Bad Filipino cooking

Mon, 04/09/2007 - 00:00

reprinted from Filipinas 2.0 magazine

Listen up, everybody. This is an article on Filipino food in a magazine for Filipino readers, so you are expected to refrain from snickering when reading funny-sounding words such as ukoy or sisig. Neither are you supposed to run out of the door, hand cupped over your mouth, when you hear details about balut.

So, OK, you all ready? This is what you should remember about the state of Filipino cooking. It's pretty gruesome.

I don't know about you, but my life is full of vivid memories of being chased Listen folks, balut is just a duck egg - presented the way duck egg would be if it were James Cameron shooting another chapter of Aliensfrom banquet tables and office canteen counters by slobbering, grinning misbegotten abominations. I'm talking about the food. Oily caldereta. Rubbery relleno. Fried pork tocino gleaming a sickly shiny pink. Substances that were once leafy greens cooked until they'd stopped screaming and then cooked some more. Say, was that supposed to be adobong pusit? I thought it was a failed attempt to duplicate a Nazi medical experiment!

Yes, of course, some of us eat things that might seem strange to westerners. Dog for instance. Crickets. Frogs legs (I like them fried crisp and served with garlic). Nothing seems to cause as much sensation and nausea, though, as balut. Listen folks, it's just a duck egg - presented the way duck egg would be if it were James Cameron shooting another chapter of Aliens. Really though, I don't understand the fuss. All these macho westerners seem to quail when it comes to gulping down the egg. In our country, what separates the men from the boys is the ability to separate the chick from the yolk. I've heard that some people prefer to eat balut in the dark.

But I'm not talking about food like that. I'm talking about everyday fare that's bad. It's no use pleading poverty as an excuse - rich and poor Filipinos eat the same tepid stuff: "curry" made with Mccormick's silly yellow powder; plastic-like fish sarsyado in tasteless tomato sauce; sickly laing; mechado as greasily foul as boiled congressman ; pork chops as evil, surly and indigestible as a Michelle Malkin column . And what's with the overboiled spaghetti smothered with sugared tomato sauce and hotdog bits? As a contribution to international cuisine, this ranks somewhere on the same level as steamed boots.

Not only is a lot of Filipino food overcooked, fatty and served at corpse-like temperature, there's also very little variety. To Filipinos, adventurous eating is like travelling to Europe. They don't want to see -- couldn't care less about -- the Santa Maria dei Frari in Venice, Sans Souci in Berlin, or Versailles in Paris. They only ever want to go to the Vatican, Buckingham Palace and Lourdes, always Lourdes. In the same way, they don't care to know about ratatouille, salt-and-pepper crab, mussels in wine or roast duck rice. It's always sinigang, adobo and pansit.

You know what makes it all so sad? Several reasons, actually. How about this one: lechon roasted with such care that although the meat is tender, the skin's crispy brown and melts like butter when you bite into it. Have that with fluffy rice, liver sauce and a foaming ice cold mug of beer and you're well on your way to bliss.

Or how about: shrimp fritters - ukoy - bursting with sweet potato, bean sprouts and green onions, fried until golden crisp, not greasy, and then accompanied with a dip made of vinegar, chili and crushed fresh garlic? And seeing as how we're into food that can be dipped in vinegar, don't forget fat and juicy barbecue (like the kind sold at Aling Nene and Mang Siding) grilled over charcoal - the hell with carcinogens. And the same for cholesterol, the moment you face a properly-cooked sisig, smoking and sizzling, , garnished with chili and calmansi and topped with a raw egg.

Our style of cooking isn't complex, involved or obsessive. Now the French…they spend weeks arguing in Le Monde about the proper ingredients to use in salade niçoise. Their Guide Michelin Rouge exceeds 1,700 pages and lists more than 10,000 eating places in France (only 500 of them are bestowed stars). They'll get into arguments whether an omelette should be cooked with a cast iron or copper bottom pan.

Filipino cooking is nothing like that. Our cuisine isn't sophisticated, but heartfelt. If, on a rainy monsoon driven morning, you've ever awakened to a breakfast of garlic rice, fried egg and toasty daing, accompanied by a steaming frothy cup of freshly whisked sweet chocolate, you'll know what I mean. We might not have a clue how to cook truffles, but we'd certainly have instant ideas what to do with the pig that the French use to root them out. So we don't do crepes flambe. What about fried suman sprinkled with pinipig, served with chocolate sauce and Selecta ice cream?

