Culinary Perspective: The Philippines

by Donna Berry
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Filipino kebabs tend to feature marinated pork that is charred over an open flame.
Filipino kebabs tend to be pork marinated in a highly acidic (vinegar) tomato-based sauce and charred over an open flame. (Source: ACH Food Companies Inc.)
 

Food innovation is running at an all-time high and the Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panel has named what they believe will be hot trends in 2018. The panel draws perspectives from retail, foodservice, strategic marketing and culinary education. While many of the trends speak to health and better-for-you choices, consumers’ demand for deeper flavor exploration is still strong, as evidenced by their growing interest in Filipino foods, one of the top trends forecast for 2018.

Often overshadowed by other Asian cuisines, the foods of the Philippines have not yet captured a broad US audience. That’s shifting, as American palates have become more sophisticated and attuned to the complex flavors and bitter or sour notes of Filipino dishes. Chefs and tastemakers are taking to this cuisine that infuses Asian and Latin flavors and pairs very well with meat and poultry.

Filipino flavors can be quite complex. They tend to be a layering of bold flavors with fresh ingredients, which in the end, meld together to form a unique profile. Filipino food is influenced by Chinese, Malaysian, Spanish and American culinary traditions, thus a wide range of spices is often prominent. Flavors in Filipino dishes are layered and rely heavily on vegetables and fruits to build their complexity. Pineapple, coconut, jackfruit, palm nuts, tomatoes and bananas have become some of the most widely used flavoring ingredients with cassava, potatoes, yams and rice the preferred starches. Chilies are sometimes used, but not as heavily as in other parts of Asia. For the most part, Filipino food is considered a no- to mild-heat cuisine.

Spices used in Filipino cuisine are more aromatic than spicy-hot.
Spices in Filipino cuisine are more aromatic then heat. Mainstays include annatto seed, bay leaf, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and onion. (Source: Anuga)
 

Animal proteins are the primary component of many Filipino dishes. The fusion of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices is balanced against hearty roasted, grilled and slow-cooked meats. Some resemble foods common to international American cuisine, while some local and regional specialties might be considered “extreme ethnic.”

One of the most popular dishes is adobo. It is a cooking process as well as a flavor profile, as it involves marinating protein in a sauce based on vinegar and seasonings such as soy sauce, black pepper, garlic and bay leaves. The protein is then browned in oil and transferred back to the marinade for a lengthy simmering. The sauce gets reduced while the protein tenderizes. The stew-like mixture is typically served over a bed of rice or with another traditional starch.

Lumpia spring rolls are common street food fare in the Philippines.
Lumpia spring rolls are common street food fare. Fillings include chopped vegetables and minced meat. They are fried and served crispy with dipping sauces. (Source: National Turkey Federation)
 

Here are some other Filipino dishes to spark innovation:

• Bistek is flattened sirloin coated in seasoned breadcrumbs and fried. It is often topped with grilled onions and soy sauce.

• Kaldereta is a traditional goat meat stew, but has evolved over time to be made with beef, chicken or pork. The meat gets stewed with vegetables, such as bell peppers, olives and tomatoes, and liver paste. The latter contributes a metallic iron taste intended to counter the grassy flavor of goat. The stew is often finished with annatto seed, which gives it a vivid reddish-orange color without adding much flavor.

• Kare-kare is another meaty stew. This specialty includes oxtail braised in a thick and savory peanut sauce. Organ meats as well as hocks and feet can also be added. Vegetables are quite varied and often include greens, cabbage and eggplant. Additional flavor comes from ground roasted peanuts, onions and garlic.

• Lumpia is a spring roll made with a thin crepe called the lumpia wrapper. It contains a mixture of chopped vegetables — typically cabbage, carrots, green beans and leeks — along with minced meat. Pork is the most common protein used in lumpia, but beef and poultry are also used. The rolls are fried and served crispy with dipping sauces. The sauces provide an opportunity to add additional layers of flavor.

• Lechón is suckling pig or chicken that is spit roasted after being rubbed or marinated with a variety of spices. This is considered a Filipino delicacy and starting to show up in high-end US restaurants.

• Sisig is a spicy dish made from parts of a pig’s head and liver. The meat first marinades in vinegar to tenderize, then it is seasoned with varied chili peppers and simmered for many hours. This is one of the hotter dishes in Filipino cuisine.

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