Culture Tuesday is a weekly column in which Best of Vegan Editor Samantha Onyemenam explores different cultures’ cuisines across the globe through a plant-based and vegan lens. In today’s column, she is exploring vegan Filipino cuisine.
Culture Tuesday – Vegan Filipino Cuisine
The cuisine of the Philippines is a beautiful, bold, and flavourful fusion that tells the story of the archipelago’s history while also displaying its uniqueness. Its main influences are from China, Taiwan, India, Arabia, Spain, Native South Americans (especially those in Mexico), and the United States.
Chinese and Taiwanese Influence
In 3200BC, Austronesian people from Taiwan and the Fujian, Guangdong, Guizhou, and Yunan provinces of China migrated to the islands that make up the Philippines. They brought their farming practices and cultivation of rice to the archipelago along with their cultural dishes and cooking practices. The trade and migration between the provinces continued through the centuries resulting in more dishes, ingredients, and practices being introduced to the native Filipinos, many of which are common aspects of the cuisine today. Some of the ingredients introduced by the Chinese and Taiwanese migrants and traders include tausi (fermented black beans), toge (beansprouts), tokwa (tofu), and toyo (soy sauce). The dishes they introduced include arroz caldo (congee/rice porridge), lumpia (spring rolls), pancit (noodle dishes), and sinangang (fried rice).
Lumpia is a deep-fried or fresh savory spring roll that is often served as an appetizer but can also be eