Considered the Philippines’ national dish, lechón is essentially a barbecued pig, and is a must-have delicacy during special occasions. The term ‘lechón’ is of Spanish origin (a reminder that the country was under the rule of Spain for 250 years). It refers to a brown-and-crispy skinned suckling pig usually placed on top of decorative green banana leaves. If cooked Filipino style, it must be manually roasted in a rotisserie movement over a pit of charcoal; the cooking process can take up several hours and be extensively laborious. Lechón abroad is not so easy to have, and it may not taste the same as one roasted in the Philippines. Nevertheless, it is the number one comfort food that Filipinos crave when thinking about their native country.
To taste the ‘best pig ever’ – as quoted by acclaimed food guru Anthony Bourdain – try Zubuchon, a restaurant chain in Cebu City praised for its delicious lechón. One Mango Avenue Bldg: (032)239-5697 or Mactan International Airport Pre-Departure: (032)340-2486 local 3304.
Often referred to as the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, adobo is among the first comfort foods that come to mind for every native of the Southeast Asian country. Filipino adobo not only refers to the dish per se (which was implemented in Filipino cuisine by the Spanish colonizers), but it is also a traditional cooking method. This method requires the meat (chicken, beef or pork) and vegetables to be simmered in a marinated sauce made of vinegar, soy sauce and garlic. To make this aromatic dish even more savory, spices and vegetables like whole black peppers, bay leaves, carrots, potatoes, green peas and button mushrooms are added. A true Filipino party is not complete without adobong manok (chicken adobo) and rice. The ease with which its ingredients are found makes this delicacy of Spanish origins perfectly accessible to all the Filipino foodies around the world.
A tasty variation of this dish is Aling Asiang’s Chicken and Pork Adobo at The Aristocrat, an established Filipino restaurant well loved by locals and tourists alike. 146 Jupiter Street, Bel-Air Village, Makati City. Tel. No. 895-0101 / 895-072.
Another typical and highly popular dish in the Philippines is sinigang, a delicious savory broth characterized by its pungent sour taste. There are three main versions of this much-loved dish: baka sinigang, baboy sinigang and isda sinigang —beef, pork and fish respectively. All three of them are usually served with steamed white rice, a staple food in the Philippines. The souring agents of the broth are the tamarinds; but the distinctive sour taste can also be attained from other ingredients, such as unripe mango and calamansi. These are both fruits which are widely cultivated in the archipelago. A medley of vegetables, usually tomatoes, garlic and onions, are added along with the tamarinds and the meat/fish. To enhance the taste of the soup, it is not uncommon for most Filipinos to add green finger pepper to give the dish a spicy and sour flavor. Sinigang is fairly easy to prepare and, as such, is a popular comfort food for Filipinos abroad. They are able to prepare the broth either with fresh ingredients or with ready-made sinigang powdered soup mix found in most Asian grocery stores worldwide.
To try a delicious variation of this popular dish, we recommend restaurant Sentro 1771 for a taste of chef Vicky Pacheco’s corned beef ribs sinigang. Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center, Makati City, Manila. Tel. No. (02) 757-3941 / 757-3938.
From Pampanga, in the region of Central Luzon, comes another national favorite, the kare-kare. Kare-kare is a thick peanut stew made with an assortment of meats and vegetables. The commonly used meats for this dish are ox tail, tripe and pork leg, while the basic vegetables include young banana flower bud, eggplant, string beans, and Chinese cabbage. In order to fully enjoy kare-kare a little side dish of bagoong (shrimp paste) is set on the side, creating an inimitable mélange of savory flavors. Peanut sauce is heavily used in other south-east Asian dishes. In Indonesian and Thai food, the use of peanuts in the stew is an example of how Filipino culinary culture is constantly being shaped by cuisine from neighboring countries.
For the best kare-kare in the country, head to Beggang Resto Grill in Baguio, situated within the skating Rink, in Burnham Park, Jose Salcedo Street, Baguio, Luzon, Philippines. Tel. No. +63 922 816 4282.
Filipino buffets never fail to offer different variations of meat, fish and rice dishes, but sweets and desserts have no less importance in the Filipino gastronomic culture. A popular dessert and snack is halo-halo, which translates literally to ‘mix-mix’. It would be too simple to define halo-halo as ice cream. It is, in fact, a mixture of boiled sweet beans and fruits layered in a tall glass, which is then filled with shaved ice and evaporated milk and topped with a scoop of ube (purple yam) ice cream. The characteristics of halo-halo are its colorfulness and mixed flavors. It proves a very popular snack for Filipinos who try to cool down in the hot humid weather. Needless to say, halo-halo is a popular comfort food for Filipinos living abroad, the dessert being an assortment of exotic yet homely tastes all in one.