There is more to Filipino food than adobo. You don’t believe me? Then check out these traditional Filipino recipes and try them at home. As long as you love sweet, salty, and sour, you can never go wrong with Filipino cuisine!
Mealtime in the Philippines is family time.
All the dishes are served on the center of the table, with a serving spoon on each dish — for each family member takes a portion and places it on their own plate.
Dipping sauces (locally known as ‘sawsawan‘) are always served, sometimes (even) one dipping sauce for each dish.
Dessert can be some baked goods or local delicacies, but oftentimes, it’s fresh fruits in season.
The most common of these are bananas, mangoes, or pineapples.
Influences on Filipino cuisine
In its history, several nations have occupied and settled in the Philippines for years. Four of them have had a significant influence on its cuisine:
- Malays. The simplest forms of cooking — boiling, steaming, and roasting are what they’ve primarily passed on.
- Chinese. Everything about frying — stir-frying, deep-frying, plus all the noodles and spring rolls variation that’s now part of all top-Filipino-dishes list. Not to mention the concept of having a dipping-sauce with almost any dish.
- Spanish. The Spaniards came to the archipelago from Mexico, so there’s a bit of Mexican effect in there as well. That’s why you see dishes like picadillo, menudo, and kaldereta. What do they all have in common? Tomatoes and potatoes.
The biggest Spanish impact, though, that’s now part of every Filipino’s DNA? Merienda.
It’s that afternoon snack that’s normally after 3:00 in the afternoon. A snack that’s filling enough to keep you energized for the next meal — dinner at 7 or 8 pm.
- Americans. Spam, sausage, corned beef; essentially an influx of canned goods. Eventually, you see sausage added in menudo and corned beef mixed with potatoes served with pandesal for breakfast.
- Vegetable oil – primarily used for frying and sautéing. Olive oil is never used in traditional Filipino dishes; neither is peanut oil.
- Shrimp Paste (Bagoong) – you either love it or hate it. I understand why some people cannot stand the smell (and taste) of this, but hey, live and let live. It’s funky; it’s salty, it’s an acquired taste — Nah, it’s still delicious.
- White Rice – Steamed white rice is generally prepared for lunch and dinner, pairing it with at least one meat, fish, or vegetable dish. Any leftover is then used for making garlic fried rice or sinangag, which is typically served for breakfast.
- Glutinous Rice – used for savory dishes and a handful of local delicacies. Filipinos love this special type of rice because it is deliciously filling, easy to cook, and reasonably priced.
- Chili Peppers – Bird’s eye chili and the long green one is commonly used. Bird’s eye chili is generally added into a dipping sauce if you want some additional heat, while the long green one is used for some classic Filipino dishes, like sinigang (sour soup).
- Soy Sauce – while identical to the Chinese dark soy sauce’s color, is not as thick, and there is not an ounce of sweetness in this one, just saltiness, with a hint of umami.
- Vinegar – sugarcane vinegar is the most common that you can find in supermarkets. However, palm vinegar and coconut vinegar are also available nowadays.
These types of vinegar are not as acidic as the western ones like white wine vinegar.
So, if you are thinking of substituting them, you need to make sure you dilute it — three parts of white wine vinegar to one-part water.
- Fish Sauce – this is what Filipinos used to season their dishes, not salt. I think it smells worse than the shrimp paste, but it still makes every dish flavorful. Ticks that box for ‘extra oomph.’ 🙂
- Garlic – not just for cooking, this vegetable is oftentimes used for dipping sauce as well. Mixed with vinegar, it’s great with vegetable spring rolls and some other street food.
- Banana Catsup – sweeter than your normal catsup, locals use this generally for fried or grilled meat; plus, it’s a crucial ingredient in making Filipino-style spaghetti!
Three base flavors
Sour, salty, and sweet. These are the base flavors for Filipino dishes, and you can even see this in the combination of dipping sauces.
- Calamansi with fish sauce – sour (citrus) and salty.
- Shrimp paste and vinegar – salty and sour, but with slightly more acidity than calamansi.
- Something sweet? Banana catsup is always the first choice, and yes, Filipino-style spaghetti is sweet (with hotdogs). 🙂
Typical breakfast dishes
It is a bread that goes well with all kinds of spread, eggs, cold cuts, and sometimes even with just a cup of coffee.
Pandesal is such a well-loved bread — we often eat it on its own, any time of the day.
You might think it’s too heavy to have rice for breakfast?
Nah, you have to try the various pairings that’s typically served with sinangag, and for sure, you will end up with a favorite.
Lunch and dinner recipes
Some locals prefer to have lumpiang gulay for merienda.
It does not make a difference what time of the day — if you haven’t tried them yet, prepare them at home, and I dare you to stop eating after (just) one piece!
Ground beef mixed with raisins and some vegetables, and just perfect for weeknight dinners.
You get a bit of sweetness from the raisins, and a hint of salt and umami from the soy sauce added — so you get two of the base Filipino flavors in every bite.
Oh! And make sure you have a lot of steamed white rice served with your Filipino picadillo!
Delicacies and sweets
A Christmas tradition, it is ubiquitous during the holidays.
Bibingka used to be just available outside the church, but restaurants and food courts are also selling them nowadays.
This is a cake that perfectly shows the salty and sweet contrast of Filipino flavors — and trust me; this traditional delicacy is mouth-watering!
It might not sound so traditional because dates and walnuts are not that common in the Philippines, but for some reason, these treats are generally sold in big bakeries.
And if you don’t believe me, wait for the Christmas season, and you will see these food for the Gods wrapped as gifts to friends and families.
Yep, just like fruit cakes, but in squares. 🙂