Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Philippine Cuisine: Its Origins and Influences

The cooking style, methods and ingredients associated with Philippine cuisine have evolved from its Malayo-Polynesian origins. The Philippines is at a crossroads of shipping lanes.  As a result, many cultures have influenced its cuisine. It can be considered as a melting pot of mixed cuisines with many Hispanic, Chinese, American, and other Asian influences adapted to indigenous ingredients and the local palate.

During the pre-Hispanic era in the Philippines foods were prepared mainly by boiling, steaming, or roasting. The foods ranged from the usual livestock such as cow, water buffalo, pig and chicken to various kinds of fish and seafood. Filipinos have been cultivating rice since 3200 BC when Austronesian ancestors from the southern China Yunnan Plateau and Taiwan settled in what is now the Philippines.

Trade with Hokkien China in the Philippines prospered prior to the arrival of the European nations, going back as early as the Song dynasty (960–1279 BC) with porcelain, ceramics, and silk being traded for spices and trapang in Luzon. This early cultural contact with China introduced a number of staple foods into Philippine cuisine, most notably soy sauce, tofu, beans sprouts, pickled mustard greens, white radish, bamboo shoots, chinese celery, water chestnuts, lemongrass and fish sauce. Common cooking methods were also introduced such as stir frying, deep frying and making savory soup bases. Many of these food items and dishes retained their original Hokkien names, such as pancit and lumpia. Filipinos incorporated the new Chinese cooking methods but added their own indigenous ingredients.  As a result, pancit is not complete without a twist of calamansi and lumpia is served with a dipping sauce of vinegar and crushed garlic.

Malaysian spice traders brought seasonings from the Spice Islands and introduced satay.

Spanish colonization from 1521 to 1898 brought with it a new cuisine. Food historians claim that 80% of Filipino dishes are of Spanish origin. Along with the Spanish influence came Mexican flavors.  The Spanish introduced dishes from the Iberian Peninsula, as well as North, Central and South America: olive oil, wine, European seasonings, peppers, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, and the method of sautéing with garlic, onions and tomatoes.  Even today, many Filipino dishes are based on garlic, onion and tomatoes, remnants of a Spanish influence. 

Spanish (and Mexican) dishes were eventually incorporated into Philippine cuisine with the more complex dishes usually being prepared for special occasions. Since Spanish food emphasized meat and dairy products, which were considered luxury items, Spanish fare was considered upper class, fiesta cuisine, while Chinese food was considered everyday cuisine. Many Spanish-derived dishes show up on the table only at Christmas, New Year or fiesta like relleno, mechado, pochero, leche flan. Some dishes such as arroz a la valenciana remain largely the same in the Philippine context. Some have been adapted or have come to take on a slightly or significantly different meaning. Arroz a la cubana served in the Philippines usually includes ground beef picadillo. Philippine longganisa despite its name is more akin to chorizo than Spanish longaniza. Morcon is likely to refer to a beef roulade dish not the bulbous specialty Spanish sausage.

The marriage of Chinese and Spanish cuisines became eminent during the rise of the panciterias in the 19th century. Pansit, congee or arroz caldo, fried rice, lumpia longganisa and chopsuey became staples of these panciterias.  Adobo is also a by-product of both Spanish and Chinese influence.  In Spanish cuisine, adobo refers to a pickling sauce made from olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, paprika, thyme, bay leaf and salt.  The Filipinos embraced their favorite flavors (vinegar, garlic and bay leaf), included peppercorns and nodding to the Chinese influence, added soy sauce.  They adapted it to be a stewing sauce for chicken and pork, but maintained its Spanish moniker.  Once again, the Filipino palate affirmed itself.

From 1898 to 1946, American influences added yet another dimension to the Filipino food culture – speed and convenience.  Within a generation, not only did Filipinos speak English, they became consumers of American products - prepackaged foods, canned goods and fast foods. 

Today the Philippine cuisine continues to evolve as new ingredients and cooking techniques, styles and methods find their way into the country. A fusion of different dishes from earlier traders, Asian immigrants and former colonizers and the Filipinos’ love for cooking resulted into a unique Philippine cuisine – a melting pot of eastern and western cuisine and a gastronomic delight that has been savored for centuries.


Fernandez, Doreen. "Culture Ingested: On the Indigenization of Philippine Food." 2010.
Fernandez, Doreen."What is Filipino Food." 2009.


  1. good day sir! this is smile siervo of gma news and public affairs. we are currently doing a documentary about chicharon industry in the philippines. in line with this, may we invite you for a short interview as a food aficionado assuring that we would adjust in your comfortability. you can contact me directly at 09063880912 or simply email me back at roneliesiervo@gmail.com. godbless

  2. Hi, Smile! Thank you for your interest and for visiting my foodblog. Yes, I am available for an interview either telephonically or on Skype. I live in Florida, USA so I don't think I would be able to do an in-person interview.

  3. Hi, Filipino Food Aficionado!

    I'm Epi Fabonan III, feature writer for The Philippine STAR. I'd like to ask you several question via e-mail regarding the history of select Noche Buena food items. May I have your e-mail address so I can send you these questions. It will be part of a write-up in our Features section for our Christmas special.

    Looking forward to your timely response. Thank you so much!

  4. Ms. Dhang, May I know your complete name? I just needed it for my citations. Thank you.

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