Manila was the sole Asian base held by Spain, a superpower from the 1500s until 1890, and it was the Manila-Acapulco route that connected Asia with the New World, carrying spices, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, cotton, silk, earthenware, ceramics and porcelain.
Philippine cuisine is like the Filipino people: a blend of cultures, including Malaysian, Indonesian and Pacific. Centuries of Chinese influence, four centuries of Spanish control and 50 years of strong American domination have all left a profound mark.
Though the influence of the US on Philippine cuisine may be restricted mainly to some desserts, you shouldn’t be surprised to find dishes such as paella, relleno and fadobo, all given a distinctive Philippine flavor. You’ll find soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce and all the spices of Asia and India, but adapted to Filipinos’ palates. And it is these sauces that are the heart and soul of Philippine cooking, the component that give it its originality. In this archipelago of 7107 islands, known for their hospitality and love of celebration, food seems to be everywhere on any given day. It’s sold all along the sidewalks: coconut candies, grilled meats and fish, fruits laid out on bamboo platters. Philippine food is one of the great pleasures of the islands. There are restaurants and cafeterias, pubs, open-air cafés, “pastelerias,” tea rooms, ice cream stands, karinderias, pansiterias…
Karinderias are small restaurants that take their name from the word “kari” (curry), a spice introduced into Manila during the British occupation. The word curry became kari-kari and refers to a dish of beef, vegetables and peanuts served with fish sauce. Karinderias today offer their own specialties and their customers include pilgrims on their way to Antipolo.
Restaurants specializing in noodle dishes are called pansiterias, and offer quick hot meals in Binondo and Santa Cruz, the former business sections of Manila. Until the 1970s, their menus, written in Chinese characters and Spanish, were painted on mirrored panels inside the restaurant. Cantonese dishes were offered alongside Philippine dishes combining shellfish, smoked fish and other ingredients unavailable in China.
Filipinos have always been eclectic when it comes to food. No food fad escapes this country. From all their riches, past and present, Filipinos have created a very refined cuisine, varied and sophisticated, with a unique flavor all its own.
Here medicine is often basic, especially on the smaller islands, and the daily diet often includes bitter herbs, fruits and vegetables. It is said that the more bitter the food, the more beneficial its effect, particularly the bitter melon or ampalaya.
Lemongrass is widely used in Philippine cooking. One of its best uses is in tinolang manok, when an entire stalk is added to the stew to give it a fresh lemony flavor. It is also used in binakoe (Alkanon) or binakul (Tagalog). We need to explain this unique cooking method: meat, or more commonly chicken, is placed inside a green bamboo stalk with some lemongrass; the whole thing is then placed into a mature bamboo pole and cooked over the fire, with the second layer of bark protecting the green layer.
Every nationality looks at nature’s offerings differently. One good example is the avocado. Filipinos would be amazed, or even shocked, to see Westerners eating avocados in salads, stuffed with crab or shrimp, or in any hors-d’oeuvre. In the Philippines the avocado is eaten as a dessert, either in ice cream or as a kind of milkshake. The flesh is scooped out with a spoon and puréed with milk and sugar, and then ice is added. This can also be done in a blender, though this appliance is usually found only in restaurants. Some people add cream or condensed milk.
With the kind assistance of the Philippine Embassy in Paris,and the Ethnic and Specialty Food Show
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