I learned that there’s a lot to love about Filipino food. It’s the punch in the face you didn’t know you needed, and tastes like home… no matter where your home is.
I was staying in the Iloilo/Guimaras region, and I got to see a very different kind of Asian culture. Rice is a staple, as in Vietnam, but the food as a whole is much more bold – vinegar makes a frequent appearance, as do features from Spain and other Filipino regional styles, which makes for eclectic, exciting eating.
I thought the most obvious attribute was the contrasting flavors. Vietnamese food often features such flavor pairings, like Salty, Sweet, Sour, and Savory, but usually to a much more subtle effect, and usually telling a story through texture, too. Filipino food stomps into the room with a bottle of brandy and a bucket of fried chicken skins, and tells you to get the cups! Flavor, texture, nutrition (or not), this cuisine has got it all going on, and it loves to tell you all about itself… and it wants you to know that you, too, have a home in the Philippines.
A very special thank you to my friend Rey! I couldn’t have properly labeled this post without you. Thanks for a truly mind-expanding trip! Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, hands down.
DISCLAIMER: I haven’t tried most of these recipes, but they’re on my list!
Tapa – Beef
Sinangag – friend rice (With lots of garlic!)
Itog – Egg
Served with a dish of vinegar! This extremely simple meal can be ordered just about anywhere, and is most commonly made for breakfast with the day-old rice from the night before. This was my favorite breakfast. It’s as delicious, with fewer ingredients, as many of my favorite Vietnamese breakfasts.
MAKE IT AT HOME: http://panlasangpinoy.com/2014/12/12/tapsilog-recipe/
Inasal na manok
I couldn’t really just go to another country and not try the fast food, right? …right?
This place is a local chain (Inasal, which is Ilongo – regional language – for grilled) and it was darn good. Plus, there’s an employee that comes around with steaming packs of fresh rice! It’s all the rice you can eat! (If you’re wondering, I can eat two packs of rice. I knew you were curious.)
MAKE IT AT HOME: It’s a roast chicken with steamed rice and vinegar. Figure it out.
These peanut are flash fried in a wok with garlic, salted, and served as an appetizer or drinking snacks. So. Much. Yum. This could be the ultimate bar food. I think next time I try making it, I’ll add some minced jalepeno pepper, too.
MAKE IT AT HOME: http://www.filipino-food-recipes.com/adobongmani.html
Pancit means noodles and this famous dish is a HUGE (like, we’re talking American-sized portions here) pile of sautéed beef and vegetables that makes for a satisfying meal. There’s just so much there! The noodles are Bihon, rice stick noodles, but you can probably sub any kind of thin, round noodle here.
Braised with onions, garlic, lemon, and soy, and served with vinegar-y soy, because obviously. Awesome. Basically a really easy way of making pork taste better than a standard pork chop. Be sure to get the crispy crust if you try it at home!
MAKE IT AT HOME: http://melyskitchen.blogspot.se/2013/07/braised-liempo.html
Philippine-style Chorizo (Sweet Hamonado)
DARN MY SHAKY HANDS – this was supposed to be a beauty shot! This has got to be the best sausage I’ve had in Asia. A super-sweet grilled chorizo, meant to be dipped in vinegar (of course!) and eaten with rice or not. Wow. I could have eaten this all week, Rey, I’m glad you didn’t let me!
Upper: Tapsilog – Cured beef (it looks charred, but its not really. It’s just dark, and very dry)
Lower: Longsilog – a kind of Filipino-style sausage. Sweet but not as sweet as the Chorizo above.
Very, very fragrant everything. If there’s one thing that the cuisine does well is get up on stage and put on a show. By the time you’ve picked up your spoon and fork, you are ready to let loose on the bad boy!
A weird sidenote about eggs: I think they fry eggs better in Vietnam. I cannot explain this, but it seems like the Vietnamese fried eggs usually have that brown crispy crust on them. I didn’t see a lot of that in the Philippines. Of course, I was only there a week, and only had Silog 3 or 4 times. I *$^%ing love this breakfast dish, is what I’m saying, and the next time we have dinner, you and I, you can bet I’ll be preparing something like this! All these contrasts make for really exciting dishes.
MAKE IT AT HOME: This is a super simple breakfast – if you like, you can make the Chorizo above (Longsilog), or check out this page for a compendium of the varieties of Silog available… but really, anything can become a silog! http://filipinostylerecipe.com/tag/breakfast/
Fried Chicken Skin – Chicharron Manok
One of Rey’s favorites, and now one of mine: Fried Chicken Skins paired with a special vinegar. I’m not a vinegar expert, so I can’t tell you really how special this is, or what’s in it, or anything about it except it was vinegary and golden in color, but I can speak as a man who has eaten this dish, and found it utterly f&#*ing awesome. Someday I’ll be brave enough to attempt this magical sidedish for drinking.
