August 18, 2018
Easy Approaches to Filipino Cuisine
from Chef Alex Dino
Many culinary professionals and trend experts are calling out Filipino cuisine as a coming trend in authentic global flavors, and as a native of Philippines myself, I happen to agree with them. The Filipino food movement in the United States began gaining awareness in 2012 when celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began broadcasting about delicious Filipino food flavors. Then in 2015, the international culinary summit “Madrid Fusion” selected Manila for the location of its 2015 event, to be the location for the 2015 event, and Alain Ducasse launched his first Alain Ducasse Institute out outside of France at Enderun Colleges in Taguig City, the famed chef’s regional hub in Asia.
• The 2018 “What’s Hot” Culinary Focus, compiled by the National Restaurant Association with the input of more than 700 professional chefs, identified Filipino as one of the Top 5 trending global flavors
Despite Americans’ growing familiarity with Southeast Asian cuisine, Filipino food is still relatively lesser-known.
Filipino food characteristically centers around the combination of sweet, sour and savory flavors, with a myriad of outside influences that can be linked to a colonial period or foreign occupation by Spain, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. The cultural diversity of the Philippines influences the thousands of regional differences in recipes. With 7,000 islands, there are also many interpretations of what authentic adobo or sisig are. Over the past few years, Filipino-American chefs have been working together to unify recipes and provide dining experiences that best introduce Filipino food to a mainstream audience.
Our challenge is to present menu items that are relatable, and that Filipino food more approachable by showing some of the commonalties it has with more familiar cuisines. Here are a few to get you started introducing your own customers to delicious, authentic Filipino specialties:
Adobo: The Philippine’s most famous dish is adobo, a hearty stew that is commonly made with pork belly, chicken thighs or both, braised in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves and onions to create a rich balance of salty and savory flavors. It can be cooked ahead and rethermed to order, making it a convenient addition to menus.
Adobo and other Filipino foods are often served with atchara, a pickled green papaya relish with a sweet/sour/salty/bitter flavor balance that makes it like the kimchi of the Philippines.
Pancit: Similar to pad Thai or lo mein, this savory noodle was inherited from the Chinese. Made with pancit bihon rice noodles and a variety of garnishes and rich flavors, it also showcases a two-part cooking technique that makes it perfect for display stations. The rice noodles are soaked in water to soften them, and the vegetables and proteins are cooked separately, then everything is merged and sautéed or stir-fried with soy sauce and other flavorings. And just as pad Thai is often garnished with a lemon wedge, pancit takes a wedge of kalamansi, a lime-like citrus fruit that is gentle but rich.
Sinigang: This brothy, flavorful soup will appeal to lovers of pho and other Southeast Asian soup meals. Made with shrimp, pork belly or milk fish (a fatty, farm-raised fish for which you can substitute salmon or tilapia), sinigang gets its signature sour and slightly sweet flavor profile from tamarind, a distinctively flavored fruit that has a mild, clean, “transparent” taste without the acidity of lemon or other citrus fruits.
Lechon Kawali: A gift from the Spaniards, this popular specialty consists of pork belly, braised until moist and tender in aromatics and then deep-fried to create a crispy, heavenly skin. The technique is very European, and as American diners become more familiar with the delights of pork belly, lechon kawali is a natural way to bring Filipino specialties to the mainstream menu.
Inihaw: With authentic global street food becoming more popular here, this skewered Filipino snack has a lot of potential. Traditional inihaw is made with pork or chicken, but it can also be made with squid or fish, brined in Maggi Seasoning, sugar and garlic, and then chargrilled to create a salty-sweet, sticky, fun and umami-loaded specialty.