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Filipino Food: Educate me, please

I know pretty much nothing about Filipino food/cuisine, except what I've been able to gather from the boards. Oh, and I know lumpia, but I've no idea if those I've had are authentic (they pretty much tasted like egg rolls - were brought to a pot-luck and have no idea if they were homemade or purchased). This thread on the L.A. board (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/425084 ) has now set my mind to wandering about what I've been missing. The names of the foods/dishes are new to me - I've no idea what is sisig or crispy pata or silog, much less a turo-turo joint.

Since I live less than 10-miles from the Eagle Rock Plaza, I'm eager to go exploring, but would like to have a better grasp on what is what. Also, Max Restaurant (http://www.maxrestaurant.com/index.html ) is listed on that thread - what dishes there are particularly Filipino in ingredients or preparation (or am I confusing that restaurant with Max's of Manila, in Glendale?)?

Thanks for getting me started on a new eating adventure!

ETA: Just realized that both of the "Max" restaurants are listed on that thread - looks like one is fast-foodish and the other is more formal.

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Max Restaurant
13355 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

Max's of Manila
313 W Broadway, Glendale, CA 91204

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  1. ED, I lived in the Philippines for 14 years when I worked all over Asia and E Africa--as a CHer and scientist. The Philippines offered the best case of "..the worst of times...and the best of times...". That is, I may have an objective viewpoint (and one I can express in Tagalog) regarding the good, bad, and ugly re Filipino food .

    But I don't quite understand your question.

    On the other hand, my great friend, Villa is preparing filipino food for a get together in early August. The menu: kilawin, lumpia ubod, pancit molo, chicken relleno, pork adobo, fish in coconut cream, pinakbet, rice, sans rival, pound cake, and lemon curd.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      Thanks for the reply, Sam - I'm sorry that I wasn't more clear in my original post. Let's see if I can phrase it any differently.

      Basically, what are the different dishes - If I were to order kilawin is that a drink? A vegetarian appetizer? A soup? I know that lumpia are similar to egg rolls, but you've listed "lumpia ubod" as a menu item - are there different types of lumpia? Are the differences in the preparation? The ingredients? The way they're served? The time of day that they're eaten? And just what is pancit molo? You mention rice - what kind of rice and how is it prepared (steamed? like a pilaf? like a risotto?) and is it served as a separate dish or is it a component that other items are served over?

      Or, to put it another way, if I were to walk into a Filipino restaurant at dinner-time, what are some of the dishes that I should order - are there dishes akin to Pad Thai in that they're a good way to start tasting the cuisine? (I'm not asking for a noodle dish, but rather something that is considered a "national" or "typical" dish.)

      Or if I were invited into a Filipino home for a meal, what types of things would be served?

      I guess I'm looking for really basic, primer information (or to be directed toward a good source for info.) - I want to know about the foods and how they're prepared and what they contain (what are the common spices, for instance) and to have some idea of what to expect if I tried to order some dishes. (I went and looked-up crispy pata and think it looks delicious, though I had no idea what it was.)

      Did I muddle the water or clarify it a bit?

      1. re: ElsieDee

        I'm really glad you started this thread and I hope you get your questions answered because I am curious about the exact same things. What is typical food, and what is usually eaten at home? We have a Filipnia helping us at home and she loves to cook. Sometimes she makes very unusual things (i.e. unusual combinations of common ingredients) and I wonder if its typical cusine for her. I'd love to know more about it so that I can ask her to make dishes she's familiar with, I think she is reluctant to make typical filipino food because she's afraid we won't like it. I have tried asking her but there is a bit of a language barrier and also we don't generally have time to sit and have long discussions as she's only in the house when I'm working.

        1. re: ddelicious

          You're right -- she probably doesn't want to disappoint you.

          At least in my (Filipino) family, it would be rude of her to make food for you that you won't like; and, it would be rude for you not to eat what she makes for you. So it's a tricky situation. I'd recommend this: ask to try small portions of stuff that she has already made for herself, and that way you both can gradually figure out which dishes and ingredients work for you. The wikipedia site below is really helpful. (You might want to start with breakfast foods [which are usually heavy enough for dinner here in the States] since the flavors are simpler and you can see which condiments you like.)

          The key here is small portions -- do make an effort to finish what you take. Be appreciative, but don't lie or make yourself sick, and be prepared to say no repeatedly if offered more. My guess is she'll keep track of what flavors you seem to like. Good luck!

        2. re: ElsieDee

          I started an article on Wikipedia a couple years ago when I was shocked to find no one had written an entry on Filipino cuisine. It's a good primer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filipino... . Filipinos have a great love for food, an upon entering a home, you will often be asked "Have you eaten," although as a chowhounder, I would ask "Ano ulam MO?" ("What do you have to eat?"

          )

          The culinary choices range from the exotic -- kilawin (ceviche with native limes or vinegar) or sisig (pig cheeks on a sizzling platter) or crispy pata (deep-fried hocks) -- to the familiar: paella (aka Arroz a la Valenciana), lumpia ubod (fresh spring rolls with heart of palm) and tosilog (bacon and eggs). With such a broad palate, it should be little wonder that there are several types of lumpia, rice dishes and noodles.

