It’s been five years since chef and “Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern declared Filipino cuisine the next big thing on the Today Show. If you haven’t tried the many stew and rice-based dishes, or appetizers like lumpia, then you are truly missing out. Sour, pungent, and spicy flavors all commingle and find their way into dishes that will please picky and adventurous eaters alike. Filipino cuisine just might be the solution to the menu makeover that you’re looking for. Here are some of the best dishes to try.
Think of lumpia as Filipino egg rolls. They are deep fried crepe pastry skins wrapped around chopped vegetables like carrots, cabbage, green beans, bamboo shoots, leeks and meats like chicken, shrimp, pork, or beef. For a special treat, they can be made with sweet potato, jicama, or coconut hearts. Filipino cuisine is rich in acidic flavors, so the accompanying dipping sauce usually contains a salty-sour mix of vinegar and soy sauce. Lumpia is ideal for sharing. But make sure you grab one quickly. They go fast.
When the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, they witnessed the native population making rich stews of meats braised in vinegar, dark soy sauce, bay leaves, garlic, and black peppercorns. They called it “adobo” because it reminded them of their own traditions of cooking foods in a flavorful sauce or stock. Filipino-style adobo sometimes calls for the addition of tomatoes or a touch of sugar. The result is fall-off-the-bone chicken or pork that is sweet, sour, and salty all at the same time, somehow. This dish is always served with plenty of white rice to soak up all that savory goodness.
Kare-Kare is a hearty stew that combines slow-cooked oxtails and peanut butter. It uses ground toasted rice as the thickening agent. This is Filipino comfort food at its best. To complete the homey dish, throw in green beans eggplant, and maybe even some chopped banana blossoms. For a salty, funky kick, serve fermented shrimp paste on the side. It’s delicious and very shareable.
As CNN notes, sisig has won over many the top chefs of the world. It’s a surprising dish and a must-try if you’re curious about exploring Filipino cuisine. Traditionally, it calls for an entire pig head that is marinated and then boiled. All the meat is removed, and then grilled. It’s finely diced and served on a sizzling plate with onions, chiles, and a squirt of citrus juice. It’s umami-rich, and typically eaten with beer and garlic rich. No matter how it’s served, it’s destined to be a conversation starter.
There are many pancit, or noodle, dishes in Filipino cuisine. One of the most popular is pancit bihon. It’s made with thin rice noodles flavored simply with citrus juice and soy sauce and stir-fried with pork or chicken, green beans, cabbage, and green onions. It’s a great entry point for less adventurous eaters. Think of it as the Filipino equivalent of Chinese lo mein. It’s a classic dish with timely flavor profile.
The most famous dessert from the Philippines was actually inspired by Japanese-style shaved ice. The world “halo” means mix in Tagalog. And looking at the dish, you can certainly see why. It’s a multicolored and multi-layered concoction with a tasty mix of sweet on sweet. Common ingredients include sweetened red beans, ube (a purple yam jam), macapuno coconut, jackfruit, gelatin, ice cream, egg custard, and a drizzle of evaporated milk. With all these vibrant hues, a bowl of halo-halo is impossible to ignore. And it’s the perfect end to any Filipino feast.