Filipino cuisine is a vibrant fusion of Southeast Asian flavors, with influences from China, Spain, and the United States. It’s characterized by its savory and sour taste profiles, with common ingredients like rice, fish sauce, citrus fruits, and vinegar.
Filipino recipes often use a variety of cooking methods, such as braising in adobo, boiling in soups such as sinigang, and grilling for a smokey touch, to create a harmonic balance of savory and sour flavors.
Filipino cooking traditions stem from the country’s historical connections with many civilizations. Indigenous cooking methods emerged as a result of influences from Chinese wok cooking, Malay and Indonesian customs, Spanish colonization introducing techniques such as adobo, and American influences molding features like grilling and frying.
Here are the common cooking techniques and styles often employed in preparing Filipino dishes.
By marinating beef in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices before boiling, adobo is a delicious and slightly sour dish. The method not only provides rich flavors but also serves as a preservative, which was historically necessary in the absence of refrigeration.
- Chicken adobo: chicken pieces marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices, then braised until tender, creating a flavorful and savory stew.
- Pork adobo flakes: shredded pork adobo seasoned with spices and pan-fried until crispy; often used as a filling for tacos, sandwiches, or served with garlic rice.
Sinigang is a sour soup cooked by simmering meats such as pork or shrimp, in a tamarind-based broth with various vegetables. This method not only produces a warm and savory soup, but it also illustrates the Filipino preference for balancing sourness with other taste aspects.
- Pork Sinigang: Pork ribs simmered in a tamarind-based broth with various vegetables such as water spinach (kangkong), radish (labanos), eggplant, and string beans, creating a sour and savory soup.
- Shrimp Sinigang: Shrimp cooked in a sour tamarind broth with a medley of vegetables, offering a seafood twist to this classic Filipino sour soup.
Lechon is a savory centerpiece for celebrations that involves roasting a whole pig until the skin is crispy and the flesh is soft. Because of the particular flavor and texture imparted by the roasting procedure, lechon is a highly valued delicacy in Filipino culture.
- Lechon Kawali: Pork belly boiled until tender, air-dried, and deep-fried until crispy. It is typically served with liver sauce or vinegar-dipping sauce, providing a crunchy exterior and succulent interior.
- Lechon Manok: Whole marinated chicken skewered and roasted over charcoal, resulting in a flavorful and aromatic dish often enjoyed during special occasions.
Stir-frying and Sautéing
Commonly used in preparing dishes like Pancit (noodles) and beef tapa, stir-frying and sautéing quickly cook ingredients over high heat, preserving their natural flavors and textures. This method allows for the incorporation of various meats, vegetables, and noodles in a single dish.
- Beef Tapa: Thinly sliced beef marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, calamansi juice, garlic, and pepper, then stir-fried until tender and caramelized. It is commonly served with garlic-fried rice and a fried egg.
- Pancit Canton: Stir-fried noodles with a combination of meats, vegetables, soy sauce, and sometimes oyster sauce, offering a savory and satisfying noodle dish.
Steaming, often done with bamboo steamers, is employed in making kakanin (rice cakes) and other delicacies, preserving the nutritional value and natural sweetness of the ingredients. This gentle cooking method is essential in creating a variety of traditional Filipino desserts.
- Bibingka: A traditional rice cake made from steamed glutinous rice and coconut milk, topped with salted egg, cheese, and grated coconut, resulting in a sweet and chewy dessert.
- Puto: Steamed rice cakes made from rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar, often served as a snack or breakfast item and paired with savory or sweet toppings.
Inihaw, or grilling, gives meats and fish a smokey flavor, as evidenced in dishes like inihaw na baboy (grilled pork). This approach imparts a delicious char and scent to the food, adding to the variety of Filipino flavors.
- Inihaw na Liempo: Marinated pork belly grilled to perfection, featuring a smoky flavor and a crispy exterior, commonly served with soy-vinegar dipping sauce.
- Inihaw na Bangus: Milkfish marinated in vinegar, garlic, and pepper before being grilled till golden brown, highlighting a famous Filipino grilled fish meal.
Frying is utilized in dishes like lumpia (spring rolls) and crispy pata (deep-fried pork knuckles) to achieve a crispy texture and enhance the overall taste. While not the primary cooking method, frying adds a delightful crunch to certain Filipino dishes.
- Lumpia Shanghai: Thin spring rolls filled with a mixture of ground pork, vegetables, and seasonings, deep-fried until crispy and served with a sweet and savory dipping sauce.
- Crispy Pata: Pork knuckles or hocks are boiled until tender, air-dried, and deep-fried until crispy, resulting in a flavorful and crunchy Filipino delicacy often served with a side of liver sauce.
Boiling and Simmering
Boiling and simmering are fundamental techniques in Filipino cooking, and they are used to make broths, stews, and soups like Bulalo (beef bone marrow soup). These techniques enable flavor extraction from a variety of components, resulting in hearty and pleasant dishes.
- Bulalo: Beef shank and bone marrow boiled and simmered with corn, potatoes, plantains, and green beans, creating a hearty and savory beef soup.
- Tinolang manok: Chicken pieces simmered in ginger-infused broth with papaya, chili leaves, and sometimes green unripe papaya, producing a light and comforting chicken soup.
The careful use of ingredients like soy sauce, vinegar, coconut, and a variety of local spices, combined with techniques like braising, grilling, and souring, results in a harmonious variety of sweet, savory, sour, and umami flavors that define the rich and complex flavors of Filipino cuisine.