What is Filipino food and how does it taste? The chefs explain

The Philippine diaspora, with about 12 million people in over 100 countries, is one of the largest in the world.

Yet Philippine cuisine is not as widely known as some Asian cuisines. Cooking aficionados argue that adobo – chicken or pork stewed in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and pepper – should be as recognizable as phad tai, ramen, and shrimp dumplings.

As more Filipino chefs gain international recognition, the popularity of Filipino cuisine is gaining momentum. In 2015 Antonio Restaurant – run by Filipino Toniboy Escalante – was the first restaurant in the Philippines to be included in the list of the 50 best restaurants in the world and debuted at 48th place.

Sarsa’s motto is Filipino Food Forward. Dishes from Manila Restaurant (clockwise top right): Sishig, Tortang Talong Crab (Eggplant Omelet), Sizzling Kansi (Beef Shank Soup), Chicken Inasal, and (Medium) Beef Caldereta.

Scott A. Woodward

In 2016 Bad saint, a Washington, D.C. restaurant opened by James Beard award-winning chef Tom Cunenan, named America’s second best restaurant by magazine Bon Appetit magazine. That same year in Manila Margarita Fores was awarded the title of the best chef in Asia according to the British organization 50 Best.

However, insiders say attempts to popularize Filipino cuisine are due to stereotypes abroad, as well as problems within the Philippines.

From Manila to Miami and Paris

Cheryl Tui is a Manila-based food journalist and founder of the Miami Events website. Cross-culture, attributes part of the problem to “hiya”, which in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, means “shame.”

A baker at Panderya Toyo sprinkles bicho – the local variety of beigne – with sugar and cocoa.

Scott A. Woodward

“We’ve been a colony for so many years and have been made to think that whatever is imported is better,” Thiu said. “Fortunately, today’s generation is loud and proud of their heritage.”

“Television didn’t help either,” Tiu said.

“We also got so much bad press in the sense that some of our meals were ‘fear factors,’” she said. “Many people associate all our food with this.”

On Gallery by Chele’s tasting menu, blue crab is garnished with fermented tomato sorbet, smoked fish dashi and garnished with crystallized tigig (a variety of local figs).

Scott A. Woodward

Some of these sentiments were echoed by the Parisian Filipino chef. Erica Paredes

“It seems like we never thought our food was good enough to be presented on the world stage,” she said.

Fried scallops with fennel and shinigan (a transparent sour soup traditionally made with tamarind) and Korean fried chicken with adobo sauce are just some of the dishes that Paredes prepares in a Parisian cafe. Mokoloko, a work that has received praise from Vanity Fair and other press.

“Many young chefs nowadays take pride in their pride in being authentic, and that includes the inclusion of flavors that bring us joy and comfort,” she said. “As if we were waiting for permission, but now – no more.”

What is “Filipino food”?

“We love acidic foods,” said JP Anglo of Manila’s TV host and chef. Sarsa Kitchen + Bar, when asked to define Filipino food.

As with many other cuisines, food in the Philippines has evolved according to taste and need. Cooking with acidifying additives helps keep food warm in tropical climates. For the same reason, fermented, dried and pickled foods are common.

Chef at JP Anglo of Sarsa Kitchen + Bar.

Scott A. Woodward

“We get sour taste from fruits like tamarind, batwan and calmansi … we also have different varieties of vinegar,” Anglo said. “We also have dried fish and fermented shrimp like bagun or ginamo., which impart a strong and pungent taste. “

Basque Chef Shele Gonzalez from Chele Gallery made the Philippines his home in 2010. Welcomed and noted by the local community, he frankly assessed the flavor profile.

Executive sous chef Carlos Villaflor picks fresh herbs on the Gallery by Chele’s terrace.

Scott A. Woodward

“Most Filipino food tastes differently — sweet, sour and salty — sometimes very difficult for us foreigners to understand,” he said. “With chefs like JP Anglo and Jordi Navarra, things are getting more sophisticated and sophisticated.”

Many islands, many influences

Chef Jordi Navarra from Toyo eatery in Manila, number 49 this year List of the 50 best in the world, said Filipino food is difficult to define because it varies from country to country – a country made up of 7,107 islands, 22 regions and eight major dialects.

Chef Jordi Navarra at the window of Panaderya Toyo bakery.

Scott A. Woodward

“One of the most beautiful aspects of Filipino cuisine is its variety,” he said. “There are many regions and islands that represent the food we eat across the country … the more we learn and understand, the more we can express and share what we eat with the world and with each other.”

History plays a role too.

Centrally located in the pre-colonial Sino-Indo-Malay trade routes, the Philippines was a melting pot of cultures until the arrival of the Spanish in 1521. Over 300 years of Spanish rule – a period that included Mexican influence due to the galleon trade. the route that ran between Acapulco and Manila – the cuisine is heavily saturated with Latin elements and ingredients.

In 1898, Spain ceded control of the Philippines to the United States following Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War. Thus began a period of American cultural influence in the Philippines, which included the English language and, in modern times, a love of fast food, sweets and processed foods.

“Filipino cuisine can include mango peach pie from home-based fast food chain Jollibee, even if we don’t have peaches,” Navarra said. “It can also mean shinigan, using sampalok (tamarind). from the tree in your yard and the pork raised by your neighbor. “

Chef Jordi Navarra (center, with his team at Toyo Eatery) said staying open and surviving a pandemic is a feat.

Scott A. Woodward

Chef Anglo said that promoting food in his country needs to start at the local level.

“I look at our Asian counterparts like Thailand for incredible street food,” he said. “I want to see this movement down here as well.”

He said he wants to highlight the street vendors – “little country guys” who cook “amazing traditional dishes” so that they too can succeed. Then, he said, “everyone around can follow their example.”

Authenticity in an evolving kitchen

One of the biggest obstacles to Filipino cuisine is the so-called “crab mentality” – a widely used term in the Philippines to describe the act of toppling a successful person next to you. (The term comes from the word “crabs in a bucket”, which seek to shoot down a crab that is about to escape.)

In the culinary world of the Philippines, this is often accused of being “unreliable.”

Panaderya Toyo creates classic Filipino breads and pastries with a modern twist. The recipes follow the local tradition of using sweet and chewy dough.

Scott A. Woodward

“For me, being authentic and being traditional are two different things,” Paredes said. “I cook based on my experience, and as someone who grew up in Manila, lived abroad and now lives in France, using seasonal European products combined with Filipino or Southeast Asian flavors and spices is very authentic to me.”

Navarra said he travels to find out what Filipino food means to people across the country. For him, being authentic means “making sure we represent the people and communities that inspire us and our work.”

The chefs interviewed for this report agree that if the taste is inherently Filipino – if it tastes good, savory, sour, garlic – then the food is real.

What’s next

“We are at the epicenter of a revolution and this is very exciting,” Gonzalez said. “The nuances of flavors, the play with textures, the fusion of traditional and modernist techniques, all of which raise the culinary scene.”

Perhaps the biggest growth factor in Filipino cuisine is the recruitment of chefs who stubbornly refuse to apologize.

The Chele Gallery presents a Filipino street food called taho, a sweet treat made with goat milk custard and fresh strawberries from Luzon.

Scott A. Woodward

“We own it,” says Anglo. “Chefs like Tom Kunanan or Anton Dirith in the US are not saying that this is their view of Filipino food or that this is Fil-Am cuisine … it has to be a movement.”

“We need to be bold,” he said. “This is who we are, this is our food, and we love it.”

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