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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.

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.

                        1. Hi ElsieDee,

                          You could certainly do worse than presenting this question to Chowhounders. It no longer surprises me to consistently find the level of shared food knowledge and experience on display here even for a cuisine that is still relatively unknown as Filipino. Add mine to the props for JungMann on his wiki entry. Maraming Salamat.

                          It's a bit a well-known fact amongst Filipinos that some our best chefs and culinary artists don't make a living off the cuisine of their youth. A random survey of some of LA's, NY's, Madrid's and Barcelona's better restaurants will reveal a surprising number of Filipinos running those kitchens. Rather, Filipino food is what these chefs like to cook when entertaining and for a bit of comfort. When folks ask me for advice on the best Filipino food, beyond a listing of restaurants, I advise them to attend a private and formal sit-down Filipino dinner party. Ask a Filipino friend; I'm sure they'll be more than accommodating.

                          In the absence of that, a number of books on Filipino cuisine can serve as excellent primers and three in particular, lend refreshing perspectives. Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa are the folks behind NYC's CENDRILLON, which for over a decade, has both introduced and sustained contemporary Filipino cuisine to one of the world's great dining cities. Their recently-published, "Memories of Philippine Kitchens,"(Stewart, Tabori and Chang) was recently awarded the IACP's Jane Grigson Award for Distinguished Scholarship and Quality Research and was a finalist for the Julia Child Award. Beyond an omnibus of family recipes, their book features collected eating and drinking experiences from traversing the country's different regions as well as consultation from people like Internationally-recognized food scholar Doreen Fernandez. Both an introduction and an entertaining history, it's the best book I've ever read on the subject. Here's a link to their presentation a few months ago while on the book's tour: http://cendrillon.com/blog/?p=17

                          Frustrated at the distinct lack of cookbook titles on his native cuisine, Filipino American chef Gerry Gelle decided to take a proactive approach: He authored his own which resulted in "Filipino Cuisine: Recipes From The Islands"(Red Crane Books). A massive upgrade from the available titles which, though classic, had been a touch outdated.

                          That similar feeling is what fueled Jennifer Aranas to author "The Filipino American Kitchen: Traditional Recipes, Contemporary Flavors" (Tuttle). The former chef/owner of Chicago's popular RAMBUTAN, Aranas sold her restaurant a few years ago to write this book.

                          In any event, I hope this was as helpful to you as the previous posts. Here's wishing you the best on your culinary adventures. Just remember to walk afterward. Apart from the vast array of great seafood and native fruits and vegetables, Filipino cuisine ain't no lightweight eatin'.

                          1. hahahah thanks for your input clee!!! =) i kinda know what you are feeling.. i get a bit taken aback when folks say they don't particularly like filipino food.... but i understand that everyone has their own preferences... =)

                            you did a good job on the pansit talk =) there is also pansit malabon which is like pansit palabok, but the sauce is a bit bit different and is mixed in. and there's pansit kanton which is the egg noodle.. and there's pansit lomi.. hahah i guess i could go on...

                            i think, like any other cuisine, there are filipino restaurants that give filipino food a bad rep. i will be the first to admit, i am quite hesitant to go to filipino restaurants for fear that it will be too greasy or what not... and for the most part i stick to my own cooking, or the cooking of my relatives and friends... (yup i am filipino.. hahah)

                            but, when done right, filipino food is very flavorful. the flavors can be quite strong.. so strong that i don't like them.. like ampalaya (bittermelon)...

                            max's of manila is good. i like their chicken and their garlic fried rice... =)

                            the philippines (pinas) was conquered/inhabited by many cultures, and as such, you will see a blend of influences in the cuisine.

                            there are a lot of sour type flavors. i love sinigang, which is a sour soup, a bit reminiscient of thai tom yum soup. the more sour the better. and add white rice to the mix with a side of chicharon (pork rinds) and YUM... great comfort food. there's also a dish called ukoy, which is like a deep fried patty with bean sprouts, yams, etc.. the dipping sauce is usually a garlic vinegar sauce...

