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Introducing Original Filipino Cultural Foods

written by: ciel s cantoria • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 1/28/2015

Foods in the Philippines are as diverse as the culture. They can be as rich as Spanish cuisine or as colorfully natural as the Chinese food. Other influences include American, Japanese, Indonesian and Indian flavors. If one wishes to savor original Filipino dishes, then you are in for a "treat."

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    Finger Foods, Side Dishes, Appetizers or "Pulutan"

    The tastes and ingredients of Filipino finger foods could be quaint and outrightly disturbing. Yet, if one is in search of dishes that typify a unique Filipino taste, brace yourself for foods that challenge not just your taste buds but also your sense of sight, smell and imagination.450px-BALUT 


    First and foremost is the Philippine Balut, which is a three-week old chicken or duck egg that has reached a fertilized stage. The latter is an important requisite, which a balut-maker has to consider because this makes the egg distinctive from the ordinary hard-boiled. An embryo that has already formed tiny legs, beak, feathered wings, and skeleton of a duck or chick fetus, gives the balut that crunchy taste.

    Oftentimes, most of those who are fond of eating “balut” are the binge drinking and beer guzzling members of the middle class Filipino society. Whatever aftertaste that is left in the mouth can be washed down by gulps of beer or gin and tonic. Balut vendors and ambulant peddlers ordinarily ply their products at night, which they keep warm inside their baskets.

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    This dish is the most popular “pulutan” and appetizer in pubs, bars and less formal watering holes. Basically, the main ingredients of the dish include most of the pig's head, i.e. pork cheeks, pork tongue, ears, snout and brain. These are finely chopped or minced to make the tender but crunchy bones much easier to chew. Spices such as hot finger-peppers (siling labuyo), onion, garlic and ginger are likewise minced and added to take away any slimy aftertaste, plus some vinegar and calamansi or lemon juice to blend all the spices together. It is best served on a sizzling plate and at least one well-beaten raw egg is added while the plate is still hot.

    The dish originated from Pampanga, for which the term “sisig” refers to a dish that has a sour taste. The idea of concocting a recipe to make use of pigs' heads as ingredients, is a Kampangpangan innovation. Commissaries at the Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Pampanga were selling the pigs' head at bargain prices. Most of the crew members formerly stationed at the military base were U.S. Air Force units who were not inclined to eat such bodily parts. By 1974, it was fully developed as a culinary dish and have since been prepared in different variations and concepts and offered as a delectable appetizer in restaurants.

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    800px-Dinuguan with puto 

    Dinuguan or Pork Blood Stew

    This is a dish that is of Ilocano origin, in which the dark and chocolaty consistency of the thick stew comes from pig’s blood. The poor man’s version of “dinuguan” makes use of the pig’s innards, which are thoroughly cleaned, blanched in salted water, finely chopped, and then simmered until tender.

    For diners with a more discriminating taste, the main ingredients used are pork belly and liver, cut into fine cubes, which take less cooking time in achieving the desired tenderness. Seasonings and spices include siling haba or chili peppers, garlic, ginger, onions, bay leaf and vinegar.

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    Kinilaw na tuna home cooking rocks 

    Kinilaw or Kilawin

    Kinilaw means to cook in vinegar which is a no-cook technique for preparing fish, shrimp or pork. The most popular kinilaw dishes are those that make use of fish varieties like, yellow-fin tunaand tanigue (sea bass). The fish has to be skinned and de-boned while the meat is cut into bite-size cubes. It would be best to use the strongest vinegar solution available, in marinating the fish until the meat becomes white and tender.

    Keep the marinated fish covered and chilled for two hours before draining the vinegar, salt and pepper solution. Once the fish has been drained, add the lemon or calamansi extract, crushed garlic and thinly sliced chili peppers, green peppers, ginger and onions. Chill again for another 20 minutes to allow flavor absorption.

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    Filipino Style Stew Dishes

    sinigang na baboy overseas pinoy cooking 

    Sinigang na Baboy (Pork and Tamarind Stew)

    This dish is one of the well-loved home-cooked dishes and is usually reserved for Sunday family lunches, in which every member of the family is gathered around the table. The best portion of the pork meat to use, is the shoulder or “kasim”, because it's naturally tender and has the right amount of lean meat and fat. Others though, prefer the pork legs along with the pig’s tail, because the leg bones give the soup a richer, milkier taste.

    Similar to any stew, the meat is boiled until tender, while the soup is made sour by adding extracts of green sampaloc or tamarind fruits. Modern times, however, have made sinigang much easier to cook, due to the availability of instant sinigang mixes that capture the exact amount of the tamarind's sourness. Once the desired tenderness for the meat has been attained, all one has to do is to add the ready-to-mix sinigang sa sampalok ingredient, some ripe red tomatoes and vegetables. The latter includes, sitaw or long, green stringed beans, radish, okra, kamote tops, taro roots, onions and siling haba (green pepper, which could be optional).

