MenagerieThe Different Tastes of Filipino Cuisine
The Different Tastes of Filipino Cuisine
September 25, 2011
September 25, 2011

One thing that makes Filipinos distinct from other races is our indigenous culture.

Yes, we may be proud of our unique and sometimes strange traditions, but did you know that some aspects of our culture did not originally come from us? We, Filipinos, known for having a knack for putting the old and the new together, enjoy a “mixed bowl” culture – a lifestyle from an assortment of influences, ethnic or foreign, which has become its own colorful, lively and unique culture.

So, before you start munching on that crisp tsitsaron, take note of the following traditional Pinoy fare The LaSallian has ticked for you, and you just might develop a new appreciation for our heritage, especially for our unique Filipino cuisine.

1. Pan de Sal/Pandesal (Bread Rolls)

They say man cannot live on bread alone, but we seriously doubt that even the choosiest connoisseur would not want anything more when given a chance to try pandesal. Most of us wake up with grumbling tummies every morning because of its recognizable aroma. The typical “Filipino household at the breakfast table” is never complete without manang dipping one of the sweet bread rolls in her coffee.

It is said that the diminutive pandesal, meaning “salt bread”, was invented in Portugal. It is similar to the baguette, only without the hard exterior. Although there are many recipe variations, you must remember to coat the dough in bread crumbs to give it a distinct flavor you will never experience with other bread products sold in the market. Traditionally served with other breakfast standbys like kesong puti and tuyo, Filipino breakfast would not be complete without a brown paperbag full of hot pandesal.

2. Fishballs

Made from finely ground fish meat shaped into little balls, the fish ball-on-a-stick dipped in sweet chili sauce is the  most popular among Filipino street cuisine. It is a popular snack you will find anywhere and everywhere in Manila. Contrary to what you may believe, this tidbit was first popularized in China. Pick among sweet, sour or spicy sauces and you will never go wrong with this tasty and affordable treat.

3. Tsitsaron

The crunchy tsitsaron is widely recognized as a Filipino pulutan (a snack best eaten with beer). Made from pork rinds and fried to perfection, this oily snack tastes best dipped in vinegar.

The Andalusian region of Spain is the motherland of chicharron. Practically all of the former Spanish colonies now have this crisp treat as part of their cuisine. In the Philippines, deep-fried chicken skin and pig intestines are popular variations of tsitsaron.

4. Leche Flan

This sweet blend of egg yolks, milk and sugar, holds thousands of Filipinos’ taste buds captive. After all, leche flan is a unique dessert, being one of the few that is not a member of the cake or ice cream family. However, this creamy confection was not actually invented in the Philippines. It hails from Spain, where it is called flan de leche, meaning milk flan. It is similar to the French dessert, crème brulee.

5. Polvoron

Another food from the Andalusian region of Spain is the powdery dessert, polvoron. Filipinos are major consumers of the snack, thanks to the local pastry giant Goldilocks. The popular store, which introduced polvoron to the masses, has since marketed alternative polvoron flavors such as pinipig, chocolate, and cookies & cream. A little known fact, polvoron is also used during parlor games, in which the contestants have to speak with their mouths full of this powdery shortbread.

6. Tokwa/Tofu

Known to the Western world as beancurd, this soybean product is humorously called tokwa in the country. The classic appetizer is dipped in soy sauce and vinegar, which makes it conventionally Filipino.

Tokwa was invented in ancient China, where it is called doufu. China’s influence over other East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines resulted in many recipe variations and cooking techniques.

On a side note, you might hear your mother, your friend or your friend’s driver use the expression: “anak ng tokwa!” when frustrated, further illustrating tokwa’s popularity.

7. Lugaw

A bowlful of lugaw can warm and comfort the heart. Aside from chicken soup, sick people also eat lugaw when they are sick because it can easily be digested.

Nevertheless, lugaw is a dish for all ages. While the word lugaw might sound very Filipino, it is actually only the Filipino version of congee; a Chinese rice porridge.

In fact, restaurants and teahouses in Chinatown all serve this dish. Some people also call it arroz caldo, which means rice broth. It was coined by Spanish settlers who had taken a liking for this dish.

One thing is for sure, it would not hurt to try this one out.

8. Lumpia

Ah, the old spring roll. Who has not fallen in love with lumpia with its winning combination of a crisp outer shell and a hearty meat filling? This Southeast Asian staple made its way to the Philippines through the recipe books of Chinese immigrants. Lumpia is known to be a versatile fix because it comes in many varieties like shanghai and ubod.  It can be served at home with rice or on the streets with a toothpick. Perhaps the most well-known type of lumpia is the turon, also known as the “banana lumpia”. This Filipino variant is made out of slices of saba and langka, brown sugar and of course, the traditional spring roll wrapper.

9. Tsamporado

This traditional breakfast standby was originally a thick chocolate beverage known as champurrado until Filipinos modified the recipe by adding rice to it, making it more similar to lugaw. Its original ingredients, aside from the cacao, included piloncillo sugar and corn masa.

And yes, even a food as “Pinoy” as the tsamporado did not originate from the Philippines. It actually made its journey to the country during the Spanish period, when goods from Mexico were brought to Manila via massive cargo ships known as Galleons.

10. Empanada

These pastries, originally from the Middle East, arrived in the country when Spanish conquistadores colonized us during the 16th century. It is also a popular dish in Latin America. The word empanada comes from the Spanish word empanar, meaning “to coat with bread”. This small pie is usually filled with savory meats like chicken or beef, as well as onions and garlic for flavor. Some recipes also include cheese, peanuts and beans. The crust is typically thick, although variations of the dough are flaky in texture.

The history of the dishes above proves that Filipinos are capable of absorbing foreign influences and injecting them with our own distinct style. Perhaps the next time you eat at a carinderia, you will wonder how the food you are eating wandered its way into Filipino cuisine.