                            certain foods tend to be sweet... like spaghetti... which often gets cooked with vienna sausages.. but can still be tasty... (although i personally don't like sweet spaghetti... hahah) the tocino, longanisa are cured meats that are also sweet... someone described this earlier, and it makes for a great breakfast =)

                            a lot of desserts are based on rice flour (mochiko) and coconut, which i am allergic to, but can be prepared with other similar ingredients. i LOVE the desserts...

                            and i can't forget kare-kare... which is made out of oxtail in a peanut butter type stew... i grew up on this, and imagine my surprise when restaurants in nyc were all crazed about the newest delicacy, "oxtail."

                            i may be biased, considering my heritage... BUT...true, filipino food can be mediocre... but then again, i'm sure many peope have had bad chinese food or even bad burgers. however, filipino food in general can have overwhelming flavors =)

                            maraming salamat sa inyong lahat! =)

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: kinipela

                              My wife is from Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, and we hired a nanny
                              from her home town to look after our girls. We sent her to a local community college to study both Chinese and Thai cooking, and we now have a pretty accomplished chef as well!

                              I'm surprised that no one has mentioned "lechon", which is an entire pig roasted on a spit. This is the standard dish at any celebration, and parties are often judged on how many pigs there were "0h, they had 10 lechon!". You can drive through certain parts of Manila early on a Saturday morning, and see thirty or forty pigs on eight-foot poles stacked outside waiting to be picked up.

                              There is a restaurant in Manila - "Kamayan", I believe - where there are no plates or cutlery. The food is served on banana leaves, and everything is eaten by hand. You can actually see the pigs being cooked over the charcoal fire. There are usually 12-15 pigs going at once, and there is a young man inside, shirtless because of the heat, who has a pole about 10 feet long with a spike at the end. He uses this to periodically jab each pig to let the fat bubble out and baste the skin. The result is a fantastically crisp skin (which everyone fights over), and a still juicy meat inside. It is served with a spicy brown liver based sauce whose name escapes me at the moment.

                              Another variation on this is "lechon manok", which is roasted chicken. Again, a very crispy skin, and very moist meat - yum!

                              Our nanny makes two types of lumpia: lumpia shanghai, which are about the size of a fat cigarette and deep fried, served with her version of a sweet-sour sauce, and fresh lumpia, where you assemble your own using rice paper wrappers, and fillings like sprouts, chopped vegetables, hearts of palm, etc. She serves these with either a peanut sauce or sweet chili sauce (or both).

                              She also makes tocino, longanisa, and adobo (both chicken and pork), which I enjoy, although I agree the taste is a little sweet for some. I do find the fascination with the little vienna sausages a bit strange - they pop up everywhere. (Of course, Shakee's Pizza is the Philippine favourite.. go figure.)

                              Finally, she makes a great stew called "calderata" - beef short ribs, potatoes, peppers, onions, olives, and I don't what else. Great when fresh made, and even better after a night in the fridge.

                              Of course, with food like this each night, I ended up putting on 50 lbs and developing type II diabetes, so a lot of it is off-limits to me now. (Surprisingly, I can eat chicharon!)

                              I would note that much of the moneyed class in the Philippines are ethnic Chinese, and as a result many of the higher end restaurants are either Chinese or a mix of Filipino-Chinese foods. As befits an island nation, there is a wide variety of seafood, although I never developed a taste for tilapia. But abalone, lobster, crab, and shrimp are abundant, and delicious.

                              1. re: KevinB

                                hahah i like lechon kawali.. that way you don't have to fight with others for the crispy parts.. =) and for some reason i'm not a calderate kinda person.. i like menudo better.. =) i LOVE the smoked fish... YUM =)

                                1. re: kinipela

                                  You've mentioned two of my favorite foods: tinapa (smoked fish, which is rare relative to salted) and ampalaya (bitter gourd). I make ampalaya Vietamese style, however: ground pork, spices, green onion, chili, fish sauce...stuffed into cleaned out halves and steamed.

                            2. I first came to love Filipino food in a tiny restaurant in Woodside, NY and maybe my account of that burgeoning love affar will be of interest.

