During his visit to the Philippines, The Travelling Editor, Dylan Lowe, visited the Pampanga region, famous for Filipino food to see what was on offer.
Techniques of Preservation
Before the age of refrigeration, the tropical heat of The Philippines hampered the longevity of foods’ edibility. Yet where temperatures weren’t favourable, the indigenous Filipinos had developed techniques to preserve their meats, vegetables and fruits – some way before the trading era brought new ones much later.
And while the restrictions were wished away by modern technologies, the legacy of old preservation techniques stuck in the form of The Philippines’ most popular dishes.
The adobo, regarded by many as the Filipino national dish, originated from the preservation of meats by heat-treating them in acidic solutions, consisting primarily of vinegars – and later, after it was introduced by Chinese traders, soy sauce.
Dried mangoes, the Filipino divine-sweetness-in-strip-forms, are manufactured using the sun’s scorching heat to desiccate the shredded fruit and concentrating its flavours in these popular snacks. When not immediately consumed, fish is sun-dried and preserved – albeit marginally smelly – or further fermented to produce patis, or fish sauce, a condiment integral to food preparation in Filipino cuisine.
Using salt and spices for preservation lent origins to the Filipino longganisa, surely a legacy of Spain’s colonial rule, alongside The Philippines’ myriad of cured meats.
Savouring every last bit
Isolated and soil-poor in some regions, food wastage would be criminal in The Philippines. Utilising every last scrap of produces, especially livestock, would have been sworn by enough that the modern Filipinos’ most loved – and priciest – ingredients are often the least desirable cuts and pieces elsewhere, such as offal, jowls and bone marrows.
The bulalo, a flavoursome broth simmered with beef shin, is the result of long, slow cooking extracting and purification of every bit of beefy flavour – and it tenderises an otherwise tough, muscular joint.
Though also dominated by tangs of peanuts and coconut, kare-kare’s true bearings lie with the rendered bone marrow of oxtails. Plus the occasional added texture of tripe, which, understandably, may not appeal to every palate.
And, crunching on the crisped skin of pata, I’d wondered just why pork knuckles weren’t featured heavily enough in my regular eating habits.
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Find out more about the work of Habitat for Humanity in the Philippines.