A Brief History of Filipino Food

Philippine cuisine is based on seafood and meat products. Even the few that we classify as vegetable dishes contain bits of fish, shrimps, meat or poultry mixed in to boost the taste of vegetables.

Due to its topography and the abundance of marine life in mythic unpolluted waters, the main source of protein for the people in the islands had traditionally been fish and other seafood.

Condiments that were developed early on were sourced from salty waters. Not surprisingly though, fish sauce (patís), shrimp paste (bagoóng alamáng), the more diluted bagoóng isdâ and even sea salt (asín) are still the preferred flavorings for saltiness up to the present times.

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Illustration by Heizel from VectorStock®

Aside from these, either fried or roasted fish were usually added to enhance the taste of either braised or boiled dishes. This is all the more evident in today’s cooking especially when vegetable dishes are cooked in boiling broth.

Our ancestors learned the process of making fish sauce from Chinese traders and sojourners who used to bring along their food when they visited the islands. The production of bagoóng was an indigenous technology which was probably invented to make use of the fish and krill by-products from making patís.

The other early contributions of the Chinese to our cooking were soy sauce or toyò along with tofu or tókwa, which were both derived from soybeans. These ingredients had been part of our cooking for several centuries before Europeans arrived. Because they are plant-based, they have attained greater significance to our purpose-driven diet change in our own time.

Antonio Pigafetta, the official chronicler of the Ferñao de Magalhães expedition, had provided us with a glimpse of the way our ancestors cooked their food when the conquistadores surveyed the islands. While the natives were noted as processing products like vinegar, wine and coconut milk from the coconut trees that lined the landscape, cooking was obviously basic and rudimentary.

Magalhães and his men were served, as esteemed visitors, meat and fish with rice—not a single vegetable dish in the forty-one days that they stayed on. All the dishes were cooked with the use of simple methods like broiling on hot coals and boiling in water to bring out the juices of meat and fish.

The cooking procedures with the use of oil which included sautéing with garlic and onions were introduced to the islanders by the Spaniards during the colonial period. This is the reason why terms like frying (príto, from the Spanish word frito) and sautéing (gisá, from the Spanish root word guisar) do not have equivalent terms in our local languages.

During this period, Philippine food substantially changed. Focus was shifted to meat and poultry. Dishes like tinola, afritada, caldereta, mechado, menudo, estofado, pochero, lengua, embutido, hamonado, asado and many others were developed to please the distinctive tastes of the ruling peninsulares—elite Spaniards from the Iberian Peninsula.

These food items would later be showcased and served during annual religious feasts. Eventually, they would become the food of the more affluent strata of society and, much later on, were integrated into the mainstream of the culinary culture.

There had been a number of important influences on the food culture in conjunction with the Chinese influences. There were the Arabs and the island neighbors from the maritime realm which comprised the more extensive universe of our ancestors for both trade and social interaction in ancient times. That phase in history certainly left indelible marks particularly in regional cooking.

In the same manner, there were also influences on the food culture after the Spanish rule in the more recent American occupation of the archipelago which accelerated even more during the post-war years.

The preceding content is an excerpt from the book, Sustaining a Plant-Based Diet With Filipino Food by E Vargas Alberto.

How To Cook Brown Rice

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood  from Pexels

Unmilled rice which we currently find in the market under such labels as brown rice, black rice, red rice and other similar types of pigmented rice grains are wholefood. They are intermediate products that increasingly became more common apparently as a response to market demand.

Known as pinawà in Filipino, unmilled rice is the whole grain where only the inedible chaff or the husk (ipá) of the paddy grain (pálay) is removed.

The market names are determined by the color variations of the rice grain’s outer layer. Jasmine rice, for example, will have a brown outer color after the husk is removed so it will be labeled as brown rice. Sinandómeng will have a red outer color so it will be sold as red rice, and so on.

Almost every variety of rice, from basmati to the uncommon rice varieties with naturally low glycemic indices, can be produced or consumed as unmilled rice.

Brown rice, here used interchangably  with the term unmilled rice, retains the nutritious parts of the grain that are usually removed during the milling process. These include the fiber-rich bran—called darák in Filipino—which is also a good source of micronutients and minerals.

Another by-product of rice milling called binlíd in Filipino, the rice germ which is rich in polyunsaturated fats is also retained in brown rice.

Peripherally flanking the endosperm, the aleurone layer—host to a significant amount of the grain’s protein—is also intact in brown rice.

These healthful components being part of the nourishment that we get from eating brown rice should justify the recent public perception that gave rise to the increased popularity of the cereal.

Because of the presence of these layers that effectively seal the rice grain’s starchy endosperm, the cooking of brown rice by boiling is slightly different from boiling white rice or polished rice.

During boiling, the absorption of water is significantly inhibited by these part of the rice grain that are otherwise removed in the milling process.

The absorption of water by the grain is an important facet in boiling rice. When heated, the retained moisture causes the expansion of the grain to attain that desirable fluffy quality.

Excess water in improperly cooked brown rice settles at the bottom of the cooking pot. This results in mushy later plates of cooked rice. Excess water, combined with adverse keeping properties of the retained parts in brown rice, also causes easy spoilage especially during the warmer months.

When boiling brown rice, one needs to keep watch and alternately cover and uncover the lid of the rice cooker. This is to ensure that the cooking rice retains just the proper amount of water while also making sure there is sufficient heat to allow the rice grains to absorb the required amount of moisture to rise optimally.

Due to the same reason that it cannot absorb too much water, cooked brown rice also cannot take in too much oil nor salt when cooking it by toasting, This is why it cannot be fried as one would regular or polished rice.

