My love/hate relationship with Filipino food.



I have a deep, dark, confession to make.




I was born in Pasay City (in the Metro Manila area) 27 years ago. I am of 3/4 descent (with the other quarter being Indian). I grew up eating singing (meat/veggie soup with tamarind), chicken adobo, lumpia, and all of the hearty dishes of my culture during dinner and parties.

Even though food is a HUGE part of the culture, I can't say that I'm crazy about every single dish. I know, I know. The horror. But I have been open to trying more, and slowly easing my way into eating more dishes over the past 10 years.

Even though my parents cooked a lot of dishes that reminded them of home, they also fed me a lot of American fare. One summer when I was 6, my dad was willingly driving to Burger King everyday just so that I could get the Esmeralda toy when Hunchback of Notre Dame came out in theaters. So yes, almost everyday during that period, I had cheeseburgers and fries for lunch. And I was thin at that age. We also lived next to 7/11 in our old apartment, so it was really easy to get chips, Cheetos, and candy. Then, when McDonald's started selling Beanie Babies and Hercules toys, we started ordering from there too.

So even though my family cooked Filipino dishes and we had a lot of parties that served platters of lumpia, pancit, rice, and other more exotic dishes, I developed a heavily Westernized palate. I blame partially on watching a lot of TV and wanting all the cereals with cartoons in it. My parents and grandma (who was living with us during that period), did their best to influence me to eat more of the food from our culture, but I turned my nose up at it and whined. Bless their hearts for raising such a picky little lady!

For the longest time until my late teens, I was only willing to eat the 3 most famous and basic dishes: adobo, pancit, and lumpia. I guess it wasn't until I started dating Cecilio (who is 1/2 Filipino, 1/2 Mexican...also, I never dated a fully Filipino guy. I had an ex in high school who was only 1/2 too) when I was more open to trying more dishes that we both could enjoy together. Our similarity in our ethnicity was/still is one of the many ways we connected. Also, a few months after we started dating, I made friends with a bunch of Filipinos at our college who started teaching me how to speak Tagalog, and I eventually took a Tagalog class (yes, our school offered it). That same year (2009) I started going out with Cecilio and taking that Tagalog class, my mom had a plate of turon that she wanted me to try. I didn't want to, but she kept pushing me, and it was love at first bite. Turon is basically a dessert lumpia: it's a caramelized spring roll with bananas, jackfruit, and brown sugar inside. Oh man, my mouth is watering as I'm typing this.

Why have I been thinking about Filipino food a lot lately? Well, when my mom says she has a severe craving for it, I start cringing. Here in Sacramento, we only have 1 sit-down restaurant, South Villa (which also serves Chinese food), and let me tell you how much I dislike it. Even some of my favorite dishes, sisig and rellenong talong, taste terrible there. There is a casual diner closer to our home called Savory Fried Chicken, which serves better food. And of course, we have the grocery store Seafood City, which houses eateries such as Chow King, Red Ribbon, and Grill City. Then there is Jolibee located outside, which I don't even like either. When Cecilio and I are in the Bay Area and craving for a slice of our heritage, we head over to Toppings in South San Francisco. They have the best sisig (outside the Philippines, of course), and tocino+longanisa breakfast dishes. The Bay Area is home to so many Filipino restaurants (they don't call my old hometown Daly City, Little Manila, for nothing), whereas Sacramento is lacking.

When you come to a Filipino party or get-together, expect platters and platters of dishes filling the whole table. And upon arriving, you're first greeted with, Have you eaten yet?! Come on, eat! and are pushed to eat even when you're not hungry. I love and appreciate the hospitality and warmth, but I will eat on my own time.

And of course, the final straw that forced me to write this post was when Bon Appetit butchered this halo-halo recipe that angered the Philippine community. Halo-halo (Tagalog for mix-mix) is a dessert drink I don't even like, but their version is far, far from the original that it's almost unrecognizable. True halo-halo has ice, evaporated milk, coconut jelly, beans, ube ice cream and ice cream. Not bananas, blueberries, popcorn and gummy bears.

The left is real halo-halo. The right is Bon Appetit's...thing.

