When it comes to Southeast Asian cuisine, Filipino food usually falls wayside to its neighbors. This is a bit saddening, considering the Philippines boasts multiple regions, rich cultural and historical influences, and abundance of crops, seafood and livestock. That means our country has a diverse range of delicious dishes to offer that also reflect our pride, heritage, and love for lutong-bahay (home-cooked meals). This is also the reason why “kain” (eat) is a common greeting and invitation among us, Pinoys.
If your foreign friends are coming over for a vacation, don’t forget to treat them to some delicious Filipino dishes to complete their immersion into our culture. Not sure what to serve them? We’ve rounded up some options you can recommend that will surely indulge their palate.
If there is a king or queen of Filipino food, Adobo will likely take the crown. Although of Mexican origin, Adobo is a comfort food for majority of Pinoys that we love it like it is our own. This dish is so ubiquitous, there are potentially hundreds of variations in every region. Yet, the ingredients and way of cooking are always the same: you slowly simmer the meat—either chicken or pork or a combination of both—in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, pepper, bay leaf and other spices until they are tender, and you’re good to go. This technique of cooking helps preserve the meat even without refrigeration. In fact, Adobo tastes even better the day after it’s cooked.
This particular Filipino food is traditionally served in fiestas (local festivities) or any other special occasion. A whole pig is spit-roasted over coal, until the skin becomes golden-brown and crisp and the meat is juicy. It is then served with a special sauce (usually liver sauce) together with hot rice. Depending on the region, the stomach of the pig is stuffed with a variety of spices to make the meat savory even without the sauce.
If you want to serve your friends some Lechon they won’t forget, be sure to take them to Cebu because this is where the best ones are hailed from. Even the late celebrity chef and television personality, Anthony Bourdain vouched for this on his blog entry titled “The Hierarchy of Pork.” Coming from someone who has travelled the world all over and tasted a wide variety of cuisines, Bourdain’s words speak volumes about how good Cebu’s Lechons truly are.
Lechon can get pretty expensive, especially if you buy it whole. So if you are working on a tight budget, Crispy Pata is an alternative that won’t disappoint. Not to scare your foreign friends, but this Filipino food is pork knuckle simmered for hours in spices to make the meat tender and then dip fried until the skin is crisp to perfection. This is best served with a sauce that combines vinegar, soy sauce, and chili. Feeling hungry yet?
Have we mentioned how much we love our pork? Because if not, know that we truly do, and we don’t want any of its parts going to waste. This is why our next entry on the list reflects the Filipinos’ no-waste attitude towards food—Sisig.
A delicacy from the Philippines’ culinary capital of Pampanga, Sisig is made out of different pig parts (usually the head), including the cheeks and ears as well as liver. The parts are chopped into small pieces and marinated in a sauce made of soy sauce, vinegar, and spices and then boiled, broiled, and grilled to achieve a crunchy and chewy texture. Finally, it is cooked together with chopped onions and then served on a sizzling plate with egg. Don’t forget to season it with calamansi and chili peppers! Although Sisig is often enjoyed with rice, it also makes for an excellent pulutan, an accompaniment for alcoholic beverages. So if your foreign friends are down for a good time, serve them Sisig and cold beer. Tagay na!
Hailing from the city of smiles that is Bacolod, chicken Inasal is a classic char-grilled Filipino food. Just to be clear, though, this is not your average grilled chicken. Chicken parts are marinated in a special kind of sauce—a mix of lemon grass, calamansi, garlic, ginger, and other spices—to give them their savory flavor. They are then skewered in bamboo sticks, roasted over hot coal, and baste with atsuete oil. Best served with a generous amount of rice and chili-mansi sawsawan (chili and calamansi sauce).
Sure, the Philippines’ weather is perpetually hot, but that doesn’t stop us, Pinoys, from enjoying our ultimate comfort soup that is Bulalo (beef marrow stew). The stars of this Filipino food are the bone-in beef shanks and marrow boiled for hours in onions, peppercorns, and fish sauce. Once the broth is clear and the meat is tender, corn and cabbage are added into the mix.
Batangas and Tagaytay are two of the places known for serving the best-tasting Bulalo. Tag your foreign friends along to either location after a night of drinking and partying. A steaming bowl of Bulalo is the best cure for hangover and a hungry stomach.
Of course, you don’t want to serve your foreign friends with just meat throughout their stay, right? So it’s a good idea to change the menu up a bit by adding Pinakbet in the list. A specialty of Ilocos, this vegetable-filled Filipino food features a combination of okra, squash, eggplant, string beans, bitter gourd, and tomatoes, sautéed and simmered along with bagoong (shrimp or fish paste). Aside from being healthy, this dish is easy to whip up and can be made sa abot kayang halaga!
Lumpia, which is the Filipino version of spring rolls, is a perennial favorite. It is often served to guests whenever there are local festivities or other social gatherings, though it is also the appetizer of choice for many restaurants and households.
There are two versions of Lumpia: fried (popularly referred to as lumpiang Shanghai or pritong Lumpia) and fresh (also known as lumpiang ubod). For the fried version, the delicate egg wrapper is filled with seasoned ground pork (usually pork or beef), while the fresh one contains strips of ubod (pith of coconut tree), vegetables, and sautéed shrimp and pork. The first is best enjoyed with lugaw (congee) or rice. The latter is served along with sweet sauce that has garlic and peanuts in it and best eaten as a stand-alone dish.
We can go on and on with this because there are numerous Filipino food choices that are as filling as they are mouth-watering. Be sure to take your pick from the list and make your foreign friends try them out. Doing so is a great way to introduce and educate them about our food culture. Kain na!