                              Also there's a great food blog out of Manila. I read one post a few years ago in which she returned to the village she grew up in just to try a certain kind of rice. That was a long post of course. http://karen.mychronicles.net

                              1. Don't forget the Halo-halo, a shaved ice dessert with lots of goodies, much like Singapore Ice or A-B-C. Mmmmm

                                1. You'd be surprised at how many Filipino food blogs there are. Filipinos in general LOVE to cook and eat. Our food has been influenced by many cultures (Spanish and Chinese being the biggest influences) and as such it is hard to find one or a few dishes that epitomizes the diversity of the country. This is especially true because the Philippines is an archipelago. Thus, the food from each area is distinctly different from the others.

                                  For instance, many people think that adobo (meat cooked in vinegar/soy sauce/garlic/black pepper/bay leaves) is a universal Filipino food. But even adobo has so many variations, depending on which part of the country you look. Some won't have soy sauce, some will have coconut milk, or turmeric. Some will have liver, some will have more sauce, others will be almost dry.

                                  These blogs make for interesting reading and are written by Filipino foodies who are passionate about their cooking. It's also a chance to see how diverse the Filipino palate is. Enjoy!


                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: ctl98

                                    Awesome! I'll have to check these out.

                                    I was fortunate to be exposed to Filipino cooking at a relatively young age since one of my mother's best friends is from the Philippines. I fell in love with pancit bihon, pancit palabok, sinigang, and kid-friendly lumpia Shanghai. Loved the sweet spaghetti as a kid too.

                                    I have to say, pinakbet is the only way you'll get me to eat bitter melon. I love smoked milkfish for breakfast with a side of tomatoes in fish sauce, rice, and an egg over easy. Kare kare is so good too but I like lots of shrimp paste. Lechon kawali and crispy pata...oh good gravy those have to be very occasional indulgences!

                                    My family loves all the rice flour and coconut based desserts. Personally, I'll just stick with halo-halo.

                                  2. My friend Villia just got these from Amazon.

                                    Memories of Philippine Kitchens. Amy Besa, Romy Dorotan

                                    Postres divinos: Un banquete de deliciosos postres para cualquier ocasion (Cocina paso a paso series). Edimat Libros

                                    Philippine Cookbook. Reynaldo Alejandro

                                    The Filipino American Kitchen: Traditional Recipes, Contemporary Flavors. Jennifer M. Aranas

                                    Fine Filipino Food. Karen Hulene Bartell.

                                    1. besides cookbooks, there's always mixes that help in preparation... you can find these particularly at stores that carry asian food products.. we tend to use mama sita's =)

                                      1. My wife is Filipino-American, and I definitely got a crash course in Filipino cuisine when I started dating her and hanging out with her family. Most of my favorite dishes have been mentioned here already. Sinigang and adobo were two of the first Filipino dishes I tried, and I think they are great starting points to those unfamiliar with the cuisine.

                                        In America at least, Filipinos seem to really love meat in all forms. When my father-in-law prepares a bowl of "vegetables," it usually still contains at least two types of meat. My wife and I joke that if a dish only has one kind of meat, it qualifies as vegetarian!

                                        A couple of things not really mentioned yet that Filipinos are fond of: spam, ube (purple yam), and polveron (shortbread cookies made with dry milk--very addictive). Also, the uncles seem to always snack on tripe when they are out back drinking Crown Royal!

                                        Filipinos definitely love food. As a Southerner, it was easy for me to fit into their culture. The aunties were often heard to say of me with pride, "That's Jon. He'lll eat anything."

                                        I have fond memories of going to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass with my wife and in-laws, coming home to a huge post-Mass Christmas dinner, and waking up just a few hours later to the smell of my father-in-law cooking a huge Christmas morning breakfast of longsilog! Somehow, I made room for it all!