I guess it's a reflection of how much Filipino food is overlooked compared to other Asian cuisine: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and even Malaysian. And it's sad, even for me. Filipino cuisine, in a nutshell is Spanish-meets-Chinese-meets-American. My mom and I wonder why can't the Filipinos market their food in a way that the other Asian cuisines do. I have a few theories:

1. It's more "comfort"-style, and most people prefer to eat it in their own relatives' homes.
2. Presentation and aesthetics are not top priority on the list when it comes to making the dishes, making people skeptical on whether if it tastes better than it looks, and will not adapt to American taste. (My cousin's friend told her, amidst the halo-halo scandal...you have to ease them in! Not throw them into diniguan! [pork blood])
3. It's really really heavy in meat, fat, and sugar. Not for the faint of heart.

I hope what people take away from this post is that I do love a lot of Filipino dishes, and I absolutely do not want to insult my culture. Food is a very sensitive topic, especially amongst my people. We take extreme pride in our food, or anything revolving our culture. That is also why Manny Pacquiao is a huge hit, and why we freak out every time we see a partially Filipino celebrity (Vanessa Hudgens, Bruno Mars). That is why you see pinoy/pinay pride usernames everywhere, or you see stickers and tattoos of the sun and 3 stars (our flag). Each of the sun's 8 rays represent provinces that fought against the Spaniards, and the 3 stars represent the 3 main islands. Yes, Philippines was under Spanish and American rule, and the fact that they have gained independence from both nations gives a well-deserved sense of pride (though sometimes it borders on egotism).

To make this post more positive, I will showcase you guys some of my FAVORITE dishes, to prove that there is still something out there for this fussy woman!


lumpia: deep fried spring roll with meat and veggies

longganisa: sausage, similar to chorizo and served with fried egg and rice (often for breakfast)

turon: caramelized rolls with banana, jackfruit and brown sugar

adobo: meat (can be chicken, pork or beef) marinated with soy sauce, vinegar and garlic. My mom uses lemon juice instead of vinegar though

pancit bihon: thin rice noodles with meat, (sometimes) shrimp, and veggies, Often comes with lemon to squeeze on top of it

taho: hot sweet drink with silken tofu and sago pearls (similar to tapioca pearls or boba)

sisig: pig parts (okay...head and liver), served with jalapeƱo pepper, garlic, vinegar and fried egg. It tastes way better than it sounds, trust me. I will take this over diniguan (the pork blood) any day.

rellenong talong: egg-stuffed eggplant with sprinklings of meat

bangus: grilled or fried milkfish. The belly fat part is so soft and creamy. My dad made the best ones!

Have you tried Filipino food?
Okay, confess to me...is there any food from your culture that you don't like? I'm sure there's something. Please let me know in the comments!

7 comments :

  1. I thin it's different for you as you are pretty much American and was exposed to Western cuisine since a very young age so your palate is pretty much Westernized. I love Malaysian food or Asian cuisine in general but I find most restaurants where I live are not authentic as the dishes are pretty much adjusted to suit Western palate.

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    1. Absolutely. Even my sister grew up on really authentic Filipino food, and she is 13 years older than me. But I did go back to the Philippines almost 3 years ago and enjoyed almost everything there. I would love to try Malaysian food sometime!

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  2. Adobo and bangus sound really good! I'm an extremely picky eater so I understand what you mean about your parents putting up with you haha. I know that my ethnicity is mostly German but most of my family doesn't practice our culture, I wish that we did. It would be amazing to be able to relate to other people like me just based on culture alone. Anyway if I see any Filipino restaurants I will check them out! x

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    1. Wow, glad to hear that you are open to trying them! I am going to Milwaukee next month, and from what my mom's boyfriend has been telling me there are a lot of German restaurants and breweries. I am looking forward to trying the meats and pastries!

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  3. To be honest, I had no idea what to picture when thinking of Filipino cuisine! But I definitely enjoy trying new flavors :-)

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  4. I LOVE Lumpia! Seriously. I could eat that all day. I am also a huge fan of Pancit, but I've never had Turon before. It's going on my list of things to try! I also have a video of my husband trying Baluut for the first time. :) As for my own culture, I am probably the only italian you'll meet that hates mushrooms! haha

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    1. Wow, I'm impressed that your husband actually tried balut! I would never touch that with a 10 foot pole...LOL! I am glad to hear you love lumpia and pancit, and I am sure you will absolutely love turon! I love mushrooms, they have always been one of my favorite veggies!

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