Before arriving in the Philippines, I didn’t have clue as to what to expect from Filipino food, and more importantly would it taste good? Our Rough Guide to Southeast Asia had the following “Filipino food has not been embraced worldwide because it has an unwarranted reputation for being one of Asia’s less adventurous cuisines, offering a relatively bland meat and rice diet with little variety or spice. But those willing to experiment will find even the simplest rural dishes can offer an intriguing blend of the familiar and the exotic”. Time for one of my favourite activities while traveling, eating the local food! After 3 weeks of sampling the delights on offer, here’s my take on Filipino cuisine…
It’s hard to think of a particular dish we ate most frequently, I suppose it would be their budget meal, meat and rice, either pork or chicken and more often than not with the obligatory bits of bone and cartilage to gnaw on if you’re brave enough! Our favourite dish was their national one, Adobo, pork with a thin gravy made from soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and pepper, although every time we ate it, it was slightly different.
Fish was always on the menu, Bangus (milk fish, freshwater) and Tilipia (another freshwater fish) are farmed in the north and towards the coast seafood is popular and all reasonably priced. The guesthouse we stayed at in Kabayan did some great food, I really enjoyed their fish Sinigang, with a slightly sour broth, although Mike wasn’t so keen.
What the guide book doesn’t mention however is western food. It’s really easy to find pizza and pasta and we had one gorgeous pizza at Pizza and Cupcakes, in Bontoc, recommended by two Welsh travellers. Simon, the owner of the guesthouse we stayed at in Batad made some great flatbreads, a welcome sight after 7 weeks of rice and sweet American style bread.
Most Filipino restaurants we tried made a great omelette, so creamy and delicious, perhaps a little bit pricy for breakfast (relatively) but there was so much egg and frequently a large serving of rice. Another highlight was as a result of the Spanish colonial heritage; empanadas, mmm deep fried goodness, however I preferred them in Laoag to Vigan, even with the bright orange colour!
One ingredient in Filipino cuisine that we quickly noticed and didn’t like so much was sugar, lots of sugar! Most of the food was so sweet, the Filipinos sure have a sweet tooth and are embracing American style fast food to the detriment of their health; we saw a fair few diabetes clinics. As for sweets and desserts there are some good bakeries, we feasted on the iced buns a few times during long bus journeys. I can’t neglect to include the Filipino favourite, halo-halo, a dessert made from crushed ice, tinned fruit (like fruit cocktail back home), sometimes a scoop of ice cream, condensed milk and an extra spoon of sugar for good measure! Condensed milk or sugar syrup is added to quite a lot of drinks, especially fruit ones. I wasn’t a really big coffee drinker and would never have black coffee before starting this trip, but as milk isn’t that common and people generally add creamer instead, at least I know what to expect from a black coffee!
So finally what have I learned from my food experience in the Philippines? After three weeks of sampling a variety of Filipino dishes and rarely being constrained by our budget, more often a slight travellers trepidation of will it make me ill? Filipino food is definatly filling, can be bland at times but we did have some really tasty dishes as well, all depends on where you eat. As for the dodgy stomach, I only suffered once and we ate quite a bit of street food and at Sari Sari stores (street side shack like shops that have food as well), still, plenty of time to thicken that stomach lining ready for India in a few months time!
As for whether it will change my cooking when we get home? Probably not; but it’s only through travel that you learn about other cultures and share new culinary experiences and there were some highlights to remember during our trip.