the philippine flag FILIPINO FOODS


History and legend say that the Filipinos came from Indonesia and Malaysia. They founded villages and small kingdoms in the 7,000 or so islands which make up the Philippines today. Chinese traders were common visitors to these settlements. So were Hindu merchants, Japanese fishermen, and later on, Spaniard, Portuguese, Dutch and English adventurers. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan reached the islands in his effort to circumnavigate the world, reaching the east by sailing west Spain colonized the country soon after that and gave it the name of Philippines, after the Spanish King, Philip II. Spanish rule held sway over the Philippines for more than three centuries until the Americans took over in 1898. The Philippines gained its independence from the United States in 1946.

Filipino cooking reflects the history of the islands. On a Malayan base, Chinese, Hindu, Spanish and American ingredients have been added through centuries of foreign influence and surprisingly, a blend with an identity of its own has emerged. In the cosmopolitan city of Manila, this mixture is most in evidence. Far from the capital city, however, one can still sample the simple dishes that native Filipinos eat Many of these dishes are remarkably close to native fares still found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other Asian countries.

Native Filipino cooking is not too spicy despite the fact that spices are plentiful and readily available in the islands. (Europeans, after all, stumbled upon the Philippines in their search for the fabled Spice Islands). The basic staple is rice of which hundreds of varieties are cultivated. Main source of protein is fish which abound in oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and ponds. Meat, especially pork and poultry, is also commonly eaten. Beef is readily available but is more expensive; the cattle industry not being well developed in the country. Veal and lamb are not too popular but goat meat is considered a delicacy in some parts of the country as are frogs, rabbits and deer.

It is often when sampling native Filipino dishes that one appreciates the regional variations in the country. For while it is true that Filipino culture is homogeneous, there are specific differences in cooking and food preferences that readily identify the regional origin of many dishes. Although these differences are not as pronounced as in the regional variations of Chinese cooking, for instance, they are widely recognized in the country where regionalism plays an important role because of its geographical division into many island-groups.

It is generally observed that from a culinary viewpoint, the Philippine archipelago may be ethnically divided into six regions. Based on the people's cooking styles and eating habits, the regions from north to south are:

NORTHERN LUZON — the region around the northern tip of Luzon Island peopled mainly by llocanos, Pangasinans and several minority groups like Ifugaos, Bontocs, Ibanags and Kalingas. Cooking in this region is very simple relying mainly on native vegetables, fish, poultry and meat. A preference for native vegetables particularly saluyot (a leafy green that looks like spinach but turns slippery like okra when cooked) and the widespread use of bagoong (shrimp paste) give Northern Luzon cooking a definite identity. The llocanos usually like their vegetables steamed or plain boiled and dipped in bagoong. For additional flavor, they may boil their vegetables with pork or broiled fish as \npinakbet, dinengdeng or inabraw. The Pangasinans are justifiably famous for the quality of their bangus (milkfish) which are artificially reared in ponds through an ancient system of aqua-culture. Generally, Northern Luzon cooking uses locally grown ingredients, involves simple procedures and may even be called sparse fare. Life in this coastal and mountainous region is hard and the people tend to be thrifty and live simply. These traits are well reflected in their dishes.

CENTRAL PLAINS — inhabited in large numbers by Tagalogs and Pam-pangos and occupying the rice growing central part of Luzon Island and the area around the capital region of Manila. Central Plains cooking is the most sophisticated in the country. This is most evident in Manila and surrounding areas where foreign cuisines have left the people with a taste for rich sauces and fancy desserts. The people have a passion for meat especially pork and poultry. Their cooking is marked by clever combinations of many different ingredients in a single dish, long and elaborate preparations and festive looks. They are fond of stuffed main dishes and are well admired for their^llenong manok or bangus (stuffed, boned whole chicken or fish), morcon (stuffed rolled beef) and embutido (stuffed pork sausage) — all wtth rich, spicy sauces.They usually like their vegetables sauteed in garlic, onions and tomatoes with pork and shrimps.