Problem is, there seems to be a general deterioration in our culinary standards. I've eaten food off street stalls in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, and it's always been better than what I could get in comparable places in Manila. There's way too much overcooking taking place - instead of wielding the kawali lightly by swift sauteing, many of our cooks seem to be into deep frying. And they rely too heavily on pork fat, salt, pepper, sugar, patis and vinegar. I've hardly ever tasted fresh coriander, lemongrass or pandan in carinderia food.

What they don't seem to realize is that Filipino food cheerfully welcomes adaptation and modification. Adobo can be readily adjusted to be slightly more healthy: drop the pork and use chicken (which you can lightly dust with paprika and then saute in olive oil), lessen the vinegar and soy sauce, add red wine, smother with lots of garlic fried in the remains of the broth, serve with a salad of fresh tomatoes and chopped raw onion. Even that staple, galunggong, can be improved merely by sprinkling it with a little rock salt, crushed peppercorn and paprika prior to frying.

The grim fate that Filipino cooking faces is indifference. Who cares about criminals roaming the streets? It's the ones in our kitchens we should worry about - those cooks play for keeps, and their indifference could end up killing Filipino cuisine.

My hope lies in the fact that we Filipinos love to eat out so much that we are apparently, slowly, becoming more adventurous. For example, shawarma has made inroads in Manila. And I've eaten in a few stalls where the food was memorable. I remember grilled blue marlin sprinkled with chili sauce, served with sinigang broth made from fish stock. End that kind of meal with a mango crepe, or fresh buco pie without any extenders, or real kesong puti, (not the pathetic sliver they sell in the supermarkets, wrapped in layer after layer of banana leaf) and you can almost forgive the thought of sweet spaghetti.

YOU could. I won't.


Submitted by Noe (not verified) on
Great story

Submitted by Joseph (not verified) on
I did laugh a few times, well said about over kill cooking and deep frying to death. ah! balut. never forgotten, eaten on my wedding night. its supposed to help. I did get a few down. <br />i agree with your settement almost compleatly. I'm american , she is a filipina born in Caygayan De Oro. she didn't appreciate it as I did.

Submitted by bernie javier (not verified) on
i remember growing up with my cousins, 11 of them -- eating on a very long table, matching benches on both sides... big family (no kiddin'). eating was a biological necessity -- as long as the rice wasproperly cooked, the rest didn't matter. for the average and the poor, we just want to see the faces of the ones we love on the table. the Filipinos has a lot to be proud of --

Submitted by Stella (not verified) on
i've been living in copenhagen for 5 years and i cook my danish husband the bestik tagalog with boiled potatoes and springkle it with parsley and he loves it. How i wish that the Filipino dish will be recognize someday, but it seems it will never happen because most of the filipino doesnt want to explore and still believe in old school cooking which is overcooking.

Submitted by Robin (not verified) on
dont know if youre a filipipno or whatever, but you sure are whiny. no one tells you to eat in &quot;carenderia&quot; or on streets. if you want quality food, there are tons of restaurants out there. thats no way to describe filipino's culinary ability. and if the food in manila is as unhealthy as you said it was, how come obesity wasnt much of a problem there? if you dont want the food there, then go eat some Mcdonald's or any fastfood and get fatter. <br />a word of advise, stay as grounded as possible, there will be times where youll even have to eat worms.

Submitted by acr (not verified) on
@Robin I'm a Filipino. You must be the whatever. Oh wait, I forgot: you're the foreign organism that thinks (loosely using the verb there) he knows something. Bet you didn't know that heart disease -- specifically related to high intakes of cholesterol -- is the number one cause of death in the Philippines. Look it up, Einstein. Engage in some self-improvement, you need it

Submitted by Noypi (not verified) on
So derogatory. Kala mong nakatikim ka lang ng langit, nanlait ka na ng lupa. No cooking is &quot;bad&quot; anywhere in the world. Its a matter of taste you dumbass.

