Filipino Cuisine: A Primer

By Sean Kenniff


Sean Kenniff
Photos by Briana Balducci
Photos by Briana Balducci

Across the country, there's a generation of Filipino chefs cooking the food they grew up with, bringing the foodways of a Southeast Asian archipelago to the United States. Below is a crash course in the essential Filipino ingredients, traditional dishes you'll find on any family's table, and a list of chefs of Filipino heritage to know, so you can educate yourself about a cuisine that's poised to take over the nation in all of it's soothing, pungent, humble, kaleidoscopic glory. 

Pop Pagsusulit (Quiz): Welcome to Class 

  1. What are the three ingredients in traditional Filipino relish?
  2. What’s the most common flavor of fried rice in the Philippines?
  3. In the Philippines, grilled or fried foods always come with a side of?
  4. What’s the difference between Pancit Palabok and Pancit Luglog?
  5. Is sans rival sweet or savory?
  6. What dish is often referred to as “Filipino ceviche”? 
    Pencils down, heads up! (see answers at the end of the article)

Be real. You failed. But no worries, so have the vast majority of your peers. We’re grading on a curve. 

Pantry Essentials
Bagoong: Salted shrimp paste
Banana ketchup
Calamansi limes
Dilis: Tiny, salted, dried, and fried anchovies served alone or for breakfast with rice, cucumber, and egg. When served over black rice, it’s called champorado.
Patis: Filipino fish sauce
Rice: Social Products black rice; other varieties, Eighth Wonder
Sugar cane vinegar, often infused with chiles and garlic
Ube: Purple yam

Just Like Ina (Mom) Makes
Widely considered the national dish of the Philippines, Adobo is browned and simmered chicken, pork, beef, or sometimes seafood that’s been marinated in a mixture of palm vinegar, garlic, herbs, and spices, often made with soy sauce and coconut milk.
Arroz Caldo: Literally meaning “rice broth,” this broken rice porridge is cooked with a whole chicken and garnished with egg, crispy garlic, green onion, sambal, and calamansi lime. 
Asado: Stew
Atchara: Grated green papaya pickled with ginger, annatto, and sometimes carrots and raisins.
Bistec: Soy-calamansi marinated beef, cooked in its marinade with onions, garlic, and black pepper. 
Carioca: Rice or tapioca doughnut holes served on a skewer.
Chicken Barbecue: Grilled chicken, often skewered, that has been marinated in a mixture of soy, banana ketchup, chiles, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and Sprite. 
Ensaymada: Soft, brioche-style butter rolls topped with sugar and cheddar cheese.
Kaldereta: Goat stew
Longganisa: Every region of the Philippines has its own variation of this pork breakfast sausage, a cousin to Spanish chorizo and Portuguese linguiça.
Lumpia: Varying from region to region, Lumpia are similar to egg rolls with a crepe-like wrapper or spring rolls with a rice-paper wrapper. Fillings may include vegetables, meat, and/or seafood.  
Pancit: A noodle dish with many variations and garnishes.
Pinakbet: A stew of seasonal vegetables—eggplant, ampalaya (bitter melon), string beans, okra, lima beans, malunggay leaves—with shrimp and crispy pork added at the end (à la the Fabro home in the Pangasinan Province).
Sopas: A creamy chicken soup made with elbow macaroni and evaporated milk, often topped with onions and hardboiled egg.
Spaghetti: Spaghetti served with a sweeter tomato sauce that’s flavored with banana ketchup, garlic, sugar, ground meat, and hot dogs, and topped with cheese, often Velveeta.
Tinola: Native chicken with green papaya, chile leaves, and ginger-onion-fish sauce broth.
Ulam: Main dish

Filipino Homies: Greater Los Angeles Getter Atienza (Broken Spanish), Alvin Cailan (Eggslut), Ryan Garlitos (Irenia), Concordia Family (The Park's Finest), Andre Guerrero (The Oinkster), Margarita Manzke (Republique), Dina Samson (Rossoblu, Sotto); San Francisco Carl Foronda (1760); Seattle John Madriaga (Spruce); Washington, D.C. Tom Cunanan (Bad Saint); New York Joseph Buenconsejo (Scribner’s Catskill Lodge), Leah Cohen (Pig & Khao), Suzanne Cupps  (Untitled), Angela Dimayuga (Mission Chinese), Romy Dorotan & Amy Besa (Purple Yam), Nicole Ponseca (Jeepney, Mahalika), Dale Talde (Talde), Mina Pizzaro (L'Appart). 

Answers: 1. Fish sauce, tomatoes, onions 2. Garlic fried rice 3. Atchara 4. The thickness of the noodles 5. Layered dessert of meringue, buttercream, cashews 6. Kinilaw

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