SOUTHERN TAGALOG — homogeneously Tagalog speaking area south of Manila and the country's major source of coconuts as well as rice and fruits. Their cooking and eating habits are strongly influenced by their products and the availability of certain foodstuffs in the region. For instance, they have a strong preference for fresh water fish which abound in streams and rivers and which are usually sold swimming in buckets of water in the market. Their cooking tends to be sour with their constant use of vinegar and sour fruits like kamias,tamarind and over-ripe guavas.Vinegar seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, is used as a marinade for fish before frying or as a dip. Tamarind and other sour fruits are used to s6ur the broth of sinigang, a favorite way of cooking fresh water fish. But the southern Tagalogs are well known for their native cakes and delicacies such as espasol, suman, hinalo, sinukmani and bibingka, the main ingredients of which are glutinous rice and coconuts.

BICOL — another ethnically homogeneous region on the southern tip of Luzon Island where inhabitants speak the Bicol dialect. Its cooking is notable for the general use of coconut and hot chilies. The combination results in many rich, spicy dishes the most nationally known of which is laing, a chili hot mixture of meat or shrimps and vegetables seasoned with bagoong, wrapped in gabi (taro) leaves and boiled in cdconut milk until the milk is reduced to a thick sauce.

VISAYAS — the region that includes islands that occupy the middle part of the Philippine archipelago and parts of Mindanao island inhabited by Christian Filipinos: The two main dialects spoken in the region are Hiligaynon and Cebuano. The people thrive on salt water fish abundant in the Sibuyan, Visayan, Sulu and Mindanao seas surrounding them, not to mention the China Sea and Pacific Ocean. Fish and seafoods not immediately consumed are preserved in salt and dried in the sun. The region is noted for these various types of dried salted seafoods such as daing, tuyo, pus it, hipon and kalkag. Visayan cooking tends to be salty not only because of its dried salted foods but also because of its liberal use of guinamos, a type of bagoong that is different from that used in Northern Luzon. Bagoong in Northern Luzon is made of shrimp or fish fermented in a salty sauce. Guinamos is made of fermented shrimp or fish and salt pounded to a paste and has no sauce. It has a much stronger flavor and odor than the other type. Visayan cooking is simple. The people like their fish broiled over live coals or boiled in well seasoned vinegar as in pinamarhan which is similar to the Tagalog's paksiw na isda but cooked until it is almost dry. Some even eat their fish raw as in kinilaw, a dish of sliced raw fish marinated in seasoned vinegar with onion, tomatoes and slices of unripe mango. Like the Northern Luzon people, they also like their vegetables simply boiled or steamed but dipped in guinamos with a squeeze of lemon. Being the country's main producer of sugar, the region is well known for its native snacks such aspinasugbu, turrones, banana chips, utap, and the traditional cookies and biscuits of Panaderia de Molo (Bakery of Molo, a town in llorlo). Native sweets such as biko and baybaye are made of coconut and glutinous rice.

MINDANAO — that part of Mindanao Island inhabited by ethnic groups having Islam as a common religious bond. There are several groups in this region: the Maranao that inhabit the shores of Lake Lanao, the Maguindanao which occupy the province of Cotabato, the Tausugs, Badjaos and other maritime groups that live in the Sulu Sea area, etc. Ethnically, however, because of the strong religious affinity among them, these groups can be seen as one. Mindanao cooking is marked by simplicity and the, non-use of pork which is universally used in the rest of the country. It is closely similar to Indonesian and Malaysian native fares in the use of hot chilies and strongly flavored spices such as curry. The more popular dishes are tiola sapi (spicy boiled beef)/piarun (fish with chilies), and lapua (blanched vegetables seasoned with salt and vinegar or guinamos).

The most easily identifiable difference in Filipino culture is of course reflected in religion. The Christian Filipinos, found mostly in the large island of Luzon and the Visayas make up about 96 per cent of the country's population of about 50 million. Filipino Muslims, on the other hand, are
concentrated on the southern part of Mindanao Island close to the borders of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Among Christian Filipihos there are many variations in cooking. The fragmented nature of the islands, the fact that they were probably settled at different times by people coming from different parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, and the difficulties of communication and transportation have woven various threads into the tapestry which is Philippine culture.

As in other cultures there are food favorites in each region in the Philippines. For example,even in staples, most Filipinos living in Luzon Island prefer rice while Visayans in the Island of Cebu, Leyte, and Sarnar like corn. People in Luzon and some iff the Visayas will eat roots crops (sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, etc.) as desserts or snacks but to eat them as staples in these regions would indicate that one is poor. In Mindanao, however, panggi (cassava) is the staple food in many areas.

