Filipino Food

Luis of the London Foodie asked me a very interesting question.  He asked me to teach him about Philippine cuisine.  That was something that I had to think about long and hard.  I wanted to write something that would place the Philippines in an amazingly flattering light (this is why I don’t write about the Philippines as much because I tend to write about what things need to be changed and I don’t want to add to the negative press that the Philippines is getting already.  We have enough of it out there already!  The Philippines is a wonderful country with beautiful people and it is definitely worth a visit!) and make people want to seek out Filipino food.  But everything I know about Filipino cooking was learned at looking over my mum’s shoulder.  I am no food expert by any means.  I just know that when my mum cooks (cooks properly, from scratch, and not any of those nearly-ready meals), the house smells amazing and is an excellent preview of what the dinner will be.

Philippine cuisine is mostly like its neighbours, Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese.  It’s very southeast asian, but with the influence of the Spanish (they did occupy the Philippines for 300-odd years!), Chinese (I daresay nearly every Filipino has a percentage of Chinese blood in them) and American (and I’m not just talking the McDonalds and the KFCs).  Like our Asian neighbours, we are rice eaters (this is why the Spanish paellas was so natural for the Philippines to adapt, what with us being rice eaters and seafood being so accessible).

Filipino food is normally prepared by boiling, steaming or roasting.  Most of the food I’ve learned to cook is sauteed (my favourite is chicken afritada, which is chicken sauteed with garlic, onions and tomatoes—mmm yum!  I should write about it in my recipes section soon!).  But I think the sauteeing was brought about by the Spanish influence.  The southeast Asian and Chinese influence brought with them the use of soy sauce and fish sauce and the stir-fry method of cooking.  One of my favourite dishes is sinigang, which is comparable to the Thai tom yum, which has a tamarind soup base.  It is cooked using either pork (pork belly is best!), chicken, fish (we use a fish called bangus, or milk fish, which is similar to the seabass.  some of my friends who live overseas use salmon) or beef.  It has augbergines, white radish, long beans, kang kong (you can buy this type of greens at asian supermarkets, it’s called ung choi), onions, tomatoes and a few chillis (depends on how hot you want your sinigang to be).  Optional ingredients include taro, okra and winged beans.  It’s a one-pot dish that you eat with rice.  At our house, we always season it to individual taste with fish sauce.

One of the more popular Filipino dishes is called adobo, which can be cooked using chicken or pork or the combination of.  There are a myriad variations of the adobo recipe because everyone has their take on how the spices should be blended together.  Other people will say that the meat is boiled in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic and pepper corns, other people will say that the meat has to be grilled to add more flavour, other people almost braise the meat.  There are debates about the inclusion of boiled eggs, the use of coconut cream, and the use of the bay leaf.  I think like any national dish, everyone has their version of how it’s cooked.

Our desserts are amazing!  My father makes this glutinous rice cake called suman sa lihiya.  It’s made by mixing glutinous rice with food grade lye and this is wrapped in banana leaf and boiled until cooked.  It takes hours to make, what with the wrapping of the rice and the cooking.  When it is finally cooked, the rice is shiny and sticky and it takes on a greenish tint from the banana leaf.  It is served with a sweet-sticky coconut cream sauce called latik (which my mom makes and it is DELICIOUS!).  Sometimes (when my mom can be bothered, as it is a LONG process), it is served with toasted coconut shreds.  We also have a variety of puto and bibingka which is are varieties of rice cakes made from rice flour.

One of my favourite desserts is called turon.  A turon is about one or two slices of the saba variety of banana (similar to the plantain), rolled in sugar, wrapped in spring roll wrapper (it’s just occured to me that I can probably try using filo pastry–ooooh! something to try next time, eh?) and deep fried until the wrapper is golden brown and fried to a crisp.  To make it a little more indulgent and fragrant, one or two slivers of jackfruit is added to each turon.

I think there are a few Filipino restaurants in Earls Court in London.  I’ve never been to any of them.  In fact the only time I’ve ever been near Earls Court since moving to England was going to the V&A Museum on Exhibition Road.  I know!  I was only a stone’s throw away but we had an itinerary to follow at the time.  Also, sometimes I worry that the food might not be as good as my mum’s or my aunts’ cooking.  I didn’t want to be disappointed.  I will venture out sometime…sooner rather than later I hope.  I will go there one day.  After all, one must love one’s own! 🙂

**Photocredits:
Sinigang by kurizeru06 from Photobucket
Adobo by ISKAndals.com
Turon by allfavoriterecipe.com

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