          That said, not everyone spends their evenings make several different types of paella and lumpia. Typical foods depend on the region a Filipino is from. Ilocano food is known for ruggedly simple and salty, using fish sauce and shrimp paste very liberally. Tagalog food forms the basis of average cooking for many Filipinos and incorporates American, Spanish and Chinese influences very heavily. Kampampangan cooking is known to be gourmet and will incorporate very exotic ingredients to create visually stunning foods (like stuffed frogs).

          If you need to start out somewhere, you can ask someone to make you adobo, not because it's so crowd-pleasing, but because with only 5 ingredients, it's hard for someone to mess it up. From there the possibilities are endless.

          1. re: JungMann

            Wow, you're the one that started that wiki on flip food? I love that wiki. I lived in the Phil for 15 years (expat family) and that article is so comprehensive listing & describing so many wonderful pinoy dishes. And the photos for almost every dish listed is such a great help. Everytime I visit that wiki I feel a visit to my local pinoy buffet hole-in-the-wall is in order.

            1. re: JungMann

              Hats off to you, JungMann! I read your wikipedia entry and it is impressive--and I think I know the topic pretty well myself. Thanks for shining a good light on our relatively obscure cuisine. I only wish that more non-Filipinos had the opportunity to taste Filipino cuisine of the caliber the Pinoy hounds on this board obviously grew up with.

              1. re: pilinut

                I can barely take credit for that now. The wiki entry has grown and developed far beyond what I originally wrote (including some information I think is incorrect!). Only about a quarter of the prose is still mine, but I'm overjoyed to see that so many people have an appreciation of Filipino cuisine and are eager to share their knowledge.

              2. re: JungMann

                lol. I remember using that page for my Global Studies paper years ago on the Philippines. That was you who started that??? Your entry was the backbone to my paper hahaha.

            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

              What a feast you will be having! I am soooo envious! Even here in the SF Bay Area, I'm not sure I could satisfactorily source all those dishes from local restaurants. Your friend will be busy for a good while preparing all of that. I'd probably have to spend 3 days to put a meal like that together. (Yes, I'm a slow cook.)

              Will the ubod for the lumpia be fresh? Will the sansrival be homemade?

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Mmmm, sans rival. Anyone know why that famous Filipino dessert has a French name?

              2. Much clearer. Thanks (and sorry if I was a bit dense).

                1. Rice is ubiquitous, cooked with a bit of salt and oil
                2. Adobos are perhaps the national dish--chicken, pork, or beef with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, water, bay leaf
                3. There are various lumpias, including "fresh" (not fried
                4. Various pancit--noodle dishes
                5. Dinaguan--the haggis of the Philippines
                6. Kilawin--the ceviche of the Philippines: vinegared, then drained and served with coconut milk
                7. Much, much more

                On the other hand, I find filipino food often overly fried, overly salty, lacking in any use of chilis (except a bit in Bicol), and often served at room temperature.

                I think my friend, Villa, has a good filipino cookbook. I'll get details.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  if you are with a group and sharing, try some adobo, a pancit (lub-lub or some other kind), chiccharon bulaklak, and rice. Skip the dinaguan for now (stew with blood).

                  1. re: The Engineer

                    My mother is Filipino and has made lumpia for us all our lives -- she even makes the wrappers by hand on an electric skillet/plate. Lumpia is much lighter than a traditional egg roll. Hers contain pork, garlic, string beans, potatoes, carrots and cabbage, sometimes shrimp or bean sprouts. She makes adobo with either chicken or pork, both marinated in soy, vinegar, garlic, water and a bay leaf. I am sorry to say I am not a more adventurous eater and haven't tried a lot of other dishes. Kilawan can be any type of meat -- my friend sampled Kilawan Goat at a restaurant. It was actually goat skin ceviche and it did not look appetizing to me!

                    1. re: thatfarmgirl

                      Kilawin ng kambing (goat) is quite good. Kilawin ng aso (dog) is not so good.

                      Filipino fish (I like tanigue) soups (sinigang) are good--light, clean tasting.

                2. Since I'm one of the "foreign word" offenders, let me jump in:

                  Sisig is meat (traditionally pig head) with limes (called "kalamansi", they're sweeter and smaller than the green lemons we have and are close botanically to key limes) and chilies.

                  Crispy pata is a deep-fried pig's trotter -- "pata" means "paw" in both Spanish and Tagalog. Kris P Pata is a valued user here on Chowhound.

                  Silog is a slang term for a breakfast -- tapsilog is sweetened grilled beef, garlic fried rice and fried eggs (TAPa - SInangag - itLOG). Replace the tapa with longganisa (sweet sausage) and you have longsilog; replace it with tuyo (fish) and you have tuyosilog; replace it with tosino (the pork equivalent of tapa) and you have tosilog. Silogs are usually eaten with fresh tomatoes (you have to ask for these usually) and coconut vinegar.

