Last time, we talk about the general negative reaction to Filipino food and I pointed out how presentation poses a factor to that notion. So right now, let’s talk about the taste.
I talked about Filipinos being practical in my last blog. Same thing is true when it comes to our choice of condiments and spices. Typical Filipino food has these arsenal of ingredients: vinegar, black peppercorns, MSG (especially Aji No Moto), beef/pork cubes, sugar, bay leaves, garlic, onions, calamansi, fish sauce, soy sauce, banana ketchup; you know the drill.
On spices alone, notice that items like rosemary, thyme, 5-spice powder, cinnamon or oregano are absent. Not that we don’t use these completely – but these spices are just foreign to us. We don’t have much use of Worcestershire sauce, though a local TV commercial for this famous sauce brand claims that it makes a better adobo. We just use whatever is available to us, commercially or otherwise. If we wanted our foods to be sour, we simply dash it with vinegar or calamansi. If we want it to be salty, then soy sauce is the go-to option. And we don’t really have a lot of options when it comes to soy sauce unlike the Malaysian cuisine – we just rely on good old Datu Puti or Silver Swan.
One example of a dish reinvented because of availability of ingredients would be our own version of macaroni salad. Who knew that the mixture of macaroni, canned fruit cocktail, Filipino-styled mayonnaise, condensed milk, and Eden cheese will produce something that’s been a staple for Christmas holidays for the longest time? How about the infamous, overly sweet Filipino-style spaghetti? I bet pasta purists might throw their towels in disgust, but oddly, it just works for us.
My take is maybe poverty, colonialism and commercialism took a massive play on shaping our food culture. Does that sound that Filipino food is not truly authentic? What does it take to be “authentic” anyway? All hope is not lost, though – eating Filipino food simply means to taste many cultures, of diverse influences. Than delving in authenticity, a quote in an Esquire article put it best – “perhaps this obsession with authenticity should be redirected to integrity instead.”
OK, now that we’ve established that part about ingredients. So what’s the deal about Filipino food being bland? Stay tuned to the last part of the series as I talk about one important part of Filipino food culture that is uniquely us.