Imagine a rich, dark, well-marinated stew of chicken and pork, with flavours that hint of that vinegar and soy sauce in the marinade. Imagine a steaming mound of sautéed noodles with bits of fresh vegetables, thinly sliced savory sausages and tiny shrimp laced throughout. Imagine a whole chicken boned and stuffed with a mixture of ground chicken, pork and ham plus whole sausages and hard-boiled eggs, so that when it is sliced and served, the dish looks as good as it tastes.

This is Philippine cooking at it’s finest! These mouth-watering dishes are just a sample of some of the delights that await the culinary explorer. But much of the exploration will be familiar territory, because Spanish and Chinese influences are everywhere. And the exploration will not be an arduous trek, because Filipino coking is easy.

Philippine cuisine is the familiar blended with the exotic, and to understand it better requires some knowledge of the country’s history and its cultural influences. Just as Filipino people are part Malay, Chinese and Spanish, so is the cuisine of their seven-thousand-island nation.


The Malays were among the first inhabitants of the Philippine archipelago over twenty thousand years ago. Ancient land bridges that are now under the sea made the migration possible. Chinese traders may have sailed their junks across the Yellow Sea as early as 300 A.D. Certainly by the year 1000, trading was taking place on a regular basis with the coastal colonies the Chinese were establishing. By 1400, they had moved inland and were finally established as part of the culture.

In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines for the Western world, and a period of Spanish influence began that lasted over three hundred years. Those years had a lasting and monumental effect on the Philippines. With the departure of the Spanish in 1898, the Philippines came under the influence of the United States. Americans brought a new language, new influences and some new ideas to the ideas to the cuisine of the islands, which by then had become as rich and varied as the culture.

American Influences

In the period following World War II, surplus canned foods became widely available to Filipinos because of the shortages of fresh produce and the black market. The Filipinos embraced these “new foods” and turned them into dishes that taste nothing like canned food. By sautéing canned corned beef with onions and garlic, they created a dish uniquely their own. Before the Japanese invasion, American food influences came in the form of institutional-style salads and pies. Construction companies, mining companies and military installations employed Filipinos, who brought home the wonders of potato and macaroni salads and fruit pies. Although the Filipino versions of these salads have lots of chicken and some vegetables not found in the United States, they are nevertheless as “American as apple pie” in shape, size and texture.

Spanish Influences

Spanish additions to the cuisine are not hard to find. It has been said that the origin of about 80 percent of the dishes prepared in the Philippines today can be traced to Spain. In fact, many Filipino dishes have Spanish names; oddly enough, some of them aren’t even Spanish! Most important, though the Spaniards introduced tomatoes and garlic as well as the gentle art of sautéing them with onions in olive oil. Whether or not Mexican cooking influenced Philippine cuisine is a subject for debate.

The Mexican Connection

The Philippines came under Spanish control due to two factors; the discovery of the islands by Magellan and the division of the world into two hemispheres by Pope Alexander VI to appease Spain and Portugal (the two feuding Catholic world powers). In the sixteenth century, all that lay east of the line drawn down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean was given to Portugal and all that lay west of the line was given to Spain. The dividing line placed the Philippines, exactly halfway around the globe, under Spanish control. Since Spain had to sail west to get to its Pacific possessions, the Philippine islands were administered through Mexico for more than two hundred years. Galleons regularly plied the waters between Acapulco and Manila, bringing necessities and modified Spanish influences.

Today in Mexico there is a paste of vinegar, oil, chilli, spices and herbs. It is used in pork dishes such as Puerco en adobo and chuletas de Puerco adobadas. Today in the Philippines, adobo is the closest thing the country has to a national dish. It consists of chicken and pork that has been marinated and stewed in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and peppercorns. Is it just a coincidence, or did the Mexicans also contributed to the cuisine of the Philippines?

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