If I were to be asked about my specialty as a hobbyist cook, I’d say it’s Italian. Most of the food pics I’ve taken in the past years are either experiments in spaghetti or homemade pizza.
Through some unforeseen events, however, I had to brush up on Filipino cuisine earlier this year as I took on the role of designated dinner cook for our household 4-5 times a week. My productivity took a nosedive (I had to budget 1-2 hours a day out of my work) but it gave me a chance to experiment and level up my Filipino cuisine cooking skills.
In these series of blog posts, I’ll be discussing the various dishes that I have been making on a regular basis. To make this different from other cooking blogs, I won’t just be posting a recipe handed down to me by my mother/grandmother. Instead, I’ll try to look a bit deeper into the recipes and attempt to explain why some cooking techniques work and why some don’t. In short, I’ll be doing a mini Good Eats / Serious Eats Food Lab for every dish.
But before that, let’s get one thing out of the way first…
The obligatory “Why hasn’t Filipino cuisine caught on abroad yet?” discussion
I’ve had some small discussions with friends about cooking recently and this topic came up a couple of times. Since I’m writing blog posts on Filipino cuisine, I might as well give my 2 cents on the subject now.
In my opinion, there are a few big reasons:
1. Filipino cuisine is rustic and practical.
For reference, look at Japanese cuisine. The “boom” in Japanese cuisine was through sushi – an exotic dish whose preparation takes years of experience to master. But do Japanese people eat sushi everyday? Not really. Their regular dishes are not that different from their East Asian and Southeast Asian neighbors.
I feel that many are trying to do the same thing with Filipino cuisine, find a class of Filipino dishes that will get a restaurant a Michelin star. But that won’t happen – while there are certainly a lot of exotic Filipino dishes, AFAIK none of them have the same level of sophistication as, say, French cuisine. You can certainly dress them up as such, but people will see through the farce.
On a similar note, the “practical” above also means that Filipino cuisine are often full of fat – something that you’d want to have to prepare for famine (especially in a country frequently devastated by Typhoons). Until the whole “fat is evil” propaganda is corrected to “excess food is evil” in the biggest accessible potential market for Filipino cuisine (USA), it will definitely be a hard sell.
2. Filipino cuisine is (and isn’t) fusion cuisine.
Being a colony and trade port for so long, Filipino food has been influenced a lot by other cultures, whether it’s the pre-colonial regional influences (Chinese, Malay/Indonesian) or the more recent influences (Spanish, American). Because of this, it’s hard to claim a dish is purely “Filipino” or not.
What some don’t realize is that it’s okay for a “Filipino” dish to not be “purely” Filipino. There are many dishes that we attribute to a certain culture that are actually heavily influenced by foreign cultures e.g. tonkatsu. All that matters is that we’ve adapted that dish into our lives, modifying it such that it is more practical given the availability of ingredients and such that it’s flavor fits in with what the mainstream considers “tasty”.
This also means that we probably shouldn’t market Filipino cuisine as “fusion cuisine” because we already adopted them as “Filipino” (with a few exceptions like, say, banana ketchup spaghetti). Just as forcing ourselves to find a “truly Filipino” dish is blindly nationalistic, going the opposite route may be perceived as belittling one’s own nation’s culture.
3. Pansit, Lumpia, and Adobo.
Screw Pansit, screw Lumpia, and screw Adobo. I’m ok with them, but they’re definitely not on my list of favorite Pinoy foods. I’m not even going to write about them in this series except for one of them, and that’s only because they’re so close to another dish.
But when you ask a 2nd or 3rd generation Filipino-American about their favorite food, it’s always these three freaking dishes that their Lola used to make. No mention of the various stews, grilled foods, deserts, etc. No mention of the regional dishes and how they contrast with the ones found in Metro Manila.
In other words, so many of these people are out of touch with what’s really being eaten in the “motherland” and we cannot expect them to promote Filipino cuisine well.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to the first dish »