Why buy it?
The hallmarks of Filipino cuisine, when raised in conversation, are usually inconclusive. It’s Asian, right? It’s near China, so… there's rice? While that's a start, it's a weak one, considering how diverse, regional and surprising this food inherently is, thanks to its melding of Spanish and Chinese flavours with its own distinct style.
Author Yasmin Newman’s Filipino-Australian take on the dishes of her mother’s heritage are a great gateway to the heights and complexities of this little-known cuisine. She adds personal notes, which infuse the recipes with a sense of place, of family and humble authenticity. For example, it's her mother's garlic fried rice which she still recalls with vivid description. Its showy, salty fragrance would waft through the house beckoning her for breakfast.
Browsing the book, you'll soon learn how Filipinos are renowned for their interplay of sour, sweet and salty. The main flavourings used are vinegar, citrus in the form of kalamansi, soy sauce and fish sauce. Tamarind features often. As does shrimp paste, with its pungent salty smack to the tastebuds. These are not subtle, but any Filipino home cook knows just the right balance so that neither overwhelms.
While this is a peasant cuisine, clever nuances abound. And, importantly, this is food that's fun to eat. If you dare, abandon cutlery and devour a multitude of dishes that you've likely not come across before, such as the salty beef tapa, vinegary fish daing and impossibly sweet longganisa sausages. Just don't forget the rice.
The recipes, though tailored to a Western home cook, do a great job of remaining true to their roots. The only real lesser-known ingredient that appears, even then, sporadically, is annatto powder, an earthy peppery flavour that also adds colour to a dish. Add to that bay leaves and peppercorns and you're well on your way to plating up.
Buko pie (young coconut pie). This charming dessert involves savoury flaky pastry filled with young coconuts – make a point to scrape the flesh into the pie’s signature wide pieces. It’s a popular pasalubong, or food gift.
Most surprising dish
Tortang talong (eggplant omelette). It’s a popular breakfast food (Filipinos don’t do cereal) whereby you char an eggplant over open flame, keeping the stalks intact, then fry it with beaten egg. Let it cool and serve with rice and vinegar seasoned with pepper and chopped onion. Smoky and magnificent.
Fiesta fare, or party food, is all about putting out one's very best. It's not to show off or out-do another; it's to thank each other for friendship, support and good will in the tastiest way there is – with food.
Pork lovers, and those who enjoy cooking with off-cuts. It's for those with a taste for the fresh, clean flavours of Asian food. Nothing’s overly spicy if that’s a concern. This collection of more than 100 recipes is for anyone who’s ever wondered, “What’s Filipino food like?”.
7,000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines, Yasmin Newman, (Hardie Grant Books, $49.95, hbk)