Food Culture and Tradition

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Meals and Customs in Philippines


As in all other areas of Philippine life, the origins of eating customs can be traced to the history of the islands themselves.

As in most Asian regions, rice is the most respected staple, for hunger is always a reality. Although many Filipinos enjoy a prosperous life and happily mingle foods, meal patterns, and eating customs that blend Malay, Chinese, Spanish, and American patterns, there are still many who cook and eat their meals traditionally, savoring every grain of rice and the slight taste of fishy condiment. Native fruits and vegetables in season fill many plates.

Traditional Filipinos begin their day with a meal of fish and rice, others enjoy fresh fruits and ensaimada, sugary yellow buns that are the Filipino coffeecake. For others, frothy cups of hot chocolate accompanied by crusty white sourdough bread (pan de sal) mean breakfast.

Diversity of tastes is less apparent in the other meals of the day, depending, of course, on economic circumstances. Lunch and dinner tend to consist of several dishes served buffet style, followed by fruits in season and then a variety of sweet desserts of which the flan is always one. The dishes presented often span several cultures, but somehow end up being unquestionably Filipino.

The merienda, the small, sweet meal served in the late afternoon with tea or coffee, is suffering competition from the many street vendors, cafes, and restaurants, as well as quick-snack bars in the American style. One can snack in almost any language, or at least with enough diversity to satisfy any taste, whether the hunger pangs arrive in the morning, afternoon, or late evening.

Despite its penchant for rice, the Philippines do not use chopsticks; western or European eating customs prevail. Hospitality is always gracious and the best dishes proudly presented to guests. Many Filipinos will even temper their own tastes for fermented fish condiments and heavy garlic to please what they believe to be an American palate, saving their traditional seasonings for when they are dining with family.

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