Cuisine from the Philippines has evolved over centuries to include a diverse array of dishes – from pinakbet to paella – that fuse the best flavours from the east and west.
Leanne Kitchen

6 Sep 2013 - 2:01 PM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2021 - 3:57 PM

The Philippines comprises a string of islands – some 7000 of them – positioned about 800 kilometres south-east of the Asian land mass. The archipelago has been a stopping point for traders and merchants for centuries and has also been colonised by various powers – first by Spain and later by the US and Japan. The many long- and short-term visitors, including Malays and Indonesians, have all influenced Filipino cooking. The Spanish arrived in the late 1500s and stayed for 333 years, introducing chillies, tomatoes, olive oil, saffron, paprika, corn and potatoes into the nation’s culinary repertoire, as well as the technique of frying onions and garlic at the start of many dishes. Ingredients such as longganisa (similar to chorizo) and dishes such as paella, cocida (a vegetable and meat stew), kinilaw (raw fish reminiscent of ceviche), caldereta (meat braised with tomatoes) and torta (a Spanish-style omelette), are evidence of a significant Latin influence with a distinctly indigenous touch. From the Chinese influence came dishes such as pancit (fried noodles), lumpia (fresh or fried spring rolls), siopao (steamed buns) and siomai (dumplings).

The cuisine centres around rice with pork, chicken, beef or seafood. Frying, braising, barbecuing and roasting are the most common cooking techniques, and fish is often preserved in salt by smoking. Although there is an absence of complex spice combinations, flavours are hearty and bold, combining sweet, sour and salty tastes together in unexpected ways. For example, a rich stew of pig’s blood and offal, called dinuguan, is served with puto (sweet, steamed rice cakes), and bibingka (a steamed rice-flour and coconut dessert) is often cooked with cheddar cheese or salted eggs. Dipping sauces made from vinegar, the juice of calamansi (a small native citrus) or soy sauce are ubiquitous, as is the coconut, utilised for its oil, milk and flesh. As for snacks, pork crackling is a national favourite!


Chicken adobo
Pork, bitter melon and okra stew (pinakbet)
Rice and coconut cakes (bibingka)


Filipino ingredients

1. Bagoong and patis
Bagoong is a fish paste that is made by fermenting fish or prawns. The fish is first salted, then fermented in earthenware jars for up to 90 days. The result is a white or grey paste, often coloured red using angkak (red rice). Patis (fish sauce) is obtained when paste is fermented for up to a year.

2. Calamansi
The calamansi, a small citrus fruit native to the Philippines, is often used unripe and green. When left to ripen, the sweet skin turns orange. The fragrant juice is widely used for the fresh sourness it imparts to dishes, including fried noodles and arroz caldo (rice soup).

3. Annatto
Annatto seeds come from the achiote tree, which is native to the Americas. The seeds can be used to stain dishes a vibrant orange-red colour. In the Philippines, annatto is famously used in kare kare (a rich oxtail stew thickened with peanuts), tocino (cured barbecued pork) and sotanghon (vermicelli noodles with chicken and wood ear mushrooms).

4. Vinegar
Suko (vinegar) is an ingredient that is intrinsic to Filipino cooking. The main varieties are coconut, palm and cane vinegar. Filipinos use vinegar for its tart flavour in dishes such as adobo (see recipe left)and paksiw (roast pork cooked in a vinegar-based sauce), as well as in marinades and dips.



Photography by Janyon.


As seen in Feast magazine, December 2011, Issue 4. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.