From fusion pop-ups to mainstream fast food joints, Filipino food is breaking through the mainstream culinary scene in the United States. Considering that there are more than two million Filipinos living in the United States, it's surprising that it took a while before this happened. But this movement has been steadily gaining steam for the past few years and it shows no signs of stopping.
Back in 2012, Andrew Zimmern, a food writer and TV host, predicted that Filipino food would be the next big cuisine. And he was right.
“Everybody loves Chinese food, Thai food, Japanese food...Filipinos combined the best of all of that with Spanish technique," he said in a 2012 interview with Today.com, adding how for centuries the Spanish infused their cooking techniques and applied these to tropical Asian ingredients. And the result were, he says, "miraculous."
Since Zimmern made his prediction, there has been a rising interest in Filipino food, according to a Bloomberg report.
One of the most recent catalysts for the Filipino food movement was the ube (purple yam) craze back in 2016 as well as the sisig trend that got the stamp of approval from the late chef Anthony Bourdain who said, “Sisig is perfectly positioned to win the hearts and minds of the world."
For the uninitiated, sisig is a sizzling dish of pork hash (made of pig face, ears, cheeks and snout), rice, and egg that's bursting with umami. It's a grilled, fried dish that's simply unique and addicting.
Before the Spanish even landed on their shores, the Philippines had a food culture that was partly a product of trade between their Southeast Asian neighbors as well as India and China.
To this day, this influence is felt, particularly in the way Filipinos use noodles in one of their most iconic dishes called pancit, a staple of special occasions as well as lumpia (spring rolls). (pictured below)
Spanish influences are apparent in the flavors of beef kaldereta, but the meat, tomatoes, and aromatic garlic make it distinctly Filipino. The Spanish left behind the tradition of using garlic, tomatoes and bay leaves as well as methods of curing sweet meats. The breakfast staple longganisa is proof of this.
You can taste history in every adobo, a stew of meat in vinegar and soy sauce, which is considered by many as the national dish of the Philippines. Or sinigang, a sour broth made with tamarind and various fish or meats and vegetables.
The use of coconut milk and chillis harkens back to Indo-Malay influences. These are used in dishes like laing (taro leaves simmered in coconut milk) and kilawin (the Filipino take on ceviche).
As Nicole Ponseca of Maharlika and Jeepney in New York told the New York Times, “A feast of different flavors is optimal" when trying to sum up what truly defines the Filipino palate.
The flavors of Filipino cuisine show the rich culture and history behind it.
Filipino food's been called "fusion" even before they invented the term for it. It's a tapestry of flavors and influences that are a testament to the country's rich culture. Though the early influences were Chinese, Malay and Arab traders followed by Spanish colonization, the flavor profiles of Filipino food are all its own. For a majority of Filipino dishes, there is a constant contrasting presence of sweetness and acidity that's truly unique and satisfying.
But ultimately, sour flavor profiles dominate Filipino cuisine, unlike the sweetness and heat of other countries in Southeast Asia.
These rich characteristics form the compelling personality of Filipino cooking. And although it's largely misunderstood, with many thinking it's simply exotic dishes like balut (boiled duck embryo) or dinuguan (pork and blood stew) that define Filipino food, there is so much breadth and depth to be explored and once people open up to it, they'll find there is at least one dish they can identify with.
And this universality is what makes Filipino cuisine worthy to be shared with the world. The flavors of Filipino food are simple but complex and it isn't entirely different from Japanese, Spanish, and Chinese. And so it makes perfect sense that the American market is slowly but surely embracing it.
Much like the culture it arose from, Filipino cooking is hinged upon a culture of sharing, from traditional communal dining, and using good food as a way of communicating care for family and friends, particularly during celebrations.
And it's this same tradition of sharing and connecting that will truly propel the Filipino food movement forward.
Filipino food is not just the next big thing. It's finally arrived. And it's here to stay.
We at Chibundle take pride in doing our part to support the Filipino food movement, one delectable curation of premium Filipino goodies at a time. Join us in this journey of flavors today.