This is the fourth in a series of episodes in which we’re talking to nutrition professionals from around the world about their culture’s traditional cuisine. Please check out our previous episodes on traditional Indian, Colombian, and Japanese food and culture.
Thanks to all of you who have written in to suggest other countries and cuisines you’d like to explore. Katie wrote:
“I’m loving your series on the nutrition of different traditional cuisines around the world. I’d love to learn more about Filipino cuisine. I lived in the Philippines for about a year and fell in love with the food! I’m curious as to which parts of a traditional Filipino diet are healthy and which might be modified to be more nutritious.”
Joining me to talk about Filipino culture and cuisine is Levin Dotimas. Levin was born in the Philippines and now lives in the United States. Although he originally planned to study nursing, he was fascinated by the coursework on biochemistry and eventually switched paths to study nutrition instead. Levin has now completed his Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is currently completing a dietetic internship, which will eventually result in his becoming a registered dietition/nutritionist.
Below are a few highlights from our conversation. Please click on the audio player to hear the entire interview.
Tell us a bit about traditional cooking style in the Philippines.
Every Filipino meal has two main parts: the rice and the ulam, which is a general term for whatever is eaten with the rice. An ulam is often a melange of a protein such as pork, chicken, or fish, and a variety of vegetables. Filipino flavors tend towards salty, sour, and pungent (which, believe me, is actually good once you acquire a taste for it).
How have neighboring cultures in Southeast Asia influenced Filipino cuisine?
The main Asian influence on Filipino cuisine is Chinese and you can see this in our noodle dishes, stir-fries, and use of soy sauce and fish sauce. Like our Southeast Asian neighbors, we use coconut and shrimp paste as well.
How have foreign or colonial powers influenced Filipino cuisine?
The Spanish introduced cured meats, dairy, and dishes like embutido, paella, and even those of Mexican origin like tamales and chicharron. Americans brought convenience cooking to the country and also favorite American staples like fried chicken, spaghetti, pizza, ice cream, and canned goods.
What are some of the healthiest aspects of traditional Filipino diets?
A lot of vegetables go in our dishes and because we are surrounded by so much water, seafood is also very common.
What are some of the less healthy aspects of typical Filipino diets?
Filipinos love to use pork fat when cooking, so some dishes end up being greasy. It can sometimes be salty as well with all the soy sauce and fish sauce that we love.
What sorts of foods might a traveler to the Philippines encounter that they wouldn’t find elsewhere?
We have a variety of noodle dishes and rice cakes all over the country, but for the adventurous eaters, there’s balut (underdeveloped duck egg) and non-muscle meat barbecues like intestines, coagulated blood, chicken heads, chicken feet, pork ears.
Any last thoughts?
Because Filipino food isn’t really mainstream in American society, the Filipino food in the U.S. is usually found in small family-owned restaurants and is almost always quite authentic. I urge you to give it a try!