Submitted by Igorot (not verified) on

Submitted by alan on
This reply is dedicated to the last &quot;two&quot; people who posted below. Actually they're the same person, cowardly pretending to be two visitors but he/she/it is too stupid to know about IP addresses. Anyway listen up, Brainiac.<br />1.You are wrong (or in language you can understand, U R RONG). Bad cooking is bad cooking ANYWHERE in the world. Old English saying: &quot;God sends man good meat, but an evil cook can spoil it.&quot; <br />2.You clearly didn't read the article describe that when cooked well, Filipino food is great<br />3.But then I'm not really surprised you can't read, given your IQ. <br />4.We've already established you're cowardly and shallow; your mother didn't teach you manners, and she didn't teach you to read either. However did a hopeless sackocrap like you survive in this world? Are you a Marcos crony's kid or something?

Submitted by Albert (not verified) on
My friends in Singapore are astonished how much sweet food Filipinos can eat (based on specimen: me). My mantra has always been: between eating sinful but yummy food &amp; living a short life, and eating healthy but tasteless food &amp; living a long life, i'd rather die sooner than later.<br />&quot;If, on a rainy monsoon driven morning, you've ever awakened to a breakfast of garlic rice, fried egg and toasty daing, accompanied by a steaming frothy cup of freshly whisked sweet chocolate, you'll know what I mean.&quot;

Submitted by alan on
And don't forget garlicky Vigan loganiza, the pineapple ham from Cagayan de Oro, kesong puti and biko from Laguna. And what about smoking sisig topped with a fried egg and chopped raw onion and chilies? Damn, I'm getting hungry. BTW your Singapore friends have no business going on about sweet food -- they have their deliciously saccharine kaya toast (basically our coco jam with custard) and ultrasweet kopi to go with it

Submitted by ali (not verified) on
tanga ka naman pala eh, siguro walang kang pera at nagtiyaga kang kumain sa bangketa. my employer loves to eat filipino foods, i cooked a lot of times. natuto ka lang mag english at nakaapak sa ibang lugar naging mapanghusga ka na. gamitin mo naman ang utak mo na ang expensive restaurants and the carenderia in manila are cooking the same yummy filipino recipe its just a matter of their presentation. bakit saan ba nanggaling ang malaking manok di ba sa itlog? sino kaya ang mas maraming nagkasakit ng cancer di ba dito sa lugar ng mga puti?

Submitted by rein (not verified) on
i like eating the filipino foods. its a 100 % yummy. nasa sa iyo na lang if yout twill eat oo much of cholesterol and those foods that are not good for your health. silly you be respectfull overcooking the food especially meat is not a problem. i have a friend who loves to eat slightly cooked meat and you know how he feels today? he has a worms in his tummy that even doctors had a hard time of how to get it out. in other words, may bulate siya. paano kukain ng hilaw na mga karne.ikaw may bulate ka na rin , umakyat na rin yate sa utak mo.

Submitted by jane (not verified) on
filipino foods are much healtheir compared to what you are thingking. our meat are fresh, our vegetables are fresh, fruits are fresh. we cooked it with a minimal seasoning. some countries relies on the processed and canned goods, frozen foods which (bad)bacteria loves to be with, that is why they have a higher chances of having cancers , and a hundreds of overweight people.

Submitted by alan on
@ ali, jane and rein: hey did you hear about the troll who was so stupid, he/she/it could barely speak and write english (sin baluktot ng pilipit) and thought that he/she/it could post multiple comments on a website using different names and NOBODY would notice? Apparently he/she/it had never heard of IP addresses. Maybe ali, jane and rein have/has a multiple personality disorder, which is a tragedy because between them ali, jan and rein don't/doesn't even have enough material for one brain

Submitted by Heinz (not verified) on
I am a culinary arts instructor teaching regional Filipino cuisine, and it seems you do not know a lot about Filipino cuisine. What's most stated here are mere fallacies rather than facts. Delving into the cuisine of a particular country, you have to study food habits, food ways, food culture, cultural assimilation, meal patterns, as well as topographic influences and religious influences. Having stated this, such influences makes a particular cuisine unique. It seems that you compare Filipino cuisine with world or global cuisine, and in the strictest sense they are different, and the comparison of both will be on the basis of subjectivity. You are proposing alternatives in alleviating Filipino cuisine in the world market, but you are proposing non-Filipino ingredients, therefore, you are creating fusion cuisine rather than Filipino cuisine. Obviously, it will entail a lot of time to discuss this to you, but I will rather have you look back to your origins and establish what you really want: Fusion Cuisine or Filipino Cuisine? Thank you and God bless.

Submitted by alan on
@Heinz -- thanks for the interesting comments, but it seems you didn't read the article at all. I am inveighing against a deterioration in our cooking standards -- specifically indifferent overcooking, use of wilted ingredients and substitution of salt and sugar for timpla. I love well-cooked su-am, kilawin (in its various forms) and one of my favorite dishes is ginatang monggo the way we do it in Laguna --with sili leaves, luya, gata and served with toasted daing. Tell me where I can find that in a restaurant here? Also your use of the word "fusion" leaves me vastly amused, because, in case you haven't realized it yet, most of the dishes in the Philippines ARE fusion (start with adobo -- "adobado" -- and work your way through to noodles, lechon with liver sauce etc etc). If you don't know the difference between well-cooked and badly cooked dinuguan then you probably miss the article's point utterly, perhaps regaled too much by your thumping title of alleged "culinary arts instructor."

Submitted by paopao (not verified) on
oh really.... of all the filipino foods that are EXISTING, the gruesome ones are the only ones you know,,,FOR SURE. :) haha. you're comparing france with philippines? why not try to go in india, oh not india, AFRICA.....and, when you smell poverty and icky yucky foods, YOURE HOME. :))

Submitted by avery (not verified) on
wow. good grammar huh? too bad you're mean, and...LABEL WHORE ASSHOLE. im so sure that eating this foods you're talking about is much healthier than despising your &quot;comic comedy book article' yo! you're so lucky i found Jesus. where i came from is the philippines and this is TIGHT. f*ck off.

Submitted by LINA (not verified) on
HEY man, if you want to take THESE outside, WE CUD DO THIS. hehehe. AND! hold up your tongue jalapenyo.! you think you know what's the difference between delicious and gruesome? yeah we'll just pretend ure right, coz its so hard to explain something to an idiot just wasted an hour of your damn life writing that stupid review. have a nice day.

Submitted by gloria;; (not verified) on
I pity you...i'm obviously thinkin that you havent REALLY tasted this foods you're talking about. and why not try to go in the US, and, don't be shock if you'll be welcomed by millions of overweight people. im pretty sure you're wanting to taste it for months but you couldnt so you just wrote all this &quot;whatevaaa day dreamin&quot;. aww...come here bhaby, i could cook it all just for an orphan and homeless like....oh!, YOU ofcourse. hihi

Submitted by alan on
Riddle: what's stupider than manure and goes by several different names? Sirit? Answer: Lina, Avery, paopao and Gloria, creatures who apparently came unequipped with the capacity to realize that although you can change names, you can't change IP addresses. Go home to mamma, gormless trolls. And don't forget your brain. You know -- the tiny acorn you pass around between the four of you?

Submitted by AkoMan (not verified) on
they may be fresh meats and fish but they are filled with fly eggs and germs.

Submitted by Ludovico (not verified) on
I think you hit the nail on the head. The problem with Filipino food is its overcooked most of the time. Also there is this obsession with deep frying, and fat whenever Filipinos cook. I think one thing also worth mentioning, and a reason why a lot of visitors don't like our cuisine is that the flavors in Filipino food are TOO STRONG. For example, I've eaten sinigang that is too sour and bulalo that is too salty, and those two are my favorite Filipino dishes by far. A lot of Adobo I eat is also too sour. I can go on and on with this. I think if we want to make our cuisine more world class we have to learn how to create a delicate balance of flavors and stop with the overcooking. Look at how Sushi does that: There is just enough fish, rice and seaweed. not too much. Also the soy sauce simply compliments it. The same can be said for Vietnamese pho in how the noodles, beef balls and vegetables just come together. There isn't one overpowering flavor like sourness or saltiness like with our cuisine. Hopefully, with more Filipinos working overseas as cooks, and having to cook to a higher standard, we'll learn to adjust and be open minded to the point that our cuisine can improve and be world reknown. But until then, people will still continue to overlook Filipino food.

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