                                        1. I wanted to chime in from a different point of view. I'm Filipino, of a family that's gone from lower-middle class to upper middle class in my thirty years, and I have to say, I've only ever eaten Filipino food at home or at the behest of my father's relatives and friends. It may be exotic in the States, but it isn't here, and it never tastes the same "as Mom makes it". And that's truer of my mom than most, because she deliberately changes things from the "received" recipe. Less salt. No sugar-salty dishes. Lots of back-of-the-throat heat from chili. In my experience, middle-class Filipinos eat a lot of Italian and Japanese and American fast food. I don't know what the real uber-rich eat, the old Spanish/American landed gentry and the Chinese taipans. (It can't be all paella and sharkfin, can it?)

                                          That said, here are some of my mom's takes on Filipino dishes.

                                          Adobo -- She taught me to marinate the meat (dark meat chicken and chopped pork belly) in a third of a cup of soy sauce, a third of a cup of white cane vinegar, a third of a cup of water, salt, a whole head of garlic, crushed in a mortar (native garlic is about 1/4 the size of a Gilroy head), and a bay leaf, for at least an hour, in the cooking pot. Then take the pot, put it on the stove, bring it to a boil, skim off whatever that stuff is that comes from the meat -- if any --, then lower to a simmer. A lot of the really good Filipino stews and soups involve long, long simmering on low heat. Once it's cooked, Mom takes out the meat, leaving the cooking liquid behind. Then she cranks up the heat and reduces the liquid into a syrup apparently composed of pure rendered pork and chicken fat mixed with completely caramelized soy sauce and garlic bits. She then puts the meats back, gives them a quick stir-fry in this salted cholesterol paradise, and e voila. Mom's adobo. Makes you younger. (Kills you quicker.)

                                          Bulanglang -- an accompaniment, in our house, to the adobo. It's garden vegetables in rice water, the milky liquid left over after rinsing rice for the cooker. Mom puts in bean sprouts, round egglant, sliced radishes, okra, squash, squash flowers, and sometimes other vegetables, in the rice water to lightly boil with salt and pepper to taste (plus a crushed garlic clove for fragrance, as her mother always said.) No grease at all, clean and crisp with a delightful mouth feel. Also good on its own, even cold.

                                          Chicken tinola -- my favorite recipe, real easy. Put chicken pieces in water just enough to cover them. Slice and slightly crush ginger, to taste. Salt and whole peppercorns, bring to a boil, then immediately as usual lower to a simmer. Simmer until chicken is just cooked. Add sliced green papaya. Cook until papaya is tender and chicken begins to be fork-tender. Turn off the flame. Add a goodly amount of the tangy, bitter leaves of the Asian chili. Let them wilt into the broth. Stir and serve. Amazing restorative when ill with flu, after flying twelve thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean (in either direction) or when cold (as most Filipinos are in America: "Ay, it's so cold!" = 75 degrees.)

                                          As you can see, aside from the adobo (which is a splurge), I didn't grow up with much anything greasy, salty, or, worst of all for me, sweet. When fried, I had fried chicken, Filipino-style with no breadin or crust, just salt and pepper and real hot vegetable oil. Same with fried fish. The stews could be rich (my dad's caldereta, which has no tomato but a tub of margarine, two heads of garlic, two cans of liverwurst spread, hot spices and beef, cooked so long and so slow the result is essentially the texture and nature of goulash) especially kare-kare (oxtail braised in peanut butter, c'mon), but those were rare. Fried rice for breakfast was once a week at most. My mom was all about local foods, locally grown, simply prepared, with the minimum of salt and sugar, emphasis on vegetables and fish, just as her mother taught her. I guess they were Californian Italian but didn't know it. (Though you can bet Mom knows it now, most of her current dishes are Italian, and I mean Biba-Lidia-Batali style, not red sauce.) My dad and sister didn't particularly like it, as they liked the beef jerky and fried eggs (sis) or the fried dried fish and fish fermented sauces (dad), but Mom is the boss in the household. She's passing her recipes on to me, because I have the interest, and because my sister's idea of cooking is pantomiming to her maid from the kitchen doorway.

                                          22 Replies
                                          1. re: makatiboy

                                            thanks for that makatiboy! =) that's why i don't really go out to eat at filipino restaurants... my family also likes the fresh ingredients, and doesn't really cook sweet dishes like sweet spaghetti... and we don't like greasy food either... so we're picky if we ever eat at a filipino restaurant....

                                            1. re: kinipela

                                              We never went to Filipino restaurants when we were growing up, even though there were several in Chicago (My dad would say, "Why go there? I cook better than they do!" Which was true.)

                                              I don't make Filipino food, just because it is so labor intensive. I have a hard time describing Filipino food to non-Filipinos because there is so much variety and no dominant flavor or method of cooking. But in response to your initial question, ElsieDee - the staples at a Filipino party are usually pancit (bihon or palabok in my family), chicken or pork adobo, lechon, and lumpia. We ate a lot of sinigang too - it has a great sour, tangy flavor. One of my absolute favorite dishes is pork barbecue (I don't know if there's another name for it - I just call it "meat on a stick" and everyone knows what I'm talking about!) - I could eat that all day. It is marinated pork on skewers and it is probably on my top five list of things to eat (and I love to eat!).

                                              If you go to Max's - I know when I visited the Philippines the Max's there had a green (unripe) mango shake that was to die for... if they have it there you need to try it. Mmm... just thinking about it makes me salivate.

                                              1. re: seconds

                                                I enjoy Max's, especially when I'm hungry for fried chicken -- Filipino fried chicken, crustless, salt and pepper in fat. Interestingly enough, according to Max's, "Max" was an amateur restauranteur who made his reputation selling his fried chicken to southern-born American GIs during Liberation. I guess they liked the familiar concept but with the exotic style (served with sugar-dusted sweet potato french fries, to boot.)

                                                My dad took the staff out for one of the assitant's birthday and we ate at Max's and they served a new dish, a tofu sisig, I guess inspired by the one at the higher-end restaurants, that I loved. I like sisig, but pig cheeks and ears is just too fat for me.

                                                1. re: makatiboy

                                                  Tofu sisig is the only thing I remember from my lunch at Max's in Manila last year. Compared to the pork sisig I had tried a few days prior (some place at the Greenbelt? across from the Renaissance Makati), it was a revelation. If only I could figure out how to replicate it here in LA...

                                                  Any recipe suggestions, makatiboy?

                                              2. re: kinipela

                                                I think the steam-table stuff in the Bay Area and SoCal is like Chinese food pre-WWII -- a cuisine developing on its own, built by the immigrants. It's red-sauce Italian, it's Lower East Side Jewish, it's Boston Irish. Especially in the class aspect: like these other "ethnic" cuisines that developed in America, it comes from the memories and addresses the palates of the immigrants, who tend to be of the lower economic classes. As we all know, this cuisine takes on a life of its own, and is quite different from what a middle-and-upper-class family, even when cooking "Filipino" in the Philippines, would be eating.

                                                Furthermore, for rich or poor, such foods as lechon, lechon kawali, kare-kare, the various pancits -- these are fiesta foods, wake and funeral foods, wedding feast foods, Christmas noche buena food, New Year's media noche food, Chinese festival food. Not daily fare. Eaten rarely and prepared with the according care. Once you prepare them for every day meals, and serve them cafeteria style, they become a different kind of cuisine. Now, I like red-sauce Italian, checked tablecloths and chianti in baskets and all; and I like American-style Chinese more than the authentic kind. But I know Italians in Italy and Chinese in China don't eat like that.

                                                And in any circumstance, I do not like eating Filipino-style spaghetti. One can of Del Monte tomato sauce. One cup of sugar. Several tablespoons of salt and MSG (Ajino-Moto brand). Cut-up hot dogs or cocktail franks, the redder the better (the food coloring should extend halfway into the meat-flavored starch.) Served room temperature so any oil you poured on it for gloss can congeal. That may not be the recipe, but it sure seems like it. Oh, and have some steamed rice, because you know Lolo likes to have rice with his spaghetti. *smacks head*

                                                I'm interested that there are now sit-down Filipino restaurants that are serving "nouvelle" versions of Filipino food in California. It reminds me of Sentro, a favorite restaurant in Greenbelt. The corned beef sinigang and tofu sisig is amazing.

