It isn’t Chinese, Japanese, Korean or even Vietnamese. The original Asian fusion cuisine came from a country that dresses its spaghetti with hot dogs instead of meatballs and banana ketchup instead of tomato sauce. We’re talking about the Philippines, home to an intoxicating amalgamation of flavors from China, Spain, Malaysia, Thailand and Mongolia with a dash of European inspiration.
With over 7,000 islands and a population of approximately 98.39 million, the Philippines is a country whose food “is shaped by its history” between Spanish and American rule and immigrants from China and Malaysia. Surprisingly, the Filipino-American population is the second largest U.S Asian population, second to the Chinese. Which begs the question: why has it taken so long for the Philippine cuisine to take off in the United States? Is it the fact that the fusion creates con-fusion or something else all together? Some speculate that certain native dishes would turn off mild palated Americans, despite the growth of the foodie culture. Ingredients like pig’s blood, duck embryos and offal can be polarizing, so much so that the Filipino’s have a word for it: hiya (pronounced hee-ya) which translates to mean shame. Despite a possible unclear taste identity, Filipino cuisine has our mouth watering, with a profile that can’t be easily described or even represented in one dish. Filipino cuisine is sweet from sugary vinegar, (sukang iloco), sour from calamansi, and tamarind and is perfect when kissed with coconut.
One of the signature Filipino dishes is adobo. Not to be confused with the dish of Mexico, Philippine adobo features chicken thighs marinated overnight in vinegar, bay leaves, garlic, salt and pepper and then cooked stovetop until dressed with the syrupy, boiled down marinade. If you try one Filipino dish, make it this one served with sticky rice. And in true Filipino tradition, prepare enough for a crowd because this is a cuisine meant to be eaten family style. Other dishes like lumpia (Filipino ground pork spring rolls), pork sisig (fried pork belly), sinigang (clear sour soup) are true symbols of the Philippines along with fried chicken.
Fried chicken? Yes. Open even before the U.S.’s beloved KFC, Philippine favorite Max’s has been single-handedly sharing Filipino cuisine with consumers since 1945. With spots all over California, one in Vegas and New Jersey, Max’s Filipino crispy fried chicken is converting consumers one bird at a time.
Noted restaurant television journalist, Andrew Zimmern proclaimed in 2012 that Filipino cuisine was on the cusp of greatness. While it took a little longer than Zimmern hoped, we are starting to see signs of his prophecy. With acclaimed Milkfish in New Orleans and Brooklyn’s Purple Yam, Maharlika and sibling Jeepney in NYC’s East Village and Qui in Austin, we are seeing signs of a Filipino food revolution. And we can’t wait to see what will be on our plate next.
Filipino Is Popping Up Everywhere
Max’s – Fried Chicken now in San Diego and Vegas
White Rabbit – the original Filipino food truck, based in L.A. scooping up chicken adobo and other Filipino favorites since 2010
The Salo Project – a one-woman operation of pop up dinners showcasing Filipino cuisine across all 50 states. “ a dinner experience that is carefully orchestrated to showcase the dialogue between dishes: how the flavors and textures interact; the sequence and flow; as well as the interaction between the diners, as they’re exploring the Philippines through their palates.”
And to prepare/enjoy Filipino at home:
Seafood City (grocery store): This popular grocery store has more than 20 locations in the U.S. bringing high quality, fresh seafood and produce and Filipino staples to consumers. Chicago, another San Francisco location and Canada will be the next lucky sites for expansion in 2016-2017.
Ramar Foods (packaged food): Whether in their Magnolia brands Avocado ice-cream or the Kusina brand frozen chicken lumpia, Ramar Foods has “set their sights on bringing Filipino foods to the mainstream” for consumers to enjoy at home.