Spanish Influence on Filipino Food Spanish Influence on Filipino Food
Spanish Influence on Filipino Food

Filipino Food

Philippine cuisine has numerous indigenous and foreign influences. Throughout the centuries, the islands have incorporated the cuisine of the early Malay settlers, Arab and Chinese traders, and Spanish and American colonizers, along with other Oriental and Occidental accents and flavors. The strongest culinary influence is from Spain which ruled the Philippines for almost 400 years. Food historians claim that 80 per cent of Philippine dishes are of Spanish origin. Because the Spaniards formed the elite, dishes adapted by upper-class Filipinos were also Spanish-inspired. Thus many of the party and fiesta dishes and those served for special occasions bear names like relleno, morcon, paella, callos, embutido, caldereta, etc.

Chinese influence is evident in noodle dishes (bihon, miki, sotanghon, mami, lomi, miswa) which go by the general name of pancit. Noodle restaurants are called panciterias (another Spanish derivation), a term that usually refers to a Chinese eatery. Pancit Canton is a favorite of Filipinos when ordering Chinese food, along with lumpia shanghai (small spring rolls filled with minced meat and dipped in sweet sauce). Even Chinese dishes have Hispanicized names - morisqueta tostada is Yangzhou fried rice, torta de cangrejo is crab omelet, camaron rebozado is shrimp fried in batter. Pancit Molo, an adaptation of wonton soup, is a specialty of the town of Molo in Iloilo. Pancit luglog, pancit malabon, pancit palabok are all variations upon the noodle theme. The difference lies in the type of noodle used and the garnishing and flavorings. Arroz caldo - rice porridge with slices of chicken meat garnished with chopped spring onions, or goto - rice porridge with tripe - are the local version of Chinese congee. A less glamorous name for it is lugaw. This is a dish which can be ordered in fast-food shops or carinderias and is popular with people on a budget. Siopao is a steamed bun filled with meat which is usually ordered with pancit mami-noodles in soup-to make a filling snack or meal. Chinese sweets popular among Filipinos include hopia- flaky pastry with fillings of mashed red or green beans. lotus seed and the like. In Chinatown, small shops sell boxes of piping-hot hopia in the afternoons.

Unlike their Southeast Asian neighbors, most Filipinos do not eat chili-hot dishes, although dishes from the Bicol region are distinguished by their use of chili and coconut milk, similar to Indonesian, Malay and Thai food. ‘Bicol Express’ is a fiery dish of pork strips sautéed in garlic, onions, ginger and turmeric, mixed with bagoong alamang (salted and fermented shrimp sauce), coconut cream, chopped chilies and hot green and red peppers. Muslim food retains the flavor of its Malaysian origin. It is spicy and uses coconut milk, chilies, cassava and rice. Many Philippine desserts, particularly those made of rice and coconut are similar to those of Indonesia and Malaysia. Among these are biko and suman, sticky rice cooked with coconut milk and sugar and wrapped in banana or pandan leaves, bibinka, puto and kutsinta which are different types of rice cakes, and bukayo, a crunchy sweet made of grated coconut cooked in molasses and pressed into bars. Filipino cooking like other Oriental preparations, involves a lot of chopping and labor-intensive preparation. Rice is the main staple, corn is a substitute in other places. Filipinos prefer to have the entire meal laid out on the table when they eat, rather than have the dishes served one by one. This results in some food being served long after it is piping hot. Filipinos eat with forks and spoons, but in rural areas some people prefer to eat with their hands. Patis and bagoong, fermented fish or shrimp sauce, similar to those produced by Vietnamese and Thais, are used to flavor food when cooking and are served as sauces for a variety of dishes such as kare-kare or appetizers such as chopped green mangoes.

The name of a dish often suggest how it’s prepared. Prito means fried; gisa, ginisa or gisado means sautéed. Ihaw or inihaw means grilled or broiled. Adobo is to sauté in vinegar and garlic. Paksiw means to stew in sour fruit or vinegar, ginataan is anything cooked in coconut milk (gata). Sinigang is like bouillabaisse, but thinner in consistency, and used either fish, prawns or meat with vegetable. It is usually made sour by adding some acidic fruit like tamarind or small green kamias.

Much of the fun of visiting another country is trying out its cuisine and sampling regional specialties. Be bold! Worth trying is adobo, a dish showing Spanish and Mexican influences but with regional variations. Pork, or a combination of pork and chicken, is stewed in a mixture of vinegar, bay leaf, peppercorn and garlic over a slow fire. Some vegetables and seafood are also cooked adobo-style. Lechon, pig roasted on a spit, is a fiesta favorite The crisp and succulent skin is eaten with a sweetish sauce of liver paste. Kare-kare, mainly oxtail and eggplants with other vegetables stewed in rich sauce or ground peanut and toasted ground rice is also found in many Filipino restaurant menus. Bistek Pilipino is thin slices of beef marinated in soy sauce and lemon juice and cooked with plenty of onions. Tinola is chicken stew. With all the water around the Philippines, fish and seafood are plentiful and fresh. Bangus (milkfish), lapu-lapu (garoupa or grouper), tanguingue and blue marlin are excellent fish. Try the latter grilled with a squeeze of lemon or calamansi. Maliputo is a tiny freshwater fish with a delicate taste. Seafood is a specialty in many Filipino restaurants. Hipon (shrimps), sugpo (prawns), lobsters, crayfish and crabs are served in a variety of ways, Sinigang na sugpo or sinigang na hipon are Filipino favorites. The coconut crab called tatus has a rich, nutty flavor and the meat is succulent. The provinces of Pampanga, Iloilo and Negros are also well-known for their cuisine. Lumpia ubod (heart of palm) is an Ilonggo spring roll in a soft, crepe-like wrapper stuffed with fresh ubod as its main ingredient. Another regional dish is laing (pronounced lah-ing), a southern specialty of taro leaves simmered in coconut milk and chopped shrimp.

