It’s been interesting making these lists each month.
These posts have consistently been the hardest. There are countless lists like this across the internet, all different and varied. What makes mine different?
It’s funny. When I’ve asked natives what their kitchen staples are, I’m often disappointed in the lists they provide, as honest as they are. Not sure why. I think part of it is wanting to write about new and exotic ingredients that I’ve never tried before. If the list includes American items, or items that are common in an American kitchen, I feel like it’s not worthy of writing about. Ridiculous.
What makes it even harder is starting the month with a list before I’ve cooked anything or learned anything about the chosen cuisine (or the ingredients I’ve bought). I considered discontinuing this series, but I think I just need to figure out what this list really is. Is this about the staples I’ve used and liked? Or is this my first grocery haul, stocking up on what I think I need, and then figuring out if that’s true? I think it’s time to switch things up, starting next month.
So, what’s in a Filipino kitchen?
Filipino food has both Chinese and Spanish influence. Chinese from its close proximity to China; there are plenty of Chinese immigrants in the Philippines (including my family). There’s even a Chinatown in Manila, the capitol. The Spanish influence can be seen in the language (Tagalog uses many of the same words) and comes from being colonized by the Spanish. The Philippines is even named after a Spanish king. So, if you’ve cooked anything Asian or Spanish, some of these ingredients may be familiar to you.
Props to my mom for this list (and the interwebs)
My mom told me that there aren’t many staples for Filipino people. Typically they’ll go to the market each day and pick up what they need. This is typical of many southeast asian countries and of course is changing as they continue to become more modern and westernized.
Filipino people love their rice. Eaten with practically every meal of the day, a meal is not complete without it. Whether it be garlic rice with eggs and longanisa (sausage) for breakfast or plain jasmine rice with pork adobo for dinner, rice can be paired with anything.
Here’s some of that Chinese influence for ya. The secondary carb to rice, and thought of as a convenience food, ‘Pancit’ means noodles, any kind. ‘Pancit Bihon’ means rice noodles. Pictured above is vermicelli.
‘Pancit Canton’ means egg noodles. Pictured above is the Filipino variety, it’s very similar to Chinese lo mein.
Bay leaves are fragrant leaves that are often used in stews or marinades. My mom always had these in her spice rack growing up. They’re also quite handy for keeping hungry bugs out of your dry rice.
Same deal with the bay leaves, peppercorns are great for stews and marinades. I was never a big fan growing up. As a kid, accidentally biting into one made me immediately regret not sifting through my entire plate of food. If you’re like me, you can used ground pepper instead.
There’s that Chinese influence again. This one is key for making Filipino adobo (marinated chicken or pork). It can also be used to make a dipping sauce when mixed with some lemon or calamansi juice. Filipino soy sauce (Silver Swan or Lauriat) has a slightly different flavor, some say it’s saltier, and has a thinner consistency.
Another item my mom always had around. The Filipino brand is Datu Puti, but you can use whatever white vinegar you can find. It’s used a lot in Filipino cooking and is another key ingredient in adobo. You can also make an herb vinegar dipping sauce with whole cloves of garlic, sliced ginger, shallots, and chili peppers. Let it infuse for a few days, then use it as a dipping sauce for fish or anything really.
Ah, fish sauce. It smells terrible, but adds some unique depths of flavor to many Filipino dishes. This one also doubles as a cooking ingredient and as a dipping sauce.
I never really understood why my mom always ate her eggs with ketchup in the morning. Ketchup was meant for hotdogs and hamburgers. Silly me.
Filipino banana ketchup also known as banana sauce was born after a tomato shortage during WWII, and an excess of bananas. In comparison to American ketchup it has a more mild flavor and is a bit more gelatinous in texture. Filipinos will eat it with anything: eggs, meat, spaghetti, you name it.
If you thought patis was smelly, you’re not ready for this. Bagoong is a fermented fish or shrimp paste that is also used for cooking and as a condiment. My first experience of this one growing up was a smelly pink paste my mom and brother would eat with mango slices. It’s a savory sweet combo that I was never into. I prefer bagoong in Filipino pinakbet (a vegetable stew).
Garlic and shallots(onions) are the basis to practically every single Filipino dish. If you’re ever not sure how to start, fry up some chopped garlic and onions until soft.
Next, tomatoes are a very common vegetable. I’m not talking ketchup (is my American showing?). It’s actually often used as an ‘accent’ vegetable to a larger vegetable dish, both to add color and flavor. For example, a dish of okra or green beans will be dotted with chopped tomatoes.
The Philippines has a tropical climate, which means there’s a larger variety of delicious fruits to be eaten. My all time favorite has and will always be ‘Manila mangoes’ (as my mom calls them), but you might know them as honey mangoes. Smaller, yellow, and sweeter than your standard mango, we would buy these by the case when we could find them. It was always a happy day, when I could eat Manila mangoes for breakfast, and after lunch, and dinner, and as a midnight snack.
If you can’t find the precious yellow mangoes, regular mangoes are fine, maybe pick up some papaya while you’re at it.
Last but not least calamansi also known as ‘calamondin’ are Filipino limes (pictured in the main image). They taste like a cross between a mandarin orange and a lime, are small like key limes, and can be green or orange depending on how ripe they are. If you can find them, use them instead of lemons, make lemonade (or calamansi-ade?) or squeeze on top of pancit (Filipino noodles).