Restaurants that sell Filipino food in the west have seen recognition from famous YouTube food channels, like Eater and Munchies. A host from one of the channels even said that Filipino food should be the next big cuisine. If you’ve tasted and loved the adobo, liempo, nilaga, or tinola you had recently, you probably want to make them on your own.
The Diversity of Filipino Flavor
Just like any other cuisine, however, Filipino food requires specific spices and ingredients that are often difficult to find out west. After all, the food is influenced by a variety of nationalities, as the country openly traded with other nations like China and was colonized by both Spaniards and Americans. The average Filipino dish often has a mix of sweet, salty and sour.
Whether you’re looking to cook dishes that get you in touch with your Pinoy roots or wanting to get to know the food and culture of Filipinos even more, here are the essential ingredients your pantry should have.
Salty: Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce and Shrimp Paste
Filipino food is heavily influenced by East Asian cuisine, like ones from China and Japan. As such, salty ingredients are a must. You can find soy sauce in a lot of Filipinodishes. The most recognizable one would be the ever-popular adobo. Both the meat and stew appear dark brown, as the soy sauce penetrates through the skin and flesh of the pork or chicken to marry with the sour and spicy ingredients. Even the Spanish-influenced easy menudo recipes have a drop of soy sauce in them.
Fish sauce, locally known as “patis,” is made of preserved fish and salt. It not only provides a salty flavor, but it also adds a certain “funk” to the dish because of the fermented fish. Fermentation involves yeast, bacteria, and other microorganisms breaking down a certain food item through heat. Filipino-style patis is very salty. It’s used to add a kick to otherwise light dishes, like tinola (a sort of chicken soup) and nilaga (beef slow-cooked in its own broth). Like soy sauce, it can also be used as a dipping sauce.
Speaking of funk and fermentation, there’s also shrimp paste. This is used to add a deep, salty flavor to sour or rich-tasting food like green mango and kare kare (braised oxtail cooked in peanut stew). If you can’t find this in your local store, do a search on Facebook Marketplace. There may be small, local businesses making and selling their unique shrimp paste blend.
Sour: Vinegar and Calamansi
Vinegar is another important ingredient in adobo. It balances out the saltiness from the soy sauce and the umami flavors from the garlic and onion. There are different kinds of vinegar in the Philippines. They’re often made from sugarcane, coconut, and palm. Some cities, like Iligan, are even popular for their unique and special vinegar blends. This is also used as a dipping sauce for a variety of dishes, like lumpia.
Calamansi is a type of lemon that’s native to the country. It provides a refreshing acidity to any soy sauce-based dipping sauce. It’s also a great component for a marinade, as it helps in tenderizing and breaking down meat.
The Great Equalizer: White Rice
It’s no surprise that Filipinos love their rice. It’s a great pair to any Filipinodish. The intense and rich flavor of afritada or adobo can be toned down to perfection with a spoonful of rice. Apart from being a great side-kick to different food, it can also be the hero the morning after you use it. Leftover rice is great for making garlic-fried rice, a common breakfast food that every Filipino loves smelling first thing in the morning.
Filipino food is the result of decades of influence from a variety of Asian and western countries. As such, its ingredients come from around the world, too. Keep these essentials stocked in your pantry and you’ll be able to prepare and cook a variety of Filipino dishes that even the most meticulous “lolas” will approve of.;