As an American who’s been married to a Filipino woman for 37 years, I’m intensely familiar with Filipino cuisine. That includes the Filipino-American versions of the same cuisine. My familiarity, however, started well before we met. I’ve had more dishes than I can remember and in more places than I can remember. You can get an idea of the kind of food I’m talking about by looking here and here. There’s a lot of Filipino food that I like and a lot that I don’t.
My family (my parent’s family) lived in Hawaii for about three and a half years in the 1970s, when I was in high school. My mother worked with a Filipino woman for most of that time. She sometimes brought various kinds of Filipino cuisine home with her. I don’t remember eating any of it, though I probably did. The only specific item I can remember is lumpia, and not just any lumpia. I later learned, much later, that it was called Shanghai Lumpia or Lumpiang Shanghai.
Shanghai Lumpia is usually made with a ground pork wrapped in an egg crêpe (a pastry wrapper), looking much like a really skinny burrito. There are other ingredients mixed with the ground pork, but it’s usually whatever the cook prefers. They usually include ground carrots, onions, salt and black pepper.
I’m very particular about the pork I consume and how I consume it. I don’t like lumpia with anything other than ground beef, and it has to be lean. My wife, Josie, knows exactly how I like it. Her siblings and their children aren’t as particular and will eat whatever they can get their hands on. Josie usually prepares it in batches. We sometimes have frozen, ready-to-cook lumpia in our freezer, waiting for a special occasion.
There are other varieties of lumpia, but I only like this variety. Although I eat my fair share of Filipino cuisine, I also enjoy food from other cultures. That other food is usually Americanized in some way, like tacos and spaghetti.
Fried Rice Isn’t Necessarily a Filipino Cuisine
Fried rice is a cuisine of multiple cultures. Even in the Philippines, you can find variations that depend a lot on ancestry, favoring Chinese, Japanese and Spanish cultures. Josie makes a type that’s based on Spanish versions. She doesn’t include mung bean sprouts, like the Chinese varieties have in them.
The only thing that’s almost guaranteed to be the same in all varieties of fried rice is the rice itself. I say almost because not everyone uses white rice, though the majority do.
Adobo is typically made with some kind of meat (but not always). Pork and chicken are the most popular meats, called pork adobo and chicken adobo. Although I never ask for either one, Josie tends to cook a lot of it. I prefer chicken to pork, but I don’t like bones and the pork frequently has fewer bones.
Regardless of the third ingredient, adobo is that ingredient stewed in vinegar and soy sauce. I have no idea what the proportions of vinegar and soy sauce should be.
A Stew by Any Other Name
There are a bunch of Filipino dishes that are stews. Here’s a list of those I’ve eaten:
- Pakbet or Pinakbet
Adobo is also a stew, but usually not cooked as long as the rest. There are other stews, but I don’t know (or care) what they are.
Balut is the fertilized egg embryo of a chicken or duck, usually a duck. I have never eaten one completely, even after all these years. My younger daughter-in-law, Cathy, loves them and buys them in the United States. Josie will rarely eat them, and she won’t go out of her way to find them like Cathy will.
I always refer to balut as the egg with legs, like the unhatched chicken in an old cartoon I watched at least a hundred times when I was a kid.
Rice is a Staple, Not a Cuisine
It’s not a cuisine in itself, but it might as well be. Filipinos can’t seem to enjoy a meal without it. Everything seems to go with rice, including corned beef and SPAM (or luncheon meats that resemble it). After many years, I have never seen anyone eat rice by itself.
There are many Filipino recipes for almost anything you can think of, but the website that has more than a few of them is at FilipinoFoodLovers.com.