    Note: The tamarind-based stew can be modified by using beef, shrimp, chicken or fish.

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    tinolang-manok-chicken-ginger-stew thumb 

    Tinolang Manok (Chicken and Green Papaya in Ginger Stew)

    This stew variety is another “lutong-bahay” or home-cooking favorite. Adding flavor and tanginess to the stew is the ginger or luya plus the rich flavor of the chili leaves or malunggay leaves. Unripe green papaya makes for the vegetables and in a jiffy, the family can have a rich blend of different nutrients to match the staple rice. In fact, to make the broth more nourishing, one can add the water used during the second washing of the rice to be cooked.

    In some parts of the country, chicken blood mixed with uncooked rice is allowed to chill and the caked blood is later boiled along with the chicken meat to serve as the latter's extender.

    The tinola recipe can also be modified as mudfish ginger-based stew by adding pechay or bok choy and replacing green papaya with sayote or chayote. The dish then becomes the locally known "Pesang Dalag".

    lauya by overseaspinoy 

    Lauya (Pork and Sweet Potato in Ginger Stew)

    Another stew variation to serve as an alternative choice for home-cooked foods during family Sunday lunches, is the ginger-based stew for pork legs or beef shanks. Pork leg is often preferred because of the milky extracts from the bones, combined with the ginger-base that makes a fine tasting broth.

    It’s actually the Filipino Ilocano’s version of the traditional English stew as it makes use of sweet potatoes, banana plantains and pechay or bok choy, and cabbage.

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    Refreshing Tropical Dessert or Beverage

    450px-Sago at gulaman 

    Gulaman at Sago – (Gelatin and Tapioca Drink)

    Gulaman and sago has evolved through time from a lowly drink sold in plastic cups at makeshift tables, to franchised food businesses sold by food stalls at supermarkets and malls. One can even find them in classy restaurants as they come in tall glasses but with the better kind of gelatin ingredients, like black and white almond jelly.

    This refreshing concoction is a combination of the bland tasting colorful gelatin that is boiled and cooked to a gelatinous consistency and white tapioca that is basically cooked in the same way. To sweeten the drink, sugar is first caramelized until it becomes syrupy.

    Instead of mixing raw refined sugar into the gulaman and sago mixture, the caramelized syrup or arnibal will be added to each serving proportion. This is to ensure that the exact amount of sweetness is well distributed and balanced. Add a measure of crushed ice and voila, a refreshing drink to cap a sumptuous meal.

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    Another form of refreshment that takes roots from lowly street food or neighborhood offerings, as it originally started as a mixed blend of sweetened indigenous ingredients like banana plantains, red mongo beans, purple yams, sweet potato, white kidney beans, tapioca and ripe jackfruit meat. Each ingredient is individually cooked in their sugar-sweetened juices until the liquid caramelizes. Each serving will have an equal measurement of the sweetened ingredients, and made refreshingly cold by adding hand-shaved ice and coconut milk or plain evaporated canned milk.

    Halo-halo later evolved as a kiosk offering at malls and supermarkets, with a variation between regular and special orders. The regular orders are the original mixtures plus some leche-flan, rice krispies, shredded coconut, sweet corn and sweetened nata-de-coco. The regular order becomes special if the mixed concoction is served with a scoop of ice cream on top.

    The refreshing concoction doesn’t go by any other name except its original moniker halo-halo, which if literally translated in English would mean “mix-mix”.

    Most foods that originate in the Philippines often emanate not as sumptuous meals for festive merry-makings. They come from innovations that make use of indigenous food crops in the most economical ways possible. Take note that the appetizers or "pulutan" do not require too many ingredients or cooking processes, but can still bring about a savory experience. Even the viands are more concerned with the balance of nutrients by furnishing a meal that comes complete with soup, meat and vegetable to match a plate of steamed rice. Check out the individual recipes for the featured dishes in the Reference section below.

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    Image Credits:

    • By Ischaramoochie Balut / Wikimedia Commons
    • By BrokenSphere Sisig / Wikimedia Commons
    • By georgeparrilla Dinuguan with Puto
    • By Daniel Ansel Tingcungco Sago at gulaman / Wikimedia Common
    • Permission to use images of Pinoy Recipe granted by Eduardo M. Joven SEO Specialist per e-mail dated July 24, 2011
    • Permission to use images of Overseas Pinoy Cooking granted per e-mail dated July 24, 2011