                                                1. re: makatiboy

                                                  That spaghetti--hilarious, spot on, ubiquitous at children's parties. Now for my shattered, slow cooked in used oil, salty, served at room temperature chicken...

                                                  On a simultaneous thread, just suggested filipino food with less salt,sugar and oil; NOT served at room temp; and with some new spices as potentially better Americanized.

                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    My parents tell me that as a toddler being introduced to solid food they used a tray sent from the States that had a double-boiler like system of keeping everything warm: hot water in the lower tray, the food above it. Ever since I have always hated room temperature food. What irks me slightly is when a cuisine that is served room temperature because most people are too poor to afford serving things hot and keeping things hot, becomes the "authentic" way of doing it.

                                                    Of course, when more people got to afford microwave ovens -- now everything is airline-food reheated, but at least it's hot.

                                                  2. re: makatiboy

                                                    Actually I used to prepare kare-kare a couple times a month and lechon kawali once a week when I had more frequent guests in the summer. This might also be why I have 20 lbs. to lose for my wedding fitting next month.

                                                    1. re: JungMann

                                                      You should try cooking the unfattening dishes--I think they even taste better. Basically, poach/simmer any meat or protein in a clear broth flavored with either ginger, or onions. I did a pesa the other day of whole red snapper poached in water with both ginger and onions, and threw in some random veggies on top.

                                                      1. re: makatiboy

                                                        Kahit ano, piro mas masarap kung walang mashado asin, taba, tamis, di ba? (Whatever, but isn't it better without too much salt, fat, and sugar?).

                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                            Hindi! Taba = lasa. Most of the simple dishes, like tinola or nilaga, taste like ginger water to me.

                                                            The best of Filipino cookery has a sabaw that tastes like something: sinigang, afritada, mechado, adobo etc. One can make these healthier, for instance I don't lard my meat for mechado, but rather use brisket and more vinegar, and I draw upon my Middle Eastern and Indian background to add flavor to other dishes. But in general, if it's boiled, it needs more than what tradition calls for. Except pinakbet. That's bloody delicious.

                                                            1. re: JungMann

                                                              I so utterly disagree, but not in a bad way! You sound like my dad.

                                                              1. re: makatiboy

                                                                Wish the three of us, pilinut, and a few others could sit down to dinner.

                                                                My mom cooked (good!) filipino food--with less salt, sugar, and fat--made healthier in the 50s & 60s. She was a nutritionist and had been in nursing school with filipinas prior to WWII.

                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                  Dinner with hounds like Sam, makatiboy, JungMann, etc.?! Wow, I bet that would be one terrific dinner! If we were in California, I'd probably cook lengua with mushroom sauce, or pinakbet. If we were in Manila, I'd order one of my favorite lechons (take your pick: Cebuano-style, stuffed with garlic and lemongrass; Tagalog, with tamarind leaves; or a simple Spanish cochinillo) and serve either a kinilaw na tanigue (mackerel ceviche) or a kinilaw na puso ng saging (banana blossom cooked with garlic and vinegar), and a binakol (chicken cooked in gingered coconut water.)

                                                                  As for Filipino food with less salt, sugar, and fat, well, that's how my grandmother used to cook, and how we still try to cook, although we don't think of it as trying to cook with "less" of anything. It is "less" relative to the food found in most Filipino restaurants today. I am certain that the tendency to over-salt, and over-sweeten is fairly recent, and is due to the influence of fast food and rapid urbanization: the latter weakened family ties and made access to fresh food more difficult and expensive, and the former dumbed-down people's tastebuds. The Filipino food I remember always--but always--started with the freshest ingredients, which would have been a shame to have over-seasoned or drowned in grease. Amy Besa's book, Memories of Philippine Kitchens, does an excellent job of describing proper Filipino food and its context.

