By Cheshire Que
Over a century has passed since the Philippines declared her independence from the clutches of the Spanish reign. A lot has changed since that fateful day, especially in terms of the way and type of food that we Filipinos eat. Urbanized places within the archipelago have been strongly influenced by the Western culture’s obsession with convenient and highly processed foods. Yet no matter how Westernized we get, we cannot ignore our culture and heritage—a rich one that has been uniquely molded all throughout the centuries of being conquered, as well as, having trade relations with other nations.
Before the Philippines was colonized by Spain for 300 years, cooking methods were quite simple. Livestock raised in backyards were prepared by boiling, steaming, and roasting. Filipinos used the traditional way of eating which is known as “kamayan” using clean hands instead of flatware unlike neighboring Asian countries that make use of chopsticks.
Long before the Spaniards came, people from China have already reached the archipelago. The Chinese have taught Filipinos how to cultivate rice and along came dishes that have lasted centuries and are still a major part of every Filipino’s diet. Since then, the Filipino’s food preparation incorporated frying and stir-frying. Dishes like the fried rice which is locally known as sinangag, lumpiang Shanghai, pancit canton, and chopsuey, which we all consider very common, are all undeniably from Chinese influence. Condiments like soy sauce (toyo) and fish sauce (patis) also became staple condiments and culinary ingredients used to flavor various dishes. The Chinese are also into soups and congee which we have localized into arrozcaldo—a combination of two Spanish words which mean rice and soup.
If you go to the Visayas region and further down south of the Philippines in Mindanao, Malay-Indonesian, Arabic and Indian influences are strongly evident through the use of ingredients like coconut milk, bagoong or fish paste, patis, ginger, chili, and turmeric. This is a result of international trade.
It was not until the year 1565 when the first Spanish colony was established in Cebu by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. For 300 long years, the Philippines was ruled by Spain under the administration of Mexico. This gave rise to the cooking method of sautéing with garlic, onions, and oil. We now have our very own version of tamales using rice instead of corn, as well as, balbacoa or boiled beef shanks.
The Americans came to help liberate the Philippines from Japan. Food technology at its best was introduced to the Filipinos. We had chocolates, fast food, and other very sanitary and processed convenient foods. The arduous cooking preparations have been shortened.
With the rapid advancement in technology, the Filipino cuisine will continuously evolve. Certain distinct characteristics of the Filipino cuisine, however, will always remain within our culture, as these have been ingrained in our ways for hundreds if not thousands of years.
One of the distinct traits of the Filipino cuisine is the sought after linamnam taste. It literally means deliciousness but has a more profound meaning. Linamnam refers to these four flavors: sour, salty, sweet, and spicy. All are part and parcel of Filipino recipes. To further enhance the flavors, Filipinos are known for their sawsawan or dipping sauces and condiments which are combined to heighten the gastronomic experience.
Another aspect of achieving that linamnam is the Filipinos’ customary way of pairing foods. One would never go wrong with paring champorado with tuyo, suman at mangga, dinuguan at puto, green mangoes with bagoong, even as simple as dipping pan de sal in coffee. The variety of food pairings is endless.
Food in the Philippines is not merely for sustenance. It is one of the major things that define who Filipinos are—happy and family oriented. Food symbolizes love as manifested in joyous celebrations. The family members painstakingly prepare traditional dishes for hours on end, only to be devoured in a span of a short time during family get-togethers. This is one thing that will never change no matter how much evolution the Filipino cuisine will undergo in the future.
Since it is evident that Filipinos love to eat good food, it leads one to question how healthy the Filipino diet is. The results of the 8th National Nutrition Survey in 2015 showed that three out of 10 adult Filipinos are overweight and obese. More female adults are overweight and obese than men. This is due to improper food intake, which promotes abdominal fat accumulation related to increasing risk for metabolic syndrome.
Nowadays, the Filipino diet is composed of refined carbohydrates and sugars, as well as, high content of saturated fats. Convenient foods and fast foods are widely available. They impact food choices leading to lesser intakes of home-cooked meals that are supposedly prepared with less fat and refined sugars.
Tags: Filipino cuisine, Filipinos, Philippines, processed foods, Western culture