SO exciting! Our first guest post! Will recently took a trip to the Philippines, and in true Just Add Cheese spirit, took a ton of food pictures and learned a lot about the local cuisine. I don’t know about you guys, but I know nothing about Filipino food. Until now! Here it is…
I’m Will, a food enthusiast friend of Jacki and Meesh. My mother is Filipino and I had an opportunity just recently to visit the Philippines and approached the girls about potentially posting something about Filipino cuisine. My mother never really cooked Filipino food, so I thought this might spur me to be a little more adventurous and get a broader sense of how Filipinos might sustain themselves.
There’s a saying that Filipinos love to eat. Coming from a Filipino family, I should have seen this. Every family gathering turns into a four-hour potluck with different titas (aunts) fighting over who would get to cook next. At weddings, there are near fights over the “good” crab. Any time a family member visits, food is sure to follow. Somehow I was able to overlook all of this, chalking it up to “Oh that’s just my family.” I had never been exposed to Filipinos other than them, but apparently my family is pretty typical. I don’t think I did anything while I was in the Philippines that didn’t involve food. Road trips across the country were dotted with stops at fruit stands and restaurants. Meeting up with anybody required a meal, regardless of what hour it was, and Filipino food is not something that encourages activity afterward.
Filipino food is an interesting hybrid of different influences. Native Filipinos descend from a Malaysian-Polynesian bloodline. Spain occupied the Philippines for almost 400 years starting in the mid 16th century. The United States took over for the next 50 years, interrupted only during World War II by Japanese occupation from 1942-44. The food is mainly a mix between Spanish and Malay-Polynesian with a limited amount of American, Chinese, and Japanese influences. Like their Asian neighbors, rice is a necessity for a quality Filipino meal.
From here, either a fish or a meat (typically chicken or pork) base is added. I’m not exactly a fish guy and many of the fish were fried whole. The added pressure of having the fish stare back at me easily persuaded me to avoid the fish.
(Milkfish is the sole variety of Southeast Asia)
My favorite dishes included the adobo and sisig. Adobo is made with chicken or pork. The base of adobo is a vinegar, soy sauce, water based sauce and the meat is then stewed in that sauce until it is fully cooked. Then it is fried to crisp and brown the edges. The meat is tender and has a slight tangy-sour taste because of the vinegar and soy sauce.
Sisig is a three part process: boiling, broiling, and frying. A pigs head is first boiled to tenderize the meat. Portions are then chopped off and broiled. Lastly it is fried with onions and served sizzling on a plate. Variations include eggs, liver, or other cuts of pork. The meat is then typically sprinkled with kalamansi (a sour Filipino fruit). The dish is a favorite amongst Filipinos, though it was only invented fairly recently. In my experience, the meals are frequently fried. This made it somewhat difficult for me to eat Filipino cuisine every night.
The most challenging dish I encountered was balut, a dish prepared almost identical to a boiled egg. The difference is this egg is a duck egg, fertilized for nine days with an embryo inside. The egg is boiled, peeled opened and eaten with a little salt. The taste is very similar to a hard boiled egg, but the unnerving sight of the embryo and the slight crunch of its bones and beak left me gagging at numerous points not only while I was eating it, but for almost an hour after.
(We were going to put an image, but it is disturbing, click at your own risk.)
I left the Philippines with a newfound love for Filipino cuisine. Other than my balut experience, I found the food very delicious. Coming from a kid who orders pork belly anytime it’s on the menu, I guess it’s not a surprise that I liked Filipino food given their proclivity for pork. But even beyond the pork I found myself truly liking almost everything I had. The food is quite heavy, which made it difficult to eat daily, but that doesn’t necessarily stop the cravings. I guess I am a real Filipino, always looking to eat.