Possessing a rich cultural history which is enhanced further by its culinary traditions, the gorgeous and exotic country of the Philippines is a treasure chest of cuisine treats. Most people don’t know a heck of a lot about this country’s food but we have got your covered. On Baum & Whiteman’s respected annual Food Trends Report for 2017, Filipino cuisine was cited as one of this year’s hot culinary movements and with a mixture of sweet, salty and sour that will tantalize your taste buds, we think that besides just being a trend, you will adore the creations from this 7000-island archipelago.
There are plenty of Filipino cuisine to try but we are going to limit it to 10 that are a must:
For a change, we going to start with dessert. Ube, is bright purple ice-cream. Ubiquitous on the islands, it is made from the ube root (pronounced ooo-bay or ooo-bee) which is basically like a delightfully super purple yam or sweet potato. It can also be used in cakes and other desserts such as macaroons but we recommend you try the ice-cream if you get a chance. Besides the overtly violet colour that looks like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you will enjoy the smooth and creamy texture as well as a delicate hint of floral.
Probably the most common dish found served in households across the country, Adobo is a staple dish that you will come across time and time again. Originating in Mexico, its components heavily focus on soy, garlic, salt, vinegar, pepper and whichever meat – usually chicken or pork – which is marinated and then cooked. It’s tangy and moreish and great for a salty protein kick after a decent workout. You will go back for second helpings.
Flavoured with herbs, spices and flavours such as lemongrass, calamansi, rice vinegar, salt and pepper and of course garlic. Calamansi has the appearance of a lime with a green thin skin on the outside when ripened from yellow, but on the inside, it is orange. Tart but superbly aromatic, this ingredient has multiple uses and tastes, like a cross between lemonade or lime-ade and limes are occasionally used to replace it if necessary. After the chicken is marinated, it is grilled over hot coals. It is simple and a great entry-level dish for the less adventurous eaters out there.
My favourite egg noodles, pancit, add an unbeatable texture when used in Filipino cooking. Filling and comforting, a variety of ingredients can be used. Originally the noodles were introduced by the Chinese and are virtually the same as the Cantonese type, yet the dish is unique in that the thinner, vermicelli rice noodles are added as well. Vegetables include cabbage, carrot, cooked shrimp, chicharron (pork rinds), and a lovely orange sauce is that usually made from shrimp broth and pork. The addition of hard-boiled eggs is not uncommon and this dish often makes an appearance at parties as it is a proper crowd-pleaser.
Often made with thick and juicy pork ribs , this is a soothingly hot yet sour soup that will comfort you after a hard day at the office. Tamarind is often used in the soup base which gives off the potent sour vibe which will revitalize your senses. Tomatoes and kamias – a sour fruit often used in chutneys as well – are added to okra, onion, fish sauce and radish. A splash of coconut milk will be added at the end just to round off everything and you end up with a steaming bowl of goodness that is perfect for rainy days or when you are feeling a little under the weather.
And we are back to desserts again. We just mentioned coconut and here it is again. No surprise there as we are talking island cuisine and the archipelago has no shortage of coconut trees. This sweet treat will make your heart skip a beat in pleasure and what is even better is that it is made using rice flour. So, it suits the gluten-free trend that is so current.
One of the more interesting, stick-to-your-ribs dishes out there, this is oxtail stew like you have never had it before. To add a little mystery and exoticism, peanut butter is added. It’s thick. It’s savoury. It’s mind-blowingly good. Pork hocks are often the go-to meat for this dish but chicken or even goat can be used instead. Traditionally prepared in a “palayok” or traditional clay cooking pot, I am told that the quality of the shrimp paste used in the dish and served on the side is the key to unlocking the flavor potential present; elevating it from ordinary to out of this world. I guess it has something to do with the mixture of salty and sweet. Either way I’m pretty sure you will not regret ordering this; especially during Dubai’s more wintery days.
Nibbles! Perfect as a starter or accompaniment to any Filipino main dish, these crispy shrimp fritters are guaranteed to blow your socks off. Morsels of happiness, you will be crunching your way to food heaven. Served with a tangy, vinegary sauce made with heaps of garlic and birds eye chillies, these guys are the perfect on the go snack. The UAE’s supermarkets carry the best range of authentic Filipino ingredients, so if you would like to try and make your own version at home you can with this recipe.
Last but not least, there is something to warm your soul. Simple and rustic, chicken afritada can be made all year round to satisfy your food cravings. It is essentially a tomato based stew with heaps of peppers and onions. Heavily influenced by the Spanish, it is mostly straightforward in its expected ingredients but the twist is added using pineapple. Giving it that striking and unexpected tropical edge.
Calamansi whiskey sour
Finally this is a trendy version of the much loved calamansi. It crops up again and is as versatile as you need it to be. It is on the tart side of things so often a dollop of honey is used to round the flavours. Use this recipe for instant success but we recommend tweaking it slightly using honeyed whiskey too and nothing too smoky to get a more complex and layered experience.
So, there you have it. 10 dishes to get you started on your quest to explore more unusual but yummy cuisines from around the world. Let’s hope some of our favourite Asian restaurants start including some of these in their menus soon!