Whispers about Filipino food have been getting louder and more enthused for a while. Not so long ago, American Vogue championed it as "the next great American cuisine", with Eater.com, Bloomberg and the Food Network all chipping in and listing it as one of their top trends for 2017 and 2018. As this year reaches its tail end, Pinoy cooking has well and truly jettisoned its way on to the international culinary scene, all wrapped up in a glorious blaze of punchy, salty, vibrant flavour.
Read more: Three Filipino recipes to try
At first glance, or indeed first taste, this cuisine can seem beguiling, even intimidating. While influences and inflections from China, Spain, Mexico, Malaysia and America are certainly apparent, this medley of ingredients, cooking techniques and dishes comes together to produce something entirely new. In short, this is multiflavoured, multilayered food.
Jacqueline Chio-Lauri is the compiler, contributing author and editor of The New Filipino Kitchen, an ambitious and beautiful culinary anthology that combines recipes with stories, tales and observations from a wide spectrum of esteemed contributors.
Chio-Lauri says that the complexity of her native cuisine becomes increasingly apparent each time she is asked about it: “Filipino food is difficult to define even by those who know it, and is difficult to understand, even by those who are curious. As a Filipino, I myself struggle to answer this question. How do you define a cuisine that’s a hodgepodge of numerous foreign influences and is almost as varied as the 7,000-plus islands that make up the nation?”
The diversity of this already multifarious cuisine is further compounded by the fact that many recipes have a distinctly localised feel, with ingredient availability playing a key role in their development over time. This means that – somewhat confusingly for the outsider – even though dishes may share a common name (adobo, for example), the ingredients, preparation, cooking methods and end flavours can vary vastly. While base items such as sugar, salt, garlic and vinegar are commonly used, salted fish sauce might be considered pivotal in one region, while soy sauce is favoured in another. In the south, ginger is essential, yet venture north and its inclusion in a dish would be considered an anomaly.
“To understand Filipino food, you need to read through context, experience the food by reading a story that connects to you on a personal level, and you need to try it, prepare it, smell it and taste it,” she says. “That’s why it was important for me to write the book – to give readers not a restricting definition, but a well-rounded experience and a nuanced understanding of the cuisine.
Nicole Ponseca, a Filipino-American chef who has two restaurants in New York, is also the co-author of the soon-to-be released cookbook I am a Filipino and This is How We Cook. Much like Chio-Lauri, Ponseca says the motivation for writing her book was about far more than just sharing accessible, authentic recipes (although it does that too): "I like cooking, but not any more than the next guy. What I am in love with is culture and diversity and expression and presence and conversation and inclusivity," she explains.
“For me, it was a significant book to write because all one needs to do is go to a bookstore and try to look up Philippines in the travel section or the cookbook section. There’s nothing. Scratch that. There’s one thing or two things, tops, and that is not representation.”
While what Ponseca says is no doubt true, this wave of interest in Filipino cooking, restaurants and recipes will hopefully go some way towards changing all that – and provide some delicious, altogether new eating and learning opportunities for the uninitiated but enthusiastic foodie.