Filipino Cuisine with a Western Twist

by giselletellstales

*Adobo is a Filipino dish whereby the prime ingredient is marinated in soy sauce, cane vinegar, peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves.


We Filipinos are a very culturally dynamic people, and this shows in the versatility of cooking adobo with anything – chicken, beef, fish, vegetables, squid, shrimps, pork. There are also different variations of adobo based on the geographical locations in the Philippines. My husband can only eat adobo with tomato ketchup. He lived in Aklan for a short spell in the 1990s where the locals cooked the dish for him and added ketchup to the traditional soy sauce, white vinegar and bay leaf marinade. When I first heard this story, I thought it was a crime to meddle with the customary marinade with a foreign ingredient, until I tasted it four years ago. The sweetness of tomato ketchup reduces the strong notes of the main ingredients, and it helps create a rich sauce with different layers of flavour after simmering this with the meat. It goes wonderfully well with garlic rice crowned with sautéed spinach and promises a flavoursome, tomato sweet-imbibed adobo flakes the following day.

We both have different viewpoints on this addition of tomato ketchup to the adobo. He maintains this is how the locals always cooked the dish, and I believe it is to do with the locals trying to adapt the adobo to his western palate. Looking back on this exchange, I realised that some natives may always expect our cultural dishes to taste a certain way, but these could also be adapted to suit foreign taste. Foreign ingredients can ruin a dish or enhance it, and a western-infused Pinoy dish certainly requires one to have an open-mind about it. Either way, this adobo with tomato ketchup variation became a welcome addition to our household menu.

Depending on where you reside urges you to make the most out of the ingredients around you. A craving for lumpiang shanghai or fried spring rolls one afternoon inspired me to steal an appetiser called Haggis Spring Rolls from a local bar’s menu. A wonderful snack on its own for afternoon merienda (snack) and beautifully dipped in sweet chili sauce, or even as a main dish teamed with jasmine rice and a whisky-mustard sauce. Filipino, but with a Scottish twist.

One has also heard of improvising with ingredients in the absence of Filipino stores in your area. A resourceful idea includes substituting the sour component in sinigang with rhubarb or lemon in lieu of tamarind or kamias. These foreign fruits do not lend the same sharpness as our native ingredients yet as an alternative, they almost fit the bill.

Attempting to cook abroad, in another country away from your homeland allows plenty of discovery and experimentation with local ingredients. It can take a few efforts to come up with your own version of Filipino dishes infused with western ingredients. Whilst our cuisine continually evolves, new ingredients are always welcomed into the household cupboard that adds a western flavour to our native dishes. There is certainly nobody to stop us experimenting with the local cuisine and adapting this into our cooking. Filipino food is continually evolving throughout the centuries and the migration of Pinoys to different adopted countries has allowed ourselves to enjoy amalgamating the available ingredients in your new country with cultural dishes you are accustomed to. Those with traditional tastes might frown upon this emerging method but bear in mind that our food has its roots in Mexican adobo, Chinese noodles, and Spanish tomato-based dishes. Not to mention a few culinary delights gleaned from our own South-East Asian cousins.

In our continuing movements around the world and globalisation a recurrent theme, our lifelong quest of satisfying the palate results in this fusion of both western and Filipino cuisines.