Filipino Cooking and Culture

spread of natural products from the Philippines
(Per-Andre Hoffmann/LOOK-foto/Getty Images)

The Filipinos are gregarious and sociable people who love to party, and the food is often at the center of their many celebrations. Filipino food combines Eastern and Western ideas and is strongly influenced by Chinese, Spanish and American traditions.

Original Fusion Food

While it defies any singular characterization, Filipino food is sometimes identified by the way it fuses Asian and European ingredients. For example, in the robust and popular Pork Menudo dish, some recipes have it blending tomato sauce with soy sauce, while others have it combining cheese and bay leaf with soy sauce.

Still, as with all other Southeast Asian cuisines, we often find local Southeast Asian ingredients like chilies, coconuts, shrimp paste, lemongrass, and fish sauce or patis present in Filipino cooking.

Chinese traders, who have been going to the Philippines since the 11th century, brought with them not only their silks and ceramics from the Middle Kingdom for purposes of commerce but also Chinese cooking traditions like stir-frying and steaming. The Filipino pancit has its roots in noodle soup dishes from China, the lumpia finds its origins in Chinese spring rolls, while the siaopao and siaomai are similar to the popular Chinese dim sum dishes of steamed buns and dumplings.


Later, in the 16th century when the Spanish colonized the Philippines and imposed Catholicism on the masses, they also introduced their flavors to Filipino cuisine, including olive oil, paprika, ​saffron, cheese, ham, and cured sausages. The Spanish paella or fried rice, for example, has come to be a festive dish in the Philippines and has been locally adapted to include many of the abundant seafood such as shrimps, crabs, squid, and fish, with which the Philippines is blessed.

In 1889, the United States colonized the Philippines, which bequeathed it the widespread use of the English language as well as convenience cooking -- pressure cooking, freezing, pre-cooking, sandwiches, salads, hamburgers, and fried chicken, which have all come to form part of the arsenal of the Filipino cook.

Island Food

The Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands; with a few more appearing when the tide is low. With so much water everywhere, it is no wonder that seafood is the main source of protein in the Filipino diet.

The country is divided into seven major regions and features a wide variety of regional fare. It’s not easy to put one’s finger on what might constitute a Filipino “national” dish, but several that could lay claim to that distinction include the Adobo which is chicken and pork stewed in vinegar and soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaf, the Bistek or beef and onion rings in soy sauce and the lumpia or spring rolls.

One feature that is unique to the Filipino dining is the sawsawan, dipping sauces that are served with every meal and which can turn simply prepared roasted or steamed meals into bursts of flavors that follow one’s own taste buds.

Common condiments like fish sauce, dark soy sauce, native vinegar, and cream-style shrimp paste are mixed with herbs including ginger, garlic, chili peppers, peppercorns, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and kalamansi lime to bring the flavors up a few notches.

Just as in the other Southeast Asian countries, a typical Filipino meal often consists of white rice eaten with a variety of dishes, all of which taste better when consumed together with family and friends.