The food of the Philippines, an archipelago of several thousand islands, can truly be called fusion cuisine due to its colonialism-shaped history.
History of Filipino Cuisine
Early in the 9th century, the Chinese established a relationship with the native Malay population and became their primary trading partners. In the 16th century, the first Chinese immigrants came to the Philippines, bringing their Cantonese specialties along.
The Spanish controlled the archipelago from 1565 to 1898, introducing Iberian and some Mexican ingredients to the natives, such as maize, cattle, avocados, cacao, and tomatoes.
The United States of America controlled the Philippines until 1946, when the country gained independence. It's this rich colonial history that explains the influences on simple Filipino food.
Modern Filipino Cuisine
Modern Filipino cuisine is a collage of a native Malay base that's flavored with Spanish, Chinese, and American accents.
The Chinese contributed to Filipino cuisine with pancit noodles, steamed dumplings and buns, and lumpia egg rolls, while tofu, ginger, soy sauce, and dried mushrooms are Chinese flavors that are commonly found in Filipino food.
The Spanish taught the locals how to prepare egg-based tortillas, paellas, meat empanadas, caldereta beef stew, numerous desserts, and the famous sofrito, a base to many dishes consisting of tomato, garlic, and onions in olive oil.
The Mexican influence was introduced to the country by the Spanish, and besides annatto, typically used for food coloring, and corn, which is now the second most important crop in the Philippines, they brought dishes such as menudo, pipían, and tamales to the islands.
The United States integrated staple American foods such as canned meat (SPAM), macaroni salads, burgers, and hot dogs into everyday Filipino dishes, and the locals quickly embraced the new foods and adapted them into their own – the burgers and fries are spread with banana ketchup, while fried chicken is first marinated in soy sauce, bay leaves, and garlic.
Typical meals and staple ingredients
Although each island has their own flavor, the staples of Filipino food are bananas, plantains, coconuts, and vinegar - used as a dip, for marinating and glazing, and as a key ingredient of adobo. The meat staples are chicken, pork, and beef, while fish and seafood are also very popular, especially bangus or milkfish, the national fish.
When enjoying a meal, Filipinos put equal importance on each dish and bring them all to the table at the same time. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and meriendas are the main meals of the day, and rice is usually the focus of every meal, whether in the form of sweet rice cakes such as puto and bibinka, rice porridges such as arroz caldo and champorado, or wrapped snacks such as suman.
Widespread urbanization and access to technology have contributed to the Filipino's habits of food consumption, and preference for Western foods has reached even the most remote areas in the country, but one thing has remained constant – great local food with bold flavors, served family-style.