Filipinos flavor their food with dipping sauces (sawsawan) according to individual taste. Bagoong, patis, vinegar, soy sauce, ketchup and chili sauce are usual sawsawan. With a squeeze of calamansi in the soy sauce or patis, a touch of mustard, chili, or mince garlic in the vinegar, new flavor are created. Filipinos also like sour accompaniments to their food, such as chopped green mangoes mixed with shrimp bagoong, or pickled shredded papaya (achara).

The merienda is an important Filipino culinary institution. the traditional merienda or mid-afternoon snack include bibingka and ginataan, halo-halo, pancit luglog and puto. The bibingka is a cake made of flour, eggs and coconut milk baked in a pan lined with wilted banana leaves that impart a faint fragrance. Some bibingkas have a square of white cheese placed inside during the last minutes of baking and are topped with freshly grated coconut. Ginataan taken at merienda is a mixture of diced tubers such as gabi, ube and camote, sliced plantain, strips of breadfruit and some sago or tapioca all cooked together in thick coconut milk with sugar to taste.

Bakeries are found all over the country. Some turn out excellent breads. European-style cakes and pastries. Hard rolls (pan de sal) are traditionally eaten for breakfast. Ensaymadas, buttered sweet rolls with cheese topping, can be taken at breakfast or tea.

Halo-halo (mix-mix) is a layered concoction of various ingredients - caramel custard, diced gelatin, candied or preserved jackfruit, makapuno or kaong - topped with shaved ice and milk. Sometimes a scoop of ice cream is added.

Visitors can try Philippine food in a variety of settings from smart restaurants and hotel dining rooms to street stalls, fast-food shops and carinderias. Eating places that advertise ihaw-ihaw serve grilled or barbecued foods, principally meat or seafood. The turo-turo (you point to what you want to order) system prevails in carinderias or small eateries serving precooked foods. If you happen to be in Metro Manila or the provinces when they hold their food festivals, this is a good opportunity to try the Philippines’ regional dishes.

Chabacano or Creole Spanish Cuisine

Zamboanga cuisine is like its exotic Chabacano: basically Spanish with an admixture of local tongues, thus endowing it with a delectable gastronomical flavor that provides a rich cultural experience as well. This was especially true in the old days when Castilian influence rubbed off quite thickly on the people of that little Spanish town, now revered in prose as "un glorioso pedaza del corazon de Castilla" (a glorious pice of the heart of Spain).

Most Zamboanga dishes are Spanish in origin. Others, like bagon de gata, tamales, and those with heavy dependence on gata (coconut cream/milk) are distinctly indigenous. Yet, even the most native of local foods, namely the sinigang, Spanish influence is evident in the use of herbal spices, such as tanglad (lemon grass), and bambawing (a "weed" which seems to be peculiar to Zamboanga, and looks and smells like a "wild" member of the basil family). Olive oil is often used for some fish preparations.

Following are some popular old Zamboanga recipes contributed by Mrs. Anacleta Garcia-Orendain who, by consanguinity and affinity, comes from two old families well known in the culinary art. Like most traditional cooks, Mrs. Orendain has not methodically documented her recipes into precise or standard kitchen directions. Thus her descriptions of how to cook the following dishes may have what has been called a "stream of consciousness" quality about it.

We therefore advise the adventurous cook to proceed with caution in trying to follow these loving recipes, understanding what every good cook knows: that feel and intuition, rather than scientific precision, play the more important role in great cuisine. (Zamboanga Hermosa, 1984)





by Sous Chef
Monday, November 12, 2001

Fusion technique in cooking has been a norm in Filipino kitchen long before Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines in 1521. One may note that while “fusion” has just been popularized by the elite group of modern chefs, and dubbed by some as “East Meet West,” the original concept was introduced to and adopted by Filipinos as a result of migration and colonization.

It goes back to about 20,000 years ago. The Iced Age reduced the levels of the oceans creating bridges between landmasses, making migration possible. The Malays were the first inhabitants of the Philippine Island. The Malay influence can be found in popular dishes such as Kare-Kare (a meat and vegetable stew in peanut sauce), Pinakbet (another meat and vegetable stew flavored with shrimp paste), and Dinuguan (a stew made from pork meat and blood, spiced with chili peppers). The Arabs were already settled in the islands in considerable numbers before the Spanish arrived. Chinese, Japanese and Hindus had permanent settlements, as well. The Japanese introduced Halo-halo.

