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The gentle carabao, similar to the water buffalo, is the farmer's
workhorse and also provides milk from which a delicate white cheese is
made. This cheese is widely used, especially at the end of meals. Fresh
dairy products are increasingly available, using cow's milk, as well as
canned evaporated milk and condensed milk.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Fruits are abundant. Coconut is used in many ways: coconut oil, shredded
fresh and dried coconut (copra) – even the gelatinous pulp of green
coconuts called buko all find a place in the cuisine. Bananas too
are used in many ways: wrapped in bacon, broiled, fried in slices, and
even hawked by vendors as skewered barbecued treats. Calamansi and
mangoes are also widely used.
Generally fruits find their way into a variety of dishes whether or not
they are ripe. With their penchant for cool sour flavors, Filipinos make
use of many green or unripe fruits, while overripe fruits are happily
mashed together to make ice cream or cool fruit mixtures for refreshing
In fact, fruits are so widely used it is difficult to say which is most
important: mango, banana, or coconut. Other native fruits include
breadfruit, dayap, atis, anonas, jackfruit, guava,
star apples, many varieties of bananas, and tamarind. Also to be added to
the long list of popular fruits are: chicos (similar to dates),
Mindanao grapefruits, pomelo, avocado pears, magosteens, and
pineapples. These latter are believed to have been introduced by the
Spanish and are mostly grown for export.
Most of the vegetables used today, such as leafy greens and some root
vegetables, were introduced by the Chinese from the Asian mainland,
brought by the Spanish either from Mexico or the Mediterranean, or grown
for American tastes. Eggplant, taro root, ampalaya, and
patola are examples of vegetables probably indigenous to the islands.
Tomatoes and squash and some varieties of beans were almost certainly
introduced by the Spanish, while mung beans (and sprouts) are of Chinese
origin together with some types of cucumbers and melons, and perhaps some
varieties of edible bamboo and bulbs. Like the fruits, many vegetables are
used when still green, some when just sprouting, others when ripe. Fruits
and vegetables are often used interchangeably It is typical to find both
fruits and vegetables combined in meat or fish dishes.
MEATS AND ALTERNATES
Pork is the most widely used meat: most farms have pigs, a few chickens,
and several cows. It was the Spanish who added beef to the Philippines'
traditional cuisine of rice-fish-pork-chicken, and the later influence of
the Americans accentuated the taste for beef, as well as dairy products.
Very insignificant amounts of duck, goose, pheasant, pigeon, and turkey
are part of the Filipino diet.
Fish consumption usually exceeds available local supplies and a
substantial amount of fish is imported to meet the demand. One of the
favored special dishes is inehow: a whole baked fish (bangus)
stuffed with patis and tomato-flavored rice and onion and garlic
sautéed in oil. The whole stuffed fish is then wrapped in banana leaves
and oven or pit baked.
Lumbag nuts, pill nuts, and betel nuts, as well as
the more familiar cashew nuts, form very small crops on the islands and
are not a large part of the cuisine. Also of minor importance to the
cuisine are the bean crops: soybean, mung beans, garbanzos, and other
varieties used mainly in some mixed dishes such as soups and stews,
sometimes mashed with fruits as in halo-halo. This is a popular
dessert of alternate layers of mashed fruit pulp (sometimes with mashed
beans) and shaved ice, topped with cream.
BREADS AND GRAINS
Without rice, it is not a meal. So say the Filipinos. But rice is more
than a mound of perfectly cooked fluffy granules. Rice may be found in
fillings and stuffing, in soups and stews. Glutinous rice will often be
the base of many confections and sweet desserts such as suman, a
sweetened glutinous rice steamed in rolls or squares of banana leaves and
eaten anytime as snack or dessert, or malagkit, a sweet pudding
made with glutinous rice and coconut milk. Rice flour is used to make
cakes, puddings, and delicious noodles. The delicate thin lumpia
skins are made from a mixture of rice flour and water then filled and
fried to golden crispness.