Preferences in food are also determined by the ready availability of certain foods. For example, Bicolanos and Tagalogs especially those in southern Luzon use a lot of coconut in their cooking. Coconut trees dominate the landscape in these regions. Coconut milk comes from the meat of the mature coconut which is grated, mixed with a little water and squeezed between the palms to get the milk out. Added to dishes, coconut milk makes them thick and oily, imparting to the foods the unmistakable taste of coconut.

While hot peppers are found in all parts of the Philippines, only Bicolanos in the southern tip of Luzon and the Muslims of Mindanao eat them raw or use them extensively in cooking. Many varieties of pepper are found in the country but the hottest ones are tiny red devils known as labuyo. Added to meat, fish or vegetables, they give dishes a mouth burning quality. Among the Bicolanos, the wide use of coconuts and hot peppers give their cooking a regional identity all its own.

Meat and fish are common throughout the Philippines but there are also regional differences. Generally, people living in coastal areas or river streams eat a lot of fish while inland people prefer meat. The most popular meat for Christian Filipinos is pork followed closely by chicken, duck and other poultry. However, Muslims do not eat pork and Pampangos are generally known as eaters of dog meat as are so called non-Christian tribes in northern Luzon (Igorots, Bontocs, IfUgaos and Ibanags).

Among fish eaters, variations exist between those who prefer salt water fish or fresh water varieties. Most Visayans prefer 'salt water fish such as sardines, tuna, bonito and mackerel which abound in the seas surrounding them. Many Tagalogs, Pampangos, llocanos and Pangasinans prefer fresh water fish caught in rivers, lakes and streams. In Pangasinan and Pampanga the cultivation of fish in ponds (aquacuiture) is a well developed art. The most popular "cultured" fish is the bangus (milkfish) which is grown in ponds of brackish water. Mudfish, catfish, carp and tifapia are not as carefully cultivated as milkfish but they are also somewhat "domesticated" in that they usually co-exist with wet rice (paddy) cultivation.

There are many peculiarities in food habits among Filipino ethnic groups which are extremely hard to explain. For example, though the leafy green vegetable known as saluyot can be grown in any part of the country, only the llocanos seem to like it a lot. To others,the slippery leaves are very unappetizing. Visayans eat fish raw, though unlike the Japanese, they marinate it first in a mixture of vinegar, garlic, onions and salt. Tagalogs and Pampangos eat frogs, others rarely touch them.

Cookiog styles and seasonings also vary from region to region although all basic cooking methods are used. Some places, however, tend to use one method more than the others. The Northern Luzon people,for instance, boil most of their foods and season them with bagoong (shrimp paste). The Southern Tagalogs tend to marinate their meat, fish and poultry in seasoned vinegar and then fry them. Central Luzon people favor sauteing in, garlic, onion, and tomatoes and the use of soy sauce and gravies. The Visayans also favor frying as well as boiling while the Muslims prefer to boil or roast their food over a live fire. (Sinugba or inasal means broiled.)

The basic cooking methods commonly used in the Philippines are boiling, roasting, frying and steaming. Freshly caught fish is usually broiled over live coals or a wood 'fire. The fish is simply skewered from end to end with a bamboo stick and broiled. The burnt scales are then peeled off to reveal the tender meat. Fresh kalamansi (native lemon) juice or vinegar with a little salt is placed in a small dish and the fish dipped into this before it is eaten usually with handfuls of plain boiled rice. Meat and poultry are also cooked this way.

On special occasions a small suckling pig may be roasted in the festive lechon. The pig is cleaned, stuffed with rice, .tender tamarind leaves and arbmatic herbs. A long bamboo pole is thrust through the pig from head to tail and the pig is roasted over live coals until it is golden red, the skin crispy and its curling tail signals it is ready. This most festive of Filipino dishes is eatpn with a sweet-sour liver sauce that is spiced with lots of garlic, onions and peppercorns.

Most daily fares are boiled with the ingredients thrown into the pot in the order of how fast they cook. Certain fruits or vegetables are boiled with fish or meat to impart their peculiar taste, usually sour, to the dish. Kamias, tomatoes, guavas, fruits, flowers and even young leaves of the tamarind tree are often used. They are boiled, crushed through a sieve and the puree poured back into the pot. One such favorite Filipino dish is called sinigang — a boiled sour dish of fish, shrimps, pork, beef or chicken mixed with vegetables. Similar dishes seem to be popular throughout Asia where it is called sayur asam in Indonesia and tomiam in Thailand.