Left-over brown rice is best toasted in a wok, which may be lightly lined with oil spray. Unlike starchy white rice, however, brown rice is not sticky and is easily stirred about on the wok. When stored in the refrigerator before toasting, the grains readily come apart when crumbled.

During toasting, heat should be kept high while the grains are continuously stirred around to make all sides of the grains touch the very hot surface of the wok. This way, the grains could form a crust quickly without drying up the inner part.

Following is a recipe for four servings of boiled or steamed brown rice:

In a wire sieve, rinse two standard cups of brown rice grains in running water and drain well. With a quick stir, combine the rice with four standard cups or a liter of water in the pot holder of the rice cooker, cover and turn the rice cooker on. Wait until the pot begins to boil briskly and for the steam to get heavy before lifting the lid off and letting the rice cook uncovered until no more liquid is visible on top. When the steam has settled at the level of the grains, put the lid back on to let the cooking rice absorb moisture and rise some more. Lift the lid off and leave the rice cooker uncovered for another five minutes when the rice cooker setting has shifted to WARM to let more steam escape. Put the lid back on and wait for another five minutes to make sure the rice is well-cooked through before turning off the rice cooker.

Brown rice can also be cooked in a heavy-set pot over low heat using the same rice-to-water proportion. If recipe instructions are followed, cooked brown rice will not retain any excess water and is guaranteed to be fluffy. It is best served warm-to-hot but let it rest for ten minutes before serving.

The preceding content is an excerpt from the book, Sustaining A Plant-Based Diet With Filipino Food by E Vargas Alberto.

Plant-Based Filipino Food

Alternative cuisines to get beginners though a plant-based diet need to be based on individual food preferences to make the change more sustainable for health benefits. This book is for those who prefer the food that Filipinos love to eat on regular and uneventful days.

A total of 88 home-style recipe suggestions starting with brown rice dishes, viands, snack items as well as desserts and beverages have been collected in this volume for those who may want to take charge of their own food or at least supervise its preparation.

The goal of this book is to make this purpose-driven diet change an enjoyable activity that people do for themselves as it seeks to minimize the guesswork out of the leap to a purely plant-based nutrition.

But more than just a collection of recipes that are set the vegan way, this book provides a complete look at Filipino food and offers practical means to make the cuisine a viable staple for healthy eating.

It begins with a brief history of Philippine cooking from the little that we know of its origin, its influences and how it evolved to be both the familiar but unique-tasting food type that we know today.

It outlines straightforward steps in adapting the food to plant-based nutrition which includes a concise discussion of essential food ingredients as well as the lone supplement that plant-based consumers like us need to include or add more of in the food that we love to eat.

This book is now available at Amazon.com in both print and digital format, The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery, BetterWorldBooks likewise with free worldwide delivery, Fishpond.com for the cheapest priced books in Australia and New Zealand, also with free worldwide delivery, Target.com and leading online bookstores worldwide.

Three Photos and a Toddler

Among the earliest images that piqued my curiosity were those of three men of our own, obviously revered for their photos to merit being framed and hung on the otherwise bare walls of our provincial living room. Their pictures had been cut-out from some glossy calendars and mounted on inexpensive wooden frames such as could be found on the walls of classrooms of the time.

Evidently from the same time period but also unmistakably different in their own way from each other, these men clearly stood out, a notch above the rest, equal in their own individual greatness.

One was the picture of a stern-looking man with a drooping hairstyle. He holds out a doctor’s looking instrument and peers into the eyes of a seated elderly woman.

The other was of a sickly-looking man with a meek profile sitting idly by, almost looking bored, on a rattan chair. A thick blanket covers his lower limbs from the waist to the ground.

The third was of a kindly-looking man, fresh of face and, strange as it seemed to me at the time, holding on the handle of a holstered machete and stands with his legs wide apart.

As if a clue to the identity of the three men was a fourth frame. It was a distant photograph of a monument, also from the glossy calendar, planked on both sides by a long line of street lamps. The man at the center of the monument, who was proudly clasping a book to his chest, was not recognizable that far off but I soon found out he was also that stern-looking man with the drooping hairstyle.

Bit by tiny bit, the stories of these three men had been revealed to me as an eager young boy. The details were vividly captured and committed to memory by my intent listening as more and more elderly family, relatives and visitors contributed their kusing‘s worth as they could not help but notice the images of the well-respected subjects.

It turned out these three men were among the great ones in our history from a more distant time. Crammed in between sixty years of our history were a national revolution, a guerilla war against an emerging world power and two world wars, the last one of which our country paid for in blood generously.

The wheels of history had been busy churning out great men for us we made do with remembering the older ones until a more recent reckoning.

The three men on our walls gave to La Patria Adorada their lives and loves, katiisa’t pagod, because of the urge of conscience—the voice of God in every person—everything they had in their struggle against a western colonial master.

Oddly, at the bequest of the new, also western colonial master, the three gentlemen were, as if in a vain popularity contest, made to contend with each other for the right to occupy the fourth frame with the street lights.

The stern-looking man with the hairstyle won, hands-down, with the new self-declared benevolent rulers—because he was the only one among the three who did not advocate an armed struggle and because he also stood for education. And educating the ignorant brown people, little brown brothers with tails they called us, in their own fashion was a top project of the English-speaking colonizers during those times.

The rest is, well, more history.

I consider it among the fortunes of timeliness that my parents made the effort to save those photos, have them framed up and displayed on our walls at probably the most sensitive time in the development of my young mind.

I choose to regard this experience of consciousness as the moment when tabula rasa had been called, perhaps with a little bit more of an energy. In our own home, as it should be—the first truth called love of country had been etched in memory.