The Philippines is a Pacific Rim nation of more than 7,000 islands. It has a diverse culinary culture influenced by local ingredients and other ethnic cuisines, most notably Chinese, Malay and Spanish.
“All of these factors come together to create an incredible fusion of flavors that while uniquely Filipino with its sour/sweet notes and indigenous ingredients, also incorporates flavors borrowed from other cuisines,” said Ryan Kukuruzovic, corporate chef, Wixon, St. Francis, Wisconsin. “This is what contributes to the appeal of Filipino flavors. They’re both novel and approachable.”
Beyond its rich mélange of flavors, interest in Filipino cuisine on the US food scene is being driven by several factors. First is the ethnic diversity of younger generations. US census data indicates America’s Pacific Island population is expected to increase 25 percent from 2013 to 2023. While at the same time, the Asian American population is projected to grow by 28 percent. Second, consumer demand for global flavors both in foodservice and consumer packaged goods continues to expand, especially for Asian flavors. According to a 2018 Lightspeed/Mintel survey, American consumers prefer Southeast Asian cuisine more than Latin and African cuisines and 75 percent of Southeast Asian consumers are seeking out food of their own ethnic heritage.
Looking specifically at the rising interest in Filipino foods, Google Trend data shows Americans are searching Google for Filipino food more today than in the past decade.
“All of these indicators point to an unmet demand for Filipino flavors in the market,” said Becca Henrickson, marketing manager at Wixon. “Pacific Island cuisines are also primarily dairy- and gluten-free, which adds another layer of appeal among consumers following these dietary patterns. Our innovation team sees unlimited opportunities to incorporate Filipino flavors into products across the health and wellness spectrum, as well as into savory snacks and meal solutions.”
One of the more popular dishes is Philippine adobo, which is considered the unofficial national dish. It is a cooking process as well as a flavor profile, as it involves marinating protein — beef, chicken or pork — 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.
In addition to vinegar and soy sauce, other key Filipino flavors are banana, calamansi lime, coconut, mango, tomato and ube. Some other popular Filipino dishes include Bistek, which 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. 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 is starting to show up in high-end US restaurants. Sisig is a spicy dish made from parts of pig’s head and liver. The meat first marinades in vinegar to tenderize, then it gets seasoned with varied chili peppers and simmered for many hours. This is one of the hotter dishes in Filipino cuisine.