Chinese traders sailed across the South China Sea around 300 AD, and by the year 1000, trading was taking place on a regular basis with the coastal ports and colonies that the Chinese had established. By 1400, they had made their way inland and become established as part of Philippine culture. Their contribution to Filipino cooking reflect in noodle dishes called Pancit, steamed dumplings like Siopao, Siomai, Pancit Molo, and varieties of eggrolls, fried or fresh called Lumpia.

The Philippines was already engaged in a thriving cultural and commercial exchange with China, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia before the Spaniards arrived. The colonists found a culture whose family structure, diet, outlook and language was already formulated within the Asian context.

Ferdinand Magellan claimed Philippines in the name of Spain and the ruler at that time, King Philip, and thus begun 400 years of Spanish influence and domination. History stated that in the sixteenth century, Pope Alexander VI, in an effort to quell the feuding between the major world powers, -- at this time, Spain and Portugal -–took a map of the known world and drew a line down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. All that lay east of the line was given to Portugal and all that lay west of the line was given to Spain. Portugal sphere and influence encompassed the eastern-most tip of South America – what is now part of Brazil – all of Africa, and eastern Asia. Spain’s influence extended to most of South America, all of North and Central America and most of the land bordering on the Pacific Ocean including the Philippines. Further, historians also noted that although Spain received more land, it was most unexplored, while Portugal gained control of trade routes and bases that were already established. This division of the world explains why the people of Brazil speak Portuguese while the rest of South America speaks Spanish. Although the Philippines is part of Asia, Filipino language and its regional ethnic dialects are heavily studded with Spanish words and phrases.

About 80% of the dishes prepared in Filipino kitchen today can be traced to Spain. The Spaniards introduced tomatoes and garlic along with the technique of sautéing them with onions in olive oil. Add to that, as in popular baked good and desserts like Pan de Sal (a crusty dinner roll), Flan (an egg custard), Ensaymada (cheese buns), rice dishes as in Arroz Valenciana or Arroz Con Pollo, etc. Most Spanish recipes had been modified to accommodate what were readily available re ingredients. Thus, the emergence of a cuisine Filipinos called their own, adapted to their tastes.

Spain managed the Philippines through Mexico for more than two hundred years. The Manila Galleons plied the waters between Acapulco and Manila, heavily laden with goods and treasures from Asia and Europe. Through Mexico, Filipinos were introduced to the use of bay leaves and annatto seeds (also known as atsuete or achote). Evidence to this influence can be found in Adobo (braised pork or chicken in vinegar and salt or soy sauce), Menudo (pork and liver stew).

The Dutch also made several forays into Philippine waters throughout the 17th century only to be repelled by the Spanish Armada. Britain occupied Manila briefly in 1762 and left behind Indian deserters who migrated up the Pasig River, made settlements along the way and intermarried with the Malays.

By 1890, the Spanish-American War erupted and the once Spanish-held possessions, including the Philippines became American territories. Filipinos were introduced to potato and macaroni salads, baked fruit pies and more recently, fast foods such as hamburgers, french fries and pizza. In the aftermath of World War II, Filipinos were introduced to canned goods. Fruit salad was born using canned fruits (drained) mixed with native sweets like buko (fresh young shredded coconut), kaong (palm nuts) and bits of langka (jackfruit) mixed with Nestle cream or condensed milk and cream cheese, top with cherries and served chilled on a bed of lettuce for presentation.

The most significant American influence to the Filipinos has been the English language. No one could have expressed this more eloquently than Stanley Karnow, journalist and historian, in his book titled “In Our Image,” America’s Empire in the Philippines. “America conquered the Filipino nationalists in a cruel conflict and then, infused with missionary zeal, sought to remake the Philippines “in our image” – complete with American political, educational and cultural institutions. The American imprints remains but it has barely altered traditional Filipino values. During its half century of colonial tutelage, American had endowed the Filipinos with universal education, a common language, public hygiene, roads, bridges, and, above all, republican institutions.” As a former foreign correspondent covering Asia, Stanley Karnow found that the Philippines differed drastically from any other region he visited or from any other places he previously covered like Europe, Africa or the Middle East. He found Filipinos to be very familiar with Americans, most spoke Americanized English and many had been educated in the United States or in American Schools. “They knew far more about the United States than I knew about the Philippines, as if they were some kind of lost American tribe that had somehow became detached from the U.S. mainland and floated across the Pacific.”

There has been an influx of Filipinos going to Japan and Germany as contract professionals, entertainers and laborers. Likewise, Japanese and German tourists visit the Philippines. Sushi bars emerged together with tempura and noodle bowls. Filipinos found a kindred spirit with Germans in their use of vinegar, spices and salt. German sauerkraut has a cousin in Filipino Atsara (shredded green papaya).

As in metamorphosis, and for as long as Filipinos adhere and practice its tradition called “Filipino Hospitality,” its cuisine will continually change as it takes the best from those cultures and adapting them to the Filipino taste.

“Mi casa es su casa!” Welcome to our “hacienda” of delectable recipes, “Taste From The Islands.”

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