no greater love
than the love of FOOD"
— George Bernard Shaw —
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Since the "accidental" discovery of the Philippine Islands by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan on March 16, 1521, the Filipino cuisine evolved into what it is now a blend of exotic and familiar. Modern Filipino way of preparing food is a result of many influences brought to us by foreigners who came to our islands and made our country a colony. Just as the Filipino people are part Malay, Chinese, and Spanish, the Filipino way of cooking followed suit. Our ancestors learned to adapt to many aspects of colonialism, embraced the foreigners' way of doing things, their languages and mannerisms and their way of living in general.
Spanish additions to the Filipino cuisine predominate. It has been said that 80 percent of the Filipino dishes prepared today can be traced to Spain. The Spaniards introduced the use of tomatoes and garlic with the technique of sauteing them with onions in olive oil. Desserts like Leche Flan (egg custard), Empanada or turnovers and many other Filipino dishes have distinct Spanish influence.
The use of vegetable proteins such as Tofu and its derivatives is brought to us by the Chinese. Pansit (stir-fried noodles), Spring Rolls, Siopao, Sweet 'n Sour sauces and many other exquisite food are a must on a Filipino dining table.
Then came the Americans, with their distribution of canned goods. One of the results is Filipino fruit salad which consists of American canned fruit cocktail mixed with native preserves such as Buko (young coconut), Kaong (palm nuts) or Langka (jackfruit) giving it a Filipino taste and mixture.
More recently, other cultures have influenced Filipino food and eating habits. The Japanese brought Sushi, Tempura and Teriyaki to the Philippines to stay. Frankfurters, Bratwurst and Schnitzel (breaded meat or fish) that are devoured as if there is no tomorrow by Filipinos from age 1 to 91 are of German origin. Filipinos also learned to snack on Spaghetti, Pizza or Lasagne, foods that are unmistakably Italian but prepared with some variations here and there like the addition of sugar to some of the tomato based sauces like Ragu alla Bolognese (meat sauce) or alle Polpettine (meat balls -?? is there any such spaghetti sauce in Italy? One has to ask the Italians to find out) to make them a little bit sweeter than the Italians intended them to be or the adding of hotdogs for extra treat. Needless to say, the variation suit the Filipino taste buds just fine.
Filipino food is also prepared based on the indigenous food sources. Basically, Filipino food, aside from being a blend of everything, is also regional. In some parts of Central Luzon, including the area directly surrounding the capital of the Philippines, Manila, the combination of an abundant and staple food supply mixed with the influences of the foreigners particularly the Spanish and Chinese have resulted in the most sophisticated cuisine in the Philippines. One good example of a rich and elaborate dish is Relleno (stuffed fish or chicken, please check out our recipe pages for this).
The inhabitants of Ilocos, Pangasinan, Mountain Provinces and Cagayan Valley, having to face the toils in a rugged terrain, tend to be thrifty and live simply, traits well reflected in their style of cooking. The Ilocanos like their vegetables steamed or boiled and flavored with Bagoong (a fermented paste derived from shrimp fries or fish). Meat in vegetable dishes are sparsely used. Famous Ilocano dishes are Pinakbet, Inabraw and Dinengdeng.
Bicol and Tagalog are coconut growing regions, thus, the common use of coconut milk in their dishes. Laing (boiled or sauted taro leaves cooked with meat or dried fish in coconut milk) is one delicious example of Southern Luzon creations.
Fish is abundant and readily available in most part of Visayan islands. Visayans prefer saltwater fishes like sardines, tuna and mackerel. Root crops such as sweet potatoes and cassava are eaten as a dessert or snack. Corn is eaten extensively in the islands of Cebu, Leyte and Samar.
The Philippines is the only country in Asia that is predominantly Christian, particularly Catholic. The only exception is western Mindanao. Because of the Islamic edicts against eating pork, which is extensively used in the rest of the country, the inhabitants of Mindanao have taken advantage of the cattle and fish grown in this area. Mindanao cooking has borrowed a lot from Indonesia and Malaysia. The use of hot chilies and spices used to make curry, as in Tiola Sapi (a spicy boiled beef) is an example.
At the heart of any Filipino meal is a bowl of rice, short, long or medium grain. Rice is eaten steamed, fried or at certain occasions, mixed with meat, fish, and vegetables combined like Paella for example. The sweet, sticky variety however, is reserved for the preparation of desserts like Bibingka, Suman or Sapin-sapin.
As you can see, the Filipino cooking is a mixture of traditional, native cooking and the best aspects of foreign influences. Recipes and techniques have been adopted and adapted to Filipino taste. Filipino cooking is tasty without being too spicy, simple but not sparse, different but not strange, satisfying without overwhelming. As Filipinos go out to the rest of the world and the rest of the world visits the Philippines, new ideas will be brought to Filipino kitchen. It is this meeting of East, West, North and South with steady and constant evolution of traditional dishes that is Filipino cuisine.
ZambalesForum (ZF) Sari-sari Store has compiled for you our contributing members' knock-out recipes, Filipino and International alike. Feel free to copy and try them. Bon Appetit!
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