Filipino Food: 11 Dishes to Fall in Love With Now
Additional reporting by Tatler Dining Singapore.
If you were simply too distracted to notice when pundits were proclaiming how the appreciation for Filipino cuisine across the globe had reached a new high three years ago, here’s a quick reminder of its continued growth in popularity. Of course, given the diversity of dishes in question, not to mention the trending cooking methods—from natural fermentation to it uniquely global synthesis of flavours and influences—that they champion, we suspect the uninitiated would appreciate a few fine recommendations. What we’re also saying is that if you can’t decide between the sisig and the sinigang, you’re meant to have both.
Is there anything more comforting than a warm bowl of sinigang? This tangy, sour soup is often associated with sampaloc (or tamarind) though other souring agents (such as guava, kamias, or unripe mango) have also been incorporated into the recipe. It is often cooked with pork, beef, shrimp or fish.
Would it be fair to call adobo the national dish of the Philippines? Many seem to think so. Because adobo comes with so many different variations, it's sometimes difficult to define exactly what it is. In its most basic form, adobo is made from a handful of ingredients: peppercorn, bay leaves, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and meat (usually pork or chicken). But despite the uniformity in its most base form, all recipes usually come out tasting unique to the individual's method or ingredient—perhaps that's what makes adobo such an exciting classic!
Those who have yet to try sisig may be doubtful of it at first. After all, its eclectic ingredients—pig's head, liver, and peppers (plus the much-debated egg and mayonnaise)—may not be for everyone. But all those who've had the opportunity to indulge in a nice sizzling plate know that it is the ultimate Filipino food.
Dubbed by Anthony Bourdain as the dish "positioned to win the hearts and minds of the world as a whole", sisig has established a loyal fanbase in both Filipinos and adventurous eaters worldwide.
Another comfort food—especially on a cold, windy day—bulalo is a light-coloured soup made with beef shanks and marrow, plus leafy vegetables. It's often seasoned simply with salt and pepper, though others may prefer to add vinegar or garlic. It's a hearty, light broth which is often perfect for the tropical temperatures of the country.
5/11 Chicken Inasal
Who doesn't love some inasal by the beach? Sounds like an absolute dream of a tropical vacation. Often served with atchara (pickled papaya) and chicken oil, chicken inasal is deliciously grilled after being marinated in ginger, garlic, lemon juice, and sometimes lemongrass.
Originating from the Bicol region in the Philippines, laing is a unique dish that incorporates gata (coconut milk) with pork belly, taro leaves, and chilli. While some may be unaccustomed to its bold flavours, it's a popular dish not just in Bicol but around these 7,000 islands.
Sensitive stomachs may be apprehensive when it comes to dinuguan, but make no mistake, this classic dish is a beloved Filipino staple. Known as the local version of blood stew, dinuguan is often simply pork slices, sautéed in onion and garlic, and cooked with blood and a dash of vinegar. Sometimes, innards such as intestines are added along to the mix as well, and then served with puto or rice cakes. Of course, given that the harvesting and sale of pig’s blood in Singapore is prohibited, you will have to save this experience until travel to the Philippines is possible.
One for the vegetarians, pinakbet is a healthy stew that's rich in both colour and flavour. Originating from the Ilocos region, the dish is a medley of local vegetables that include okra, tomatoes, eggplant, ampalaya, sitaw, and kamote. Oftentimes, it is flavoured with bagoong (fermented shrimp paste) and can be mixed in with pork or fish.
A mainstay during all kinds of celebrations, lechon is a whole-roasted pig famous for its crisp skin and tender meat. While it is popular in many other former Spanish colonies (such as Mexico), we'd argue that some of the best tasting come from the Philippines!
(Related: How to Have a Portuguese Feast at Home)
Kare-kare has always been a bit of a zany dish, especially to people outside the Philippines. Its thick peanut sauce makes a bold first impression on eaters, and its accompanying ingredients—traditionally ox tail and ox tripe—add a unique depth to each bite. Mix in a medley of eggplant, bokchoy, and banana blossoms and you've got yourself a delicious, if underrated meal.
11/11 Crispy Pata
Crispy pata, also known as crispy pork leg, is a popular dish that's also difficult to make. It involves boiling and deep frying to ensure that the meat comes out tenderised to perfection. Oftentimes, however, the results are more than worth it! Served best with atchara and a soy sauce or vinegar dip.