Philippine cuisine, the counterpoint. It is the pairing of two tastes resulting to something surprisingly pleasant.
For example, eating something sweet can be paired with a food that is something salty as in champorado (sweet chocolate rice porridge) and tuyo (salted dried fish).
Another pairing is the dinuguan (pork blood stew) and puto (rice flour cupcake).
Some may think this pairing is weird but once you get the taste and hang of it, you’ll get used to it and crave for it.
Being in a tropical archipelago, it is important to prepare simple food like adobo that can be stored without spoiling. Tinapa (smoke-cured fish) and daing (sun-dried fish) are popular, too, because they can last for weeks without spoiling even without refrigeration.
That’s the reason why locally made suka (vinegar) is a common ingredient. This is where the food’s sourness comes from. Although there are other ingredients that provide sourness, it’s the lowly vinegar that takes center stage. Adobo and sinigang are considered the Philippine’s national food and are good examples of how Filipinos love their food sour.
Another distinct characteristic of Filipino cuisine is its being an informal and communal affair, centered around the family, and in the kitchen. If you will notice, most dining tables are in or near the kitchen. Meals are eaten with the whole family and visitors, if there are any.
In fact, one can’t help but invite someone to eat with him/her by asking, “Kumain ka na ba?” (Have you eaten?) or saying, “Kain tayo (Let’s eat.).
Also, the “boodle fight“, a style of dining popularized by the Philippine Army which uses banana leaves spread out on the table as the main serving platter upon which is laid out portions of rice and a variety of Filipino viands, is a good example of brotherly, friendly, filial, and communal feasting.
Filipinos eat three main meals a day: almusal (breakfast), tanghalian (lunch), and hapunan (dinner) plus merienda (snack) in between.
KAMAYAN OR BY SPOON & FORK
Food is served all at once and not in courses as other foreign cuisines do. The traditional Filipino way of eating is by hand known as kamayan. One has to take a bite of the viand, a bite of rice, then pressed together with fingers.
Food is often eaten using spoon and fork, not knife and fork; and Filipinos don’t usually eat with chopsticks.
Again, if you’ll notice, the Filipino dining table has a small condiment set. It contains a small bottle of each: patis (fish sauce), suka (vinegar), and toyo (soy sauce). Then you’ll see someone preparing a portion of his own dipping sauce in a small saucer. Filipinos want to prepare their own dipping sauce from different condiment combinations. It’s this idiosyncracy that defines us, too.
Philippine cuisine uses native ingredients like the calamansi (calamondin), sampalok (tamarind), kangkong (water spinach), patis (fish sauce), bagoong (shrimp paste), and other native fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, and root crops.
Some regional dishes use rabong (bamboo shoots), seaweeds, ubod (coconut tree pith), igat (eel), kuhol (snail), kamaro (crickets), palaka (frog) and other rarely seen varieties of animal meat and seafood. You need to travel around the country to experience these exotic, local dishes as they are only available in certain regions.
So there you have it. The eleven characteristics of Filipino cuisine I could think of. And if you think I missed something, let me know.