                  Daing is a flat, deep-fried fish. Champorado is like chocolate rice pudding (and nothing like champurrado, the hot Mexican chocolate corn drink).

                  Pansit is stir-fried noodles, like chow mein in an Americanised Chinese place. There are different kinds -- pansit bihon is pretty much exactly like chow mein; pansit palabok is pho noodles with shrimp sauce, shrimp, egg, dried pork, and veggies; pansit sotanghon is pansit noodles in chicken soup; pansit malabon is a bright orange mess of noodles with seafood.

                  Turo-turo just means "point-point". Tagalog does a lot of doubling of words... in this case, it means a steam table, where you can "point" at the food you want. 90% of the Filipino restaurants in LA are turo-turo joints.

                  I have to be honest, I don't like the food except breakfast at turo-turo joints -- it seems like odd parts of animals, and always a lot of bone and grease. Filipino food in general is VERY sweet -- the Filipinos of my acquaintance have the biggest sweet teeth (tooths?) I know.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    I'm just now realising that my sentence structure in the last paragraph led to misunderstandings.

                    I like Filipino food. But when I go to turo-turo places, I find that everything except the breakfasts is REALLY greasy and usually too sweet. But if you go to something like a village fiesta (put on by the expatriates -- yes, I'm talking to you, Tabogon Club!) the food is completely different -- the last time was two lechon, an amazing, amazing tray of fish in spiced coconut milk, all kinds of vegetables, lots of fruit, and even green beans with pork.

                    My only complaint with Filipino food in general is that, like Greek food, it tends to be served room temperature, even when someone else might think it should be hot (the fish in coconut milk, for example).

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      Most of the food should be served hot, as it is at the family table. It gets eaten at room temp because Filipinos like dining in large groups, buffet style, and on "Filipino time", i.e., not very punctually :-).

                      1. re: pilinut

                        In the Philippines, some Bhutanese friends were invited to eat at a filipino home. They felt that they were being insulted because food was served at room temperature. I had to explain that that was normal and no offence was intended. I understood how they felt, however: in both Japanese and Bhutanese cooking, it is important to get the food timed so that hot foods are hot at the time of serving.

                    2. re: Das Ubergeek

                      No wonder you don't like turo-turo joints. The best food in the world would be as gnarly as toe jam if it were left under a heat lamp all day. The only dish that might be half decent if not prepared to order would be Kalderetang Kambing

                    3. My experience with Filipino food is from a lot of potlucks, catered buffets, and a few restaurants. Not trying to insult anyone, but I find the food not that interesting compared to spicier Thai, subtle Chinese, or Korean with the variety of panchans. A few of the dishes that I enjoyed were the various pancits (especially if they included the sausage), lumpia (just another type of eggroll), and the coconut jello dessert. The purple yam cake is interesting to look at but flavorwise, just sweet. Overall, eh.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mlgb

                        Sorry to say that, from the 5 time I've tried Filipino food, I've felt pretty much the same...maybe it's the lack of KAPOW flavors that I expect from SE asian cuisine, but I feel like it often tastes like a spaniard cooking chinese food..My hometown in NJ has become Little Manila over the last 5 years and i WISH to gosh I could develop an appreication for the food, as I've got over 10 Filipino rest. within walking distance to my house...I'm just not that into it.

                        1. re: sixelagogo

                          Filipino food is actually very strongly flavored. Salt is amplified by fish sauce, shrimp paste and soy. You can barely escape the sour tang of vinegar in most of the food. The KAPOW! of salty-sour-bitter all at once is what can normally be off-putting. But for some reason Filipino restauranteurs seem to hold back in their kitchen. You're not the only one with that complaint. Restaurant food is rarely as good as what you can get in the home kitchen of the worst Ilocano cook.

                      2. As a Filipino-American, it makes me SO SAD if people don't like Filipino food. I could go on, but anyway, to more practical things...

                        I wanted to clarify about the word pansit. I think this is actually a broad term for noodle. Pansit molo for example, is a soup with gyoza-like dumplings (but shaped more like Chinese wontons). Pansit palabok is usually not stir-fried, but instead the rice noodles are boiled and the sauce (cooked separately) is then placed on top along with the garnishes. Pansit sotanghon refers to very thin, clear bean-thread noodles, often in a chicken and mushroom soup but not necessarily (can be stir-fried instead). Pansit bihon is the only one that's always stir-fried -- though it is the most common form of pansit, and in conversation "pansit" is often synonymous with pansit bihon.

                        Cookbooks -- the classic one that every Filipino mom I knew had when I was growing up: Nora Daza. Probably available in a Filipino grocery store. Not sure which edition is best, but probably the earliest or one of the earliest.

                        Max Restaurant -- I don't know anything about the ones in LA, but the one in Manila is known for really good Southern-style (as in American South) fried chicken. My favorite fried chicken anywhere. As far as I know in Manila, it's not really considered a Filipino restaurant -- just a fried chicken place.

                        About JungMann's wikipedia site: Thank you! Really excellent reference.