The Philippines location between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean has made the islands a crossing point for migrating people from all around the world. Consequently, the Philippines are made up of a variety of different people and ethnic groups. While there are many different dialects and languages, Tagalog is the national language. The people of the Philippines are called Filipino. Filipino cuisine reflects the blending of these wide and varied cultures.
People from Malaysia, were among the very first inhabitants of the Philippines over 20,000 years ago. They brought with them the understanding of preparing hot chillies and using ginataan or coconut milk, in sauces to balance the spiciness. The Chinese established colonies in the Philippines between 1200 and 1300. They introduced pansit or Chinese noodle dishes and bean curds. Later came egg rolls and soy sauce. Like the Chinese, the Filipinos consume a wide selection of dipping sauces to accompany their dishes. Spain occupied the Philippines for almost 400 years, beginning in 1521. This colonization had a major impact on Filipino cuisine. A majority of the dishes prepared in modern Philippines could be traced back to Spain. In fact, everyday Filipino dishes resemble Spanish cooking a lot more than native meals. The Spaniards introduced a Mediterranean kind of eating and preparing food. Techniques such as braising and sautéing, and meals cooked in olive oil, are examples. Spain also introduced cooking with seasonings, such as garlic, onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers and vinegar.
Filipino cuisine centres on the combination of sweet (tamis), sour (asim), and salty (alat), although in Bicol, the Cordilleras and among Muslim Filipinos, spicy (anghang) is a base of cooking flavour.
Counterpoint is a feature in Philippine cuisine which normally comes in a pairing of something sweet with something salty, and results in surprisingly pleasing combinations. Examples include: champorado (a sweet cocoa rice porridge), being paired with tuyo (salted, sun-dried fish); dinuguan (a savoury stew made of pig's blood and innards), paired with puto (sweet, steamed rice cakes); unripe fruits such as mangoes (which are only slightly sweet but very sour), are eaten dipped in salt or bagoong; the use of cheese (which is salty) in sweetcakes (such as bibingka and puto), as well as an ice cream flavouring.
Vinegar is a common ingredient. Adobo is popular not solely for its simplicity and ease of preparation, but also for its ability to be stored for days without spoiling, and even improve in flavour with a day or two of storage. Tinapa is a smoke-cured fish while tuyo, daing and dangit are corned, sun-dried fish popular because they can last for weeks without spoiling, even without refrigeration.
Cooking and eating in the Philippines has traditionally been an informal and communal affair cantered around the family kitchen. Filipinos traditionally eat three main meals a day: agahan or almusal (breakfast), tanghalían (lunch) and hapunan (dinner) plus an afternoon snack called meriénda (also called minandál or minindál). Snacking is normal. Dinner, while still the main meal, is smaller than other countries. Usually, either breakfast or lunch is the largest meal. Food tends to be served all at once and not in courses. Unlike many of their Asian counterparts Filipinos do not eat with chopsticks. Due to Western influence, food is often eaten using flatware—forks, knives, spoons, but the primary pairing of utensils used at a Filipino dining table is that of spoon and fork, not knife and fork. The traditional way of eating is with the hands, especially dry dishes such as inihaw or prito. The diner will take a bite of the main dish, and then eat rice pressed together with his fingers. This practice, known as kamayan, is rarely seen in urbanized areas. However, Filipinos tend to feel the spirit of kamayan when eating amidst nature during out-of-town trips, beach vacations and town fiestas.
As with most Asian countries, the staple food in the Philippines is rice. It is most often steamed and always served with meat, fish and vegetable dishes. Leftover rice is often fried with garlic to make sinangag, which is usually served at breakfast together with a fried egg and cured meat or sausages. Rice is often enjoyed with the sauce or broth from the main dishes. In some regions, rice is mixed with salt, condensed milk, cocoa or coffee. Rice flour is used in making sweets, cakes and other pastries. Sticky rice with cocoa, also called champorado is also a common dish served with tuyo or dried herring.
A variety of fruits and vegetables are often used in cooking. Bananas (the saba variety in particular), kalamansi, guavas (bayabas), mangoes, papayas and pineapples lend a distinctly tropical flair in many dishes, but mainstay green leafy vegetables like water spinach (kangkong), Chinese cabbage (petsay), Napa cabbage (petsay wombok), cabbage (repolyo) and other vegetables like eggplants (talong) and yard-long beans (sitaw) are just as commonly used. Coconuts are ubiquitous. Coconut meat is often used in desserts, coconut milk (kakang gata) in sauces, and coconut oil for frying. Abundant harvests of root crops like potatoes, carrots, taro (gabi), cassava (kamoteng kahoy), purple yam (ube) and sweet potato (kamote) make them readily available. The combination of tomatoes (kamatis), garlic (bawang) and onions (sibuyas) is found in many dishes.
Meat staples include chicken, pork, beef and fish. Seafood is popular as a result of the bodies of water surrounding the archipelago. Popular catches include tilapia, catfish (hito), milkfish (bangus), grouper (lapu-lapu), shrimp (hipon), prawns (sugpo), mackerel (galunggong, hasa-hasa), swordfish, oysters (talaba), mussels (tahong), clams (halaan and tulya), large and small crabs (alimango and alimasag respectively), game fish, sablefish, tuna, cod, blue marlin, and squid/cuttlefish (both called pusit). Also popular are seaweeds, abalone and eel.
The most common way of having fish is to have it salted, pan-fried or deep-fried, and then eaten as a simple meal with rice and vegetables. It may also be cooked in a sour broth of tomatoes or tamarind as in pangat, prepared with vegetables and a souring agent to make sinigang, simmered in vinegar and peppers to make paksiw, or roasted over hot charcoal or wood (inihaw). Other preparations include escabeche (sweet and sour), relleno (deboned and stuffed) or "kinilaw" (similar to ceviche; marinated in vinegar or kalamansi). Fish can be preserved by being smoked (tinapa) or sun-dried (tuyo or daing).
Food is often served with various dipping sauces. Fried food is often dipped in vinegar, soy sauce, juice squeezed from Kalamansi (Philippine lime or calamansi) or a combination of two or all. Patis (fish sauce) may be mixed with kalamansi as dipping sauce for most seafood. Fish sauce, fish paste (bagoong), shrimp paste (bagoong alamang) and crushed ginger root (luya) are condiments that are often added to dishes during the cooking process or when served.