MAKE IT AT HOME: http://www.filipino-recipes-lutong-pinoy.com/chicharon-manok.html
And I thought I didn’t like tamarind. HA.
Not only did I eat this dish in an amazing straw-covered hut of my own, but it was pretty magical to boot. The spicy tamarind in the broth has the addictive power of crack cocaine. The pork-based broth was almost more savory than the hunks of pork or vegetables within! Truly soup to knock you out of your current mind-state. Fortunately, my current mind-state was “relax” and my backup mind-state was “no really, relax” so I was covered.
MAKE IT AT HOME: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/pork-sinigang/
This classic pork dish has many different regional variations, but I was perfectly content with this one. It’s pork belly fried in the most amazing – and dangerous, for us amateurs – way: while deep frying, the chef continuously sprinkles cold water into the oil, creating the bubbly, sinful skin on top.
MAKE IT AT HOME, CAREFULLY: http://www.kawalingpinoy.com/2014/10/lechon-kawali/
Do not adjust your monitor – you are reading this correctly. We ate this pizza on a secluded beach in Guimaras, the mango capital of the Philippines (home of the sweetest mangos on Earth), before jumping in the water for a bit and then island hopping the rest of the afternoon.
Adding green bell peppers and cashews to the rich cheese and ultra-sweet fresh mango is an unusual and delectable combination. Hot sauce was not optional for me – it was a pretty blissed-out 15 minutes of eating. If you’re in Guimaras, stop in at Pitstop Restaurant! If not, try out the recipe below – it’s worth it! (This recipe includes chicken and bacon, but it doesn’t need to – it’s magical just the way it is.)
Cucumber Lemon Juice
REFRESHING. So refreshing, in fact, that I drank half the pitcher before I realized I should be taking pictures for posterity… and to remind myself to make some of my own, later. Here’s the recipe I’ve used! Smitten Kitchen really knocked my socks off with this one – perhaps even better than my first pitcher.
MAKE IT AT HOME: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2014/09/cucumber-lemonade/
Soy sauce, brown sugar, and vinegar marinade provides a one-two-three kick of salty/sweet/sour, and adobo makes frequent appearances in a variety of Filipino meat dishes. This fancy-pants version was melt-in-your-mouth awesome, and gone inside five minutes. No shame. NONE. And we devoured the rest of this sauce on the rice, too. THAT GOOD.
NOTE: This Filipino cooking blog is awesome, btw. Dude can write.
Boneless Bangus (Milkfish)
The Bangus is the national fish of the Philippines and for good reason. It’s a tasty, simple preparation (if you can find boneless milkfish in your home country, that is), that satisfies a wide variety of the cravings you might have regarding fish. It’s rich, savory, and pretty darn healthy, too. Don’t be scared of fish in the kitchen – it might take a bit of time to get your technique down, but your stomach, and the stomachs joining you, will be thankful.
Also, this fish is notorious for being extra boney, so be sure to double check and have all of them removed at the supermarket or before you start cooking!
Turon na Saging at langka
ULTRA-SIMPLE. SUPER-CLASSIC. SUPERLATIVES GALORE.
This is a really, really simple dessert that’s gonna leave you full and thinking about the next time you can make it. Bananas, jackfruit (if you can find it), and brown sugar are wrapped in lumpia wrappers or spring roll papers and deep fried. This version we ate had an enormously rich caramel sauce on top, which, frankly, made me want to weep with it’s simple beauty (actually, extend that to all Filipino dishes. So damn great).
AND THAT WAS MY TRIP IN FOOD!
The Philippines is a fantastic, surprising, relaxing place – utterly different from Vietnam, and rooted in Asian, Hispanic, and American cultures. From the guns to the catholicism, to the friendliness of the residents and their unique and proud heritage, it’s really got it all. This cuisine is unique, filling, simple, complex, contradictory, and satisfying, often all in one bite. If you’ve got the time, I’d recommend checking out a few of these, or others.
Next time I get to the Philippines I’m heading to another part of the country, so if that happens, please keep your eyes peeled for a focus on another regional style!
And now… back to our regularly scheduled Vietnamese stuffs.
Do you have favorite recipes for any of these dishes? Have you made any of these? Please comment below and let me know what you find!