                                                                  1. re: pilinut

                                                                    Agreed, pilinut. My grandmother always used what was freshest when making any dish--Filipino or otherwise. I've found that many LA Filipino places use what's "traditional" (in terms of what they have on the shelves at Pacific Market), but not necessarily fresh (in terms of what I see at Farmer's Markets and local growers).

                                                                    One place that tends towards market-fresh as well as traditional Filipino flavors is Bistro Luneta in the Bay Area. It's how my mom would cook if she had the time and knowledge. It's how *I* cook now when I have that kind of time. No MSG for me, despite the recommendation of many of my friends.

                                                                    Besa's book is, indeed, my go-to when it comes to replicating the dishes my grandma used to make for us way back when...

                                                                    Bistro Luneta
                                                                    615 3rd Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94401

                                                                  2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                    Next time you're in New York! I've been throwing fiestas for every possible holiday lately; I'm always looking for an excuse to make my rellenong manok.

                                                                    Makatiboy, I reduced my adobo sauce to a syrup like your mother does and it was absolutely fantastic. The flavors are all concentrated and just amazing. And FYI, I skimmed off the fat to make an attempt at being healthy. I will attempt a nilaga this weekend per your recommendation as I haven't eaten that in years. I have a feeling, however, that after I'm done fiddling with the flavors it's going to turn into tom yum.

                                                                    1. re: JungMann

                                                                      Can I come, too? I recently put 6 rellenos into the freezer for a major party later this month, and I've been wanting to try other people's versions. Mine is based on the recipe in "Favorite Filipino Recipes" by Pat Limjuco Dayrit, with whom my mom took cooking classes.

                                                                      Although I've been making relleno since I was in school, I've always been perplexed about the rather odd items that go into it (and other Filipino dishes) like the chorizo de Bilbao (El Rey brand, made somewhere in the U.S. midwest), the pickle relish, and the vienna sausage. One part of me rebels at using all these pre-made, junky items, but part of me says it won't taste like the stuff I grew up with if I "improve" it by using real Spanish chorizo and ground veal.

                                                                      What do you guys think? Is it time for Filipino food to get away from out post-war (WWII) fascination with canned goods yet :-)?

                                                                      1. re: pilinut

                                                                        Refinement refines the Filipino out of fiesta dishes. The Spanish might have brought style, the Filipinos gave it flavor. I used to make relleno with artisinal chorizos from Argentina or Spain, Black Forest and Virginia hams and hand-chopped pickles, which were well-received. Then one year I went for authentic with El Rey, Vlasic relish and boiled hams and received such an overwhelming response that I won't switch back. I've even used SPAM in the filling to rave reviews from Filipinos AND Americans alike.

                                                                        1. re: JungMann

                                                                          Hah! My 6 rellenos have chorizo El Rey, Vlasic pickle relish, and Niman Ranch ham (the one with the black exterior). Spam sounds like a good idea as an addition or substitution for vienna sausage. Nice to know that my recipe, which sounds much like yours, is probably close to the mark! Thanks for the feedback!

                                                                          1. re: pilinut

                                                                            I think we're pretty much the same because the ham I use also has a black exterior (I never buy it --- it's always just waiting for me to make a relleno when I visit home). If you want to go high class, make chicken galantina. The recipe I came across years ago had black truffles... along with queso de bola.

                                                    2. re: makatiboy

                                                      "tangy, bitter leaves of the Asian chili"--is that any bird-type chili? Never thought of eating leaves.

                                                    3. Here's what I wrote in 2005 on my third visit to a Filipino restaurant. I know it's one-sided, but do you think it is partly valid??

                                                      "I thought about Spain on my third visit. And midway through my delicious plate of Kalderetang Kambing I had a very minor culinary epiphany. For culinary purposes, the Philippines should be considered part of Latin America. The biggest food influence on the Philippines is Spain. My goat stew, with its rich brown sauce, was just like that served in El Castillo de Jagua, a wonderful Dominican restaurant on Rivington in Manhattan. Yes, there are Chinese influences in Filipino cooking, sweet and sour, fried noodles etc, but they are a lot like the stuff served in Chino latino restaurants that cater to a Latin crowd. So on the food map of the world the Philippine Islands lie between Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and maybe that's why they call it the Bermuda Triangle"

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Brian S

                                                        An anthropologist friend is also of the opinion that the Philippines should be considered a Latin country, not just because it was ruled as a province of Mexico, but also because the language and food is so inflected by its Spanish colonial masters and the Latin Americans who worked the ships docking in Manila Bay. I am curious, though, what was the goat dish at El Castillo de Jagua? Kalderetang Kambing is one of my favorite foods and yet nearly impossible to find in NYC and I would love to try the Dominican version.