Rice is the chief food crop followed closely by corn and sweet potatoes.
But while corn and sweet potatoes are found in many of the combination
dishes that the Filipinos are noted for, there is no question that rice is
the prime staple food.
Coconut oil and oil made from many local seed crops are widely used in
cookery. Use of lard and olive oil became more prevalent under the
Spaniards, while the use of butter together with other dairy products
increased under American influence.
Filipino techniques for frying foods are artfully distinctive. Aside from
the usual frying of stuffed foods, some preparations are coated with a
meringue-like topping that forms a puffy brown crust (rellenong
alimango). The delicious ukoy is a fritter carefully composed
of a large shrimp and bean sprouts held in a light batter and deep-fried.
Sometimes foods are quickly fried in slender strips (fish, meat, or
vegetables) to create crispy garnishes.
SWEETS AND SNACKS
The Filipinos' eclectic mix of foods and cookery techniques also creates
unusual combinations in the taste for sweets.
The late afternoon break called the merienda follows a Spanish
tradition of consuming sweets in the form of a small afternoon meal. This
was practical when the other Spanish tradition of a very late evening
supper was also popular. Many Filipinos now follow American patterns of
working hours and three meals a day. Yet for many others, the merienda
is a custom too pleasant to break. Sweet cakes, tarts, and fritters are
part of this tradition, but Filipinos also add small savory foods like
Many sweet treats are made from a base of glutinous rice, richly sugared
and often flavored with coconut. Ice creams and fruit mixtures also form
snacks or desserts. Confections include those made of rice bases with
added nuts and fruits and sometimes chocolate. The very sweet Spanish flan
(baked custard) is almost a daily dessert, often with the tang of fresh
limes or the sweetness of coconut.
Despite the triple influence of China, Spain, and the United States,
Filipinos have developed a distinctive cuisine redolent of the tastes they
enjoy. Salty, cool, and sour tastes, tropical fruits and vegetables,
served with their many fried dishes, accompanied by rice and the surprise
of very sweet snacks and dessert characterize Filipino cuisine.
Salty flavors are enhanced by using bagoong (salty fermented shrimp
paste) and patis and toyo (salty light versions of soy
sauce), and hipon (a salty sauce prepared from shrimp or anchovy).
These may be used in food preparation as well as for dipping sauces. Other
varieties of dipping sauces include vinegar, minced garlic, and seasoned
salt with or without chilies.
Cool flavors are achieved using tart or unripe fruits, vinegar, or the
juice of tangy citrus fruits such as limes or calamansi. The
ultimate perfection of sour flavors is sinigang, a sour soup made
with a meat broth and combined green tart fruits such as tamarind, guavas,
green mangoes, calamansi or kamias (a sour fruit resembling
a cucumber). Recipes for sinigang are family treasures.
Coconut milk, lime juice, ginger, turmeric, garlic, and brown sugar must
also be included in the seasonings that distinguish Filipino food. For
example, very sweet dipping sauce for lumpia (crispy appetizer
rolls) is simply made from brown sugar and water gently thickened with
The most traditional beverages of the Philippines are those from the
indigenous coconut tree. Both the milk from green to ripe coconuts and the
sap that comes from the cut growing-tip of the tree can be consumed as
sweet fresh drinks or fermented into an alcoholic drink called tuba.
Tuba can also be made from the sap of the bun or nipa palm trees
and likely is one of the oldest national drinks.
Cacao and coffee plants were introduced by the Spanish and have continued
to be cultivated as the popularity of coffee as a beverage and the use of
chocolate both as a drink and as a flavoring increase.
A great variety of cool fresh fruit drinks are popular any time of the
day. Milk is increasingly used by children. Adults enjoy fruit drinks and
also coffee with meals or as a refreshment break, while hot chocolate is
often taken as a breakfast beverage. Tea or coffee may accompany the