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Filipino Food: What to Eat When Travelling to the Philippines

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A Short History of Filipino food

Food is a very important component of the Filipino culture. Eating is so constant that Filipinos use “Kumain ka na?”  -- Have you eaten? – to greet one another.

The Philippines’ location in the Southeast Asian map made the island the crossing point of different migrating people and traders from all over the world. As a result, the Philippine cuisine is a reflection of the blending of these wide and varied cultures. The Malays who were the 1st to come over brought with them the use of hot chilies and coconut milk in sauces. The Chinese introduced noodles, beancurds, egg rolls and soysauce. The Filipinos took after the Chinese when using a wide variety of flavorful sauces and dips with dishes.

Then the Spanish came and stayed for more than 3 centuries. This colonization had a big impact on the Filipino cuisine, as majority of the dishes prepared in the modern Philippines have Spanish resemblance and preparation traits. It is even estimated by food experts that almost 80% of the Filipino cuisine can be derived from the Spanish origin. They introduced the Mediterranean style of cooking and eating. Braising, sautéing, meals cooked in oil are some techniques brought in by the Spaniards. Perhaps the most significant Spanish method influence was making savory marinates to flavor dishes. They also introduced cooking with seasonings, herbs and spices – garlic, onion, sweet peppers, tomatoes, vinegar.

The United States occupation came after during the early 1900s, shipping in mayonnaise, hamburgers, apple pies and hotdogs and generally quick and preserved food. The recent abundant presence of fast food restaurants in the urban areas is also a very strong American food influence in the country.


Raw Ingredients of Filipino Cuisine

Like their neighboring Southeast Asian countries, Filipinos eat a lot of rice, fruits and vegetables. The Philippine islands, being surrounded by water, have over 2,000 fish species. Thus, fish and several types of seafood are abundant and is a usual part of the everyday meal.

Meat (pork, beef and chicken) is anyway predominant in the urban areas and among people with income above the average. At the same time, in most parts of the country its use is still limited and meat is saved for special occasions like Christmas, weddings, birthdays or on Sundays, as it is more expensive.

For thousands of years, rice has been growing in the Philippines, and is eaten almost, if not, daily – in every meal. Rice is usually cooked by boiling in water, while others some steam or add pandan leaves to make it fragrant. It is meant to be plain and bland, as this would be eaten with flavorful viands anyway. They say, rice somewhat neutralizes the tasty food, whereas, for Filipinos, rice compliments great food. Like saying, “The food was so good, I ended up eating heaps of rice!”.


Regional food of the Philippines

As the Philippines have different regions and are made up of thousands of islands (check the best ones here), you could expect that there would be different specialty foods per area. Oftentimes, this would depend on what raw ingredients are plentiful in their island or province.

One island would have a different version of grilled chicken from the next island – using a special ingredient for marinating it or perhaps a twist of a difference in the grilling method. One aunt claims to make her shrimp stew the best among all the other shrimp stews in the community.

Cooking is rather personal and is a sense of pride for Filipinos. The cuisines and flavors interestingly vary further from the north to the south.


Daily Food Habits

An average Filipino eats five meals a day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner.

So, at any time, there are big chances that you might be interrupting a meal.

Usually composed of rice with fried fish or cured meat, egg, side vegetables and black coffee, the Filipino breakfast is always heavy and carbo-loaded as the Filipino needs all the energy to start a long day ahead. Fresh fruits may serve as dessert. For some who are on the go, quick bites of pan de sal (plain slated bread) or ensaymada (fluffy pastry with butter, sprinkled with sugar and grated cheese) and a cup of hot chocolate drink or coffee should suffice.

The in-between meals snack time (merienda) is important for Filipinos, as they find the gap between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner too long. This is a much – loved break from the tropical heat that they look forward to. For morning and afternoon snacks, a Filipino would have sweets like rice cakes, pastries like coconut pies or mango tarts, fruity gelatine bars, refreshing iced sweets with fresh fruit bits. Some would prefer to have stir-fried noodles, fried bananas, vegetable rolls or fruit salad. Anything can be served for the merienda snack meal, as long as it does not constitute the white rice, as it is only meant for “main meals”.


Lunch and dinner would still be having boiled white rice – a staple in the meal table. A large and tasty variety comes with plain old white rice for lunch:  sauteed vegetables, stewed meat, meat in broth or marinated and grilled chicken or pork, saucy or stir-fried dishes, steamed or braised seafood.


These tasty food are paired with beverages like fresh coconut juice, mango, papaya or melon shakes, cold pandan leaf tea to beat the heat. For cocktails, Filipinos enjoy the lambanog – hard liquor from coconut  mixed with pineapple juice or other local citrus fruit juices like calamansi or dalanghita.


Style of Eating

Filipinos eat “buffet style” – all the food brought in the table at the same time, allowing diners to abundantly enjoy all the flavours and tastes together. Traditionally, before outside influences came, Filipinos used their hands to eat. They still do so now, in picnics or at home or in places they feel comfortable in. But more commonly now, the spoon and fork is being used – the spoon on the right to scoop rice and other small pieces of food, also to tear off soft meat and the fork on the left hand to spear or to twirl noodles with.

Anyone who visits a Filipino home anytime of the day is offered food or is invited to eat with the family. It is always polite to accept the invitation, declining one would be somewhat offensive as the invitation is always sincere and it’s the homeowner’s way of showing hospitality. On the other hand, when visiting a home, it is courteous to bring a dish, tray or bag of food, snacks or nibbles for or to share with the family. Filipinos love to eat communally and together. Meal time is regarded as premium time, as it is their time to socialize with friends, family and as an ultimate gesture of making guests feel welcome.


Best Filipino Food and Desserts

As you could have noticed, Filipino cuisine has a very wide range of interesting topics. If you want to know the best recipes, you may like to read more on our blog with two very successful posts that went viral on the Internet:

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