                                                        1. re: JungMann

                                                          You can get Kalderetang Kambing at Renee's in Woodside. I love that restaurant. I always get food made to order, never from the buffet. Check it out on the Outer Boroughs board. The Castillo de Jagua on Rivington St prepares the dish as a special on either Friday or Saturday, I forget which. I just ask for chivo. I guess the name is chivo guisado or something similar.

                                                      2. I grew up and still live in Hawaii, with my immigrant filipino parents.

                                                        My experience with other filipino food, food that wasnt cooked by my parents, is that I don't really care for it. I find that when I eat food cooked by someone else, I always found that other people's food tasted funny. its too salty, oily, or sweet. We had the usualy adobo, pancit, lumpia, inabrow (type of vegetable stew), balatoong, etc.

                                                        Something I also recently found is that Filipino people in general eat more fresh vegetables than most. I'm not talking about a green salad or asparagus. Growing up, I remember that we always had fresh tomatoes, long beans, kabocha, pumpkin blossoms (similar to zuchini blossoms), partly due to my gardening parents, but I have come to find out that for many people, fresh vegetables are the salad that people eat or the onions or mushrooms that they eat with pizza.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: da_seuss

                                                          lets clarify that I dont still live with my parents. not that there's anything wrong with that.

                                                          I grew up with my imigrant filipino parents and live seperately from them.

                                                          1. re: da_seuss

                                                            da seuss, unfortunately, most filipinos in the Philippinies eat few vegetables. One myth you hear all the time is that filipinos used to eat more vegetables until some GI after WWII said to them, "Gee, you eat grass". Problem with the story is that it happened to almost everyone's tatay, nanay, or noong so-and-so alive at the time.

                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              I dont know if I can disagree or not.

                                                              From the times that I have been there, I've always had a pretty good supply of fruits and vegetables. It didn't matter if I was in Manila, or if I was in the rural areas.

                                                              I was always with family, so I can't speak for other people/families.

                                                              1. re: da_seuss

                                                                That is the one thing with Pinoys in the United States, you don't get to taste or remember our Filipino cuisine . Sometimes, you tend to forget the real taste of it because of lack of ingredients from the Filipino or Asian Stores around there. If you all have time, come down to Manila and taste some great Filipino food at Kamayan Restaurant, Bistro Filipino, Fely J's and more! =)

                                                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                It's regional. Up in Ilocos, they do have quite a few vegetable stews. However, as you go towards the Visayas and Tagalog region...the vegetable becomes less. It must be geography since the Ilocos is so close to the Cordilleras where it is more viable to grow fresher vegetables

                                                                Ilocanos seem to be fond of string beans, tomatoes, shallots, squash flower and eggplant. If I'm not mistaken puki-puki even is an all-veggie dish.

                                                          2. Here is a good website for you to learn about Filipino Food, its history and influences:


                                                            it also discusses the differences between the Filipino stews, afritada, menudo, mechado and kaldereta.

                                                            1. I hope I'm not out of order in saying how much I am missing Sam Fujisaka at this moment. I hope the OP has learned a bit more about Filipino cuisine, and found some good examples (rare enough, unfortunately) to enjoy.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: pilinut

                                                                I don't come to chowhound very much any more, sorry to hear about Sam.

                                                                1. re: pilinut

                                                                  Pilinut, I miss Sam as well. His contributions here - and to so many other threads - really opened new realms to me.

                                                                2. Contrary to popular belief, most Filipino food are not fried. Most are STEWED and include HOURS of simmering in low heat.