First let me give you a little background information about the Philippine Islands, so you’ll understand its varied culture. The Philippines is an archipelago in the Southeast Pacific. There are approximately 7,107 islands depending on whether it is high-tide or low-tide.
When Magellan made his fabled round-the-world trip in 1521, he discovered the Islands for the Kingdom of Spain. Of course there had been many other visitors there from other nations, but since Spain was at that time a European colonial power, he laid claim to these Islands. As history has it, he set up a church in what is now the province of Cebu. After celebrating the first mass there he was killed in battle by a native, Lapu-Lapu.
In 1543, another explorer for Spain, Villalobos named the Islands Las Islas Filipinas in honor of Philip II of Spain. The Philippines remained a part of the Kingdom of Spain for nearly 300 years until the Spanish-American War. The country’s official seal displays Republika ng Pilipinas as its official name and the people of the Philippines are referred to as Filipinos or Pinoys.
In 1898, Spain was defeated by the Americans and Philippine soldiers and although the Philippine people considered themselves independent, the Americans thought otherwise. After 3 years of battles and skirmishes with locals, the US took control until 1946. Of course, from 1941-45 the Japanese occupied the country. Additionally, even though the US declared the Philippines fully independent in 1946, they continued to station troops in the Islands until 1992.
So, you can see that the culture of the Philippines has been influenced by many external factors. Perhaps the biggest influence was the Spanish, who established the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines. Catholicism is still the most-widely spread religion in the archipelago. Their language, culture, and foods still flavor the landscape.
Due to their proximity to the Philippines, other nations such as China, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan also have had an impact on the international flavors you can experience in the Philippines.
The Pinoy Pantry
The item of most importance to any Filipino’s pantry is rice. Most Filipinos will tell you that a meal is not complete without rice. In most cases it is white rice. Milagrosa or Jasmine is the most popular. You can tell if it is new rice by its smell. New rice has a distinct sweet aroma when cooking and loses that smell if stored for a long time. Jasmine is my favorite; it’s a little sticky and very white, almost like snow.
Pinoys use flour as a thickener for soups and sauce more than for baking. Until recently, not many Filipino homes had an oven. All-purpose flour is the choice for most, because it is used in a lot more dishes than other brands and the goal is to be economical, more often than not out of necessity. When you use flour as a thickening for any recipe do not mix it with water as you would cornstarch or tapioca, as flour doesn’t mix well with water and will quite often make your sauce lumpy. Instead, mix it with oil or the leavings or drippings from your roast or chicken. Next in importance for the pantry are the wet items and the dry ingredients
- Toyo or Soy Sauce
- Patis or Fish sauce
- Suka or White Vinegar
- Bagoong or Shrimp Paste
- Ketchup (Banana Catsup is the traditional favorite or Tomato Ketchup)
- Cooking Oil
- Coconut oil, milk, or juice (called buko by Pinoys)
Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce, and White Vinegar are oftentimes packaged together in the market. These three staples can be found in almost every Filipino dish to one extent or another. Additionally, you will see cartons or cans of evaporated and condensed milk.
- Peppercorns (whole black pepper seeds)
- Laurel or Bay leaves
- Curry Powder
Of course, you’ll also find white or brown sugar, baking powder, cocoa powder, and to a lesser degree yeast.
So, let’s get Cooking!
The following, in random order is the list, recipe, and a little background of those ten Filipino food favorites that you must try. If you’re not a cook, then try to find a Filipino Restaurant in your neighborhood, or better yet visit the Philippines and experience the rich culture of a tropical and exotic land filled with kind people and quaint traditions.