Fresh vegetables are sometimes boiled and dipped in a vinegar and bagoong mixture before eating. Often, however, they are simply washed and placed on top of boiling rice just before the rice is fully cooked, thus achieving a steamed effect. They may also be cut into small pieces and sauteed in garlic, onions and tomatoes with pieces of pork and shrimps. Some, like eggplants, may be sliced thinly, dipped in batter and deep fried not unlike the Japanese tempura.

Frying seems to have been introduced to Philippine cooking by the Chinese. Coconut oil must have been used in the beginning as it is still often used now although lard and other vegetable oils have become popular. Most Filipino dishes follow the Chinese example of cutting, dicing or chopping ingredients into small pieces. This method makes preparation a bit longer especially since Filipinos also like to combine several different ingredients in one dish. But cooking is short because the small pieces cook fast in the short time they are sauteed or fried. While this method of preparation is convenient for the Chinese who use chopsticks, it is also suitable for the Filipinos who often eat with their hands.

Traditional Filipinos rarely use cutlery for eating. They form small balls of rice with their fingers while pressing them against the plate. The rice balls are then conveyed into the mouth one by one at the tip of the fingers and pushed in from behind with the thumb. Western influence introduced cutlery in the Philippines. Filipinos learned to eat with a spoon and fork which were practical for getting at the rice and chopped meat and vegetables with a bit of broth. But the traditional Filipinos still use the most convenient way even today — his hands.

Next to boiling, the most common method of cooking Filipino dishes is by sauteing. This can be traced to both Chinese and Spanish origins. Usually, a small amount of pork fat or vegetable oil is heated in a skillet. Garlic is added and sauteed until brown, then onions are cooked until clear and tomatoes until mushy. This combination forms the base for most sauteed dishes. Patis (fish sauce) is used for seasoning.

The use of heavy sauces is not a traditional Filipino style of cooking but can be traced directly to Spanish influence. Gravy dishes, however, are reserved for special occasions such as town fiestas, Christmas, weddings, or for "rich families" Sunday dinner. Usually, such dishes are common in the Central Plains and Southern Tagalog region. Pampango and Tagalog cooking are widely regarded as the country's best examples of good festive cooking.

No Filipino meal is.complete without dessert whether it is a simple fruit (banana, mango, watermelon, etc.) or prepared sweets like glazed kamote, kaong in syrup or special desserts like leche flan or macapuno. A great variety of native cakes are prepared from rice and coconut milk. Of late, pastries, cakes, cookies and coffee breads have been introduced by foreign cookery and baking is becoming more and more common.

The interaction of Philippine traditional cooking and foreign influences may be seen in typically Spanish paella seasoned with local patis or American pork chops eaten with rice and bagoong sauteed in lots of onions and tomatoes. Steak is marinated in kalamansi juice and soy sauce and served smothered in onions. Jhe Filipinos have turned into native fare even the Chinese pancit {sauteed noodles with meat and vegetables). The Philippine version called pancit luglug (meaning to dip) uses rice noodles placed in long handled bamboo baskets and dipped into salted boiling water until done. Then they are drained, turned onto serving plates, covered with a red sauce, topped with sauteed pork, seafoods and powdered sitsaron (pork rind), garnished with egg slices, celery and green onions. It is often served with patis
and kalamansijuice for further seasoning,

The one-dJsh-meal puchero is another example of the delicious blending of east and west in Philippine cooking. It is the Philippine version of the Spanish boiled dinner, cocido. It is beef, pork or chicken or a combination of these meats boiled with Spanish sausage and vegetables like cabbage, potatoes, bananas and chickpeas. Then they are all sauteed in garlic, onions and tomatoes and put back into the broth. Puchero is usually served with a sauce of mashed eggplant and squash seasoned with lots of garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar.

The resufts>.of the blending of traditional Philippine cooking and foreign borrowings are generally tasty without being too spicy, simple but not bare, exciting but not strange and extremely good to eat without being too rich nor fattening. It may be said that in the meeting of east and west in Filipino cooking the best of both worlds have been distilled and achieved.