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Halo-Halo to Yogurt – The Evolving Filipino Taste

Certainly, one has taken a stroll down a trendy restaurant strip and has seen at least one establishment that serves either “modern Filipino food” or “fusion Filipino.” As unbelievable as it sounds, the Filipino taste has gained some sophistication over the past decade; those restaurants are proof that there is a desire to reinvent traditional cuisine to suit more contemporary palates.

How much has our taste changed from eating token street foods like dirty ice cream, chicharon bulaklak, and taho?

We Filipinos depend on our senses when it comes to food. We value the taste of food and the more exotic-looking, the better.

Left and right

Many influential food chains have sprouted like daisies in the Philippines. McDonald’s is already a household name, as well as Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Pizzerias and burger joints like Yellow Cab and Army Navy are also becoming big food crowd pleasers.

New types of food have become the trend through the years, particularly in the form of pearl shakes (Zagu, anyone?) teas (Zen Tea) and the ever popular for fitness watchers, frozen yogurts or froyos.

Still, if Filipinos are looking for something to munch, nothing beats the undefeated street food. They are absolutely everywhere. Who would not know fish balls and squid balls dipped in sweet and/or sour sauce to taste?

Then there are foods that foreigners would not fathom eating. Surely you have heard of the appearance of balut in the internationally acclaimed show Fear Factor, and how it was definitely spine-tingling for the Americans to swallow down.

In this country, though, balut is a popular delicacy along with other animals’ innards and external body parts such as isaw or intestines of chicken or pig, betamax or pig’s blood molded into a cube (thus the name) and adidas or chicken’s feet!

A melting pot

Where did Filipino food begin anyway? Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, on an episode of his TV show No Reservations, said that Filipino food is more or less Chinese in nature. Bourdain’s insight may explain why Filipino cuisine involves spice-enhanced flavors and a penchant for noodles and dumplings, but without a doubt the Filipino appetite is quite the smorgasbord of tastes.

Take the ever-popular Filipino dessert halo-halo, as an example; it was actually based on a Japanese shaved ice treat with sweetened azuki beans, yet contains (but is not limited to) ingredients such as the Spanish leche flan, Malay kaong, and ice cream, which was introduced by the Americans.

Just like halo-halo, Filipino food culture is a mishmash of foreign ones, but instead of suffering an identity crisis of sorts, Filipino cuisine manages to be unique.

The international palate has yet to recognize Filipino food beyond its novelty “bizarre” food stuff. Ask any foreigner what he thinks about bagoong or balut, and more often than not, they would rather die than sample a morsel.

Worry not because Filipino food is more than just looking funky. When a Filipino thinks of a traditional meal, he thinks of clay pots simmering with kare-kare (peanut stew), chicken inasal lying on a bed of aligue (crab fat) rice, the various kinds of sinigang (soups that use sour ingredients to taste) and a whole lechon (roast pig) lying on a banana tree frond.

These dishes— and more— are proof of a storied and rich cooking culture the Philippines has: a culture the rest of the world has yet to scratch the surface of.

Fast forward to the present and take a good look at what brands such as Ajinomoto, Knorr, and Maggi have done for the Filipino kitchen; one would be amazed at the amount of “magic flavorings” going into your sunny-side-ups. Even traditional stews and soups are now all neatly prepared in mix packs for instant use. The Filipino taste is going artificial.

Exotic-city

One popular and favorite delicacy of most Pinoys is the immortal animal innards. It is sold all around the metro in carts with built-in fryers. People just choose from a variety of animal parts: intestines, chicken feet, quail eggs and a lot more.

After a quick dip in the boiling oil, it is ready for consummation. It can also be dipped (since it is speared with barbeque sticks), in different sauces, whether spicy or sweet.

Another popular food is betamax. This is the curdled chicken or pork blood shaped like a cube then grilled. There are many other street delicacies like deep-fried or grilled botsi made of the esophagus of animals. Tokneneng or kwek-kwek are quail eggs dipped in orange batter then deep-fried and is eaten with vinegar to add flavor.

What is it that makes it so popular despite its exoticness?

While the history of eating innards of animals is not a common knowledge, it has become a trend for every generation of Filipinos. University of the Philippines-Diliman claims they popularized isaw with its iconic food stall named The UP Isawan. Comic book artist Max Abrera’s comic KikoMachine commonly uses the stall as a situational setting.

What’s cooking next?

The Filipino palate is never fully satiated. While fast food remains a mainstay in every Juan’s diet, there seems to be an increased interest in food from our Southeast Asian neighbors, particularly Thai, Singaporean, and Vietnamese cuisines—tom yum, Hainanese chicken, and pho are finding fans among Filipinos.

The influx of Korean nationals into the country has also helped in establishing their own food into the Philippine menu; no doubt, everyone has seen the bulgogi burgers and the djampong soups.

A resurgence of food carts is also noticeable. Given the hard times the country has fallen into, cheaper food alternatives have become a standard part of the white-collar worker. Even “dirty” street fare has found a following among Class B people thanks to these food stalls sprouting in urban areas such as shopping plazas, train stations, and the like.

This trend in cheaper eating has prompted the ever-popular fast food chains to offer budget meals within P50.

Like a buffet table, the Philippines will always be home for many tastes, and Filipinos will only be too glad to welcome a sumptuous dish with much gusto and an assertion of the eternal quest for the tasty: “Kainan na!

By Lyle Adriano

By adrianoreantaso

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