When you eat your way around the Philippines, you’re bound to encounter a few surprises, even in the guise of the familiar. There are layers of flavor and texture, rich sauces followed by crunch and maybe even by a little punch of acidity. Desserts will present sweetness, as expected, but balanced out by salty and savory tastes. It’s food that is at once descended from faraway influences and localized with Philippine ingredients and techniques. You’ll find Pinoys enjoying over-the-top presentations that are somehow reminiscent of the comforts of home. Filipino food can leave one quite stumped — and wanting more. Ask any of us, and we’ll tell you that eating is definitely more fun in the Philippines (we’re biased, of course).
We love food! And we’re always eager to tell people about it.
1. Our food is a cultural melting pot
..and interpreted using the best of what’s plentiful at home. we’ve got our own version of flan, spaghetti, porchetta…the list goes on and on. A tasty example is pancit palabok, where chinese rice noodles come together with local seafood – the tinapa (very flavorful smoked fish) is particularly pinoy. Spanish influence shows in the achiote coloring and chicharon topping.
2. It’s a fusion of flavors
Filipino “Party spaghetti” is a staple at gatherings and celebrations. From the brightly colored, sweet meat sauce, to the savory hotdogs and soft noodles, all rounded out with creamy, salty cheese, this party staple hits the sweet-salty spot, a fusion of flavors that Pinoys all grow up with. As children, we loved it, and now as adults, even with more worldly palates, we regard Filipino party spaghetti with a lot of affection.
3. It goes with rice
We enjoy strong and rich flavors and textures in our food, and rice is the perfect foil for this. Rice is irreplaceable as an accompaniment to everything from slow-cooked stews to crispy textures and meaty dishes. For some local restaurants, “unlimited rice” is one of the greatest draws.
4. It’s made to survive tropical feature
We’ve got crunchy pickles (green papaya, green mangoes, jicama, radishes), sweet jams (mango, mangosteens, durian, strawberry, ube) and funky condiments (bagoong, alamang, patis, burong isda o hipon) to enjoy alongside our favorite treats and dishes. Preserves are a way to enjoy beautiful produce all-year round in spite of constant heat and humidity.
5. We don’t like things to be “too sweet”
Enter sweet-salty treats, like bibingka with salted egg, or “dirty” ice cream (ube and cheese is a classic combination) – scooped and served inside a soft roll! Sure, we’ve got a sweet tooth, but we like balance. Both these treats can be found as street food, and are best eaten fresh and quickly.
6. Sometimes it’s over the top
Where do your eyes even begin to look when you have halu-halo in front of you? Milk-soaked shaved ice, sweetened beans, palm fruit, nata de coco, tapioca pearls, sweetened saba banana and a scoop or two of ube ice cream, topped off with a huge chunk of rich flan. It’s a riot of colors, textures and flavors. Dig in, and you’ll find that no two bites get you the same combination. It’s a sweet, cold and oddly comforting journey through that tall glass.
This article first appeared in the July 2019 issue of Smile magazine.