The Multifaceted Landscape Of Filipino Food

Filipino food variations show that our culinary influences are from a rich tapestry of cultural exchanges throughout the archipelago.

In 2018, April was declared as Filipino food month through Proclamation No. 469. The occasion aims to promote and preserve the culinary tradition of the Philippines. A report from the Philippine News Agency said the government tasked the Department of Agriculture and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts with leading the celebration. 

Filipino food has a colorful landscape. Our epicurean heritage encompasses not only the cities and provinces of the whole archipelago, but also our pre-colonial influences. April is the month where we celebrate our country’s distinct palates, traditional ingredients, and our Filipino flair in every dish. 

READ ALSO: Vanishing Legacies: The Lost Art Of Philippine Heritage Ingredients

Here are five beloved Filipino dishes which have multiple versions and cooking styles. 

“Adobo” variations

Adobo is typically cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, pepper or peppercorn, and dried bay leaves. The word literally means marinade, which is widely used in Spanish and Mexican cooking. However, something about this dish made it tailor made for the Filipino taste.

Borja Sanches, a Spanish chef and culinary scientist, delivered a lecture about cultural connections of the Philippines and Spain at the Ateneo de Manila University in 2019. He presented findings saying Filipinos have consumed adobo before the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines. Adobo incorporated spices from the Philippines during those times, indicating the global trade’s effect on the Spanish dish.

Adobo, as a Filipino food, has numerous variations at present, like the examples Knorr and Panlasang Pinoy provided. The dish may use pork, chicken, beef, or seafood if people prefer other options of protein. Vegetables like kangkong, labong, and string beans may also be used in the viand. 

Some adobos are saucy, while others are dry. Some sauces are dark, while others are light in color, like the adobong puti, which uses salt and vinegar instead of the usual soy sauce.

Other people put ingredients that are not usually used in the dish, such as: sugar for a sweet alternative; lechon sauce for it to have a lechon paksiw twist; coconut milk or gata; and chilis and ginger for added spices. Some add tofu, eggs, and potatoes as well.

Sample variations are: ginataang adobo, adobong isda, adobong kangkong, adobong labong, adobong sitaw, crock pot adobo, and adobong dilaw with turmeric, among others.

Alternative “sinigang” recipes

Sinigang is a dish that is sour yet many consider it as a comfort food. It gets its sour taste traditionally from sampaloc or tamarind, but alternative ingredients like kamias, green mango, guava, and calamansi may be sources for its tartness. A number of restaurants in the country have experimented with sinigang, and here are some examples.

Manam’s Sinigang na Short Rib and Watermelon makes use of watermelon for acidity and a tinge of sweetness that balances its sourness.

Manam’s “Sinigang” na Short Rib and Watermelon uses the fruit to add a fresh, balancing sweetness to the dish
Manam’s “Sinigang” na Short Rib and Watermelon uses the fruit to add a fresh, balancing sweetness to the dish/Photo from Manam’s Facebook page

Locavore serves an out-of-the-box take on sinigang with their Kimchinigang. Their version adds kimchi, arugula, sigarilyas, and silken tofu. It delivers a tangy, mild spiciness to the comfort food, but it still has hearty flavors that would make it unforgettable.

Locavore’s imaginative take on the sinigang involves using kimchi to add acidity and spice
Locavore’s imaginative take on the sinigang involves using kimchi to add acidity and spice/Photo from Locavore’s Facebook page

Meanwhile, Abe’s take on sinigang gives it a pop of purple as they incorporate ube or purple yam in their version.

“Ube” or purple yam balances Abe’s “sinigang,” giving the viand thickness and sweetness
“Ube” or purple yam balances Abe’s “sinigang,” giving the viand thickness and sweetness/Photo from Abe’s Facebook page

Other sinigang variations according to Unilever and Booky are: Kurobuta (black pig) sinigang, sinigang na corned beef, sinigang paella with grilled pork belly, and sinigang na lechon with strawberry, among others.

Different interpretations of “tinola”

Tinola is a hearty chicken soup dish that traditionally comprises ingredients like ginger, green papaya, and dahon ng sili (chili pepper leaves). Like most Filipino food, it, too, has several alternate recipes.

Some tinola renditions involve using chayote and moringa leaves or malunggay. Some use cream for an added rich twist to the conventional tinola, or replace ginger with lemongrass. 

The traditional “tinola” uses green papaya, ginger, and chili pepper leaves
The traditional “tinola” uses green papaya, ginger, and chili pepper leaves/Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Other versions use a different protein other than chicken, and put clams, fish, or tofu instead, according to biotechnology company Ajinomoto and

A popular variant of tinola is chicken binakol, a dish widely known in the Visayas region. Coconut water makes the binakol special as it takes the place of actual water, with coconut meat added in for sweetness and texture. 

However, Manila Bulletin explained native chicken is the better choice to use for a binakol recipe. Native chickens are leaner, more nutrient-dense, less fat, and distinctive flavors.

Chicken “binakol” is a dish from Western Visayas.

An assortment of “pancit”

According to Business World, the term pancit derives from the Chinese term “pian e sit” which means “food convenient to cook.” The aforementioned Filipino food may have been influenced by another culture, but its individual regional interpretations put various twists that made it also truly ours.

Here are some examples of different styles of cooking pancit.

Popular versions consist of the pancit canton, bihon, and palabok. The former makes use of shredded pork or chicken, a series of vegetables like cabbage, green beans, carrots, garlic, and onions. Wheat or egg-flour noodles are stir-fried with soy sauce, and sometimes oyster sauce, on a pan. Bihon utilizes thin rice noodles along with the same ingredients from the canton. Palabok also has thin rice noodles but its thick, bright orange sauce is seafood-based, typically from shrimps.

Another type of pancit came from Cagayan, called the batil patong. Its main components are egg noodles, toppings, and a sauce. It has a myriad of toppings, like ground beef, chopped pork liver, cabbage, mung bean sprouts or toge, and eggs. 

People can enjoy the “pancit batil patong” more with soup.

Pancit luglug is Pampanga’s version of palabok. The name came from the traditional process of rinsing the noodles to cook or reheat it.

“Pancit luglug” dates back up to the 18th century, in Guagua and Bacolor, Pampanga.

Pancit Malabon, lusay, langlang, and habhab are among the many existing examples of pancit in the country, as per Rappler. We associate the dish in celebratory events like birthdays, weddings, baptisms, or even austere occasions, like wakes. 

Multiple presentations of “bulalo” mentioned bulalo, a classic beef soup, came from Southern Luzon and dates back as far as the 16th century. 

Cooking bulalo is a straightforward process but it requires patience. The beef shanks need to be cleaned thoroughly and it is essential for the broth to simmer well for the flavors to kick in. One will need onion, peppercorns, cabbage or pechay, and corn to complete the dish, and usually it is best served with rice.

The traditional “bulalo” comprises of beef shanks, leafy greens, corn, and sometimes, bone marrow
The traditional “bulalo” comprises of beef shanks, leafy greens, corn, and sometimes, bone marrow/Photo from Wikimedia Commons

One of its most popular regional counterparts is the pochero, which makes use of a tomato-based broth from Visayas. Pork and chicken may be used aside from the usual beef.

The only thing that sets the “pochero” apart from the traditional “bulalo” is its tomato-based broth.

Bacolod also has an entry in the form of the kansi, a sour, Ilonggo take on the traditional bulalo. However, their version stripped off the leafy greens to make it all about the meat and soup, as per GMA News.

“Kansi” has a fruit element called “batuan” or “binukaw” as a souring factor.

Other bulalo interpretations presently include sizzling bulalo, bulalo flakes, bulalo mami, steak, and kare-kareng bulalo

Why celebrating Filipino food month is essential

Celebrating Filipino food month is essential as it preserves cultural traditions, reinforces national identity, and promotes tourism to a global audience. Engaging more people about FIlipino cuisine fosters community bonds and honors cultural pride.

Moreover, it enlightens people about the versatility and ever-expanding nature of our culinary landscape, showcasing our diverse and distinct flavors.

Banner photo from Airam Dato-on via Unsplash.

Shop for LIFESTYLE ASIA’S magazines through these platforms.
Download LIFESTYLE ASIA’s digital magazines from:
Subscribe via [email protected]