Filipino cuisine is at best a mix of different yet similar cooking from the different regions or provinces of the country. The ingredients are similar but the resulting dishes do not resemble each other in taste. This makes it delightful to write about Filipino regional cooking.
The Philippines is an archipelago composed of more than 7,100 islands which translates to 300,000 square kilometers (115,831 sq mi) in total land area. From the farthest point in Batanes to the last island in Jolo, our country spans a wide area of diversity in geography and culture. Thus it is no wonder that our food will differ from place to place or region to region. The Filipino food writer must take time to delve into our culinary history to be able to understand why we cook in a certain way and why we prefer certain ingredients in different regions of our country. It is not enough to document, it is our duty to research and to find out why we cook and eat in a particular way.
The people from Ilocos in the north and the Cebuanos in Central Visayas will work with the same vegetables but Kalabasa, Talong, Kamatis, Batong ( String Beans) and Okra when cooked into a stew by the Ilocano will come out as Pinakbet which is laced with the nose tingling scent of the Baggoong Balayan . The Cebuanos will make the vegetables into a stew called Utan Bisaya which has a clean broth that will enable the eater to identify the vegetables individually . The same Ilocano will cook something that the Cebuano will call Paklay out of the innards of the goat but the Ilocano version has the bile of the said animal squeezed into the stew and of course call it Pinapaitan!
The Tagalogs who cook with not so fresh fish likes to make a Paksiw which is called Inun-unan in the Visayas. The Tagalog version is replete with a lot of spices and other ingredients to make the fish palatable: Kamias, garlic, tomatoes, onions, Siling Espada. The Cebuano who has fish freshly caught will only have garlic and siling espada to go with the vinegar and salt.
To make it more interesting, Filipinos went through waves of colonisation. More than three hundred years under Spanish rule and the decades of American presence gave us dishes that we proudly serve our guests in fiestas and other celebrations. The Chinese have been here since time immemorial and their influence permeated even our daily fare.
Geography plays a very important role in our food preferences. The people living in the mountains will have dishes featuring meat from wild and domesticated animals as well as plants growing in the cool mountain air. People living near the sea will prefer to eat deep-sea fishes rather than the “isda sa tabang” of Central Luzon. Regional cooking shows us the differences as well as the commonality of our cuisines. The differences are not divisive, but rather a point for comparison. It is this diversity that we should celebrate! Filipino regional cooking makes our food interesting and a fantastic culinary celebration of varied tastes and flavours!
Cover photo by Bryan Koh
About Louella Alix
Louella’s earliest memories are of her grandmother’s kitchen. From an early age, she was a constant presence in that kitchen. It was a magical place where sugar and flour and eggs became gorgeous cakes, where fish came out redolent of spices and herbs, where slabs of pork metamorphosed into mounds of crispy goodness! To this day, she still has this idea that her grandmother performed alchemy . What is alchemy but the process of making something out of ordinary things? She is the author of Hikay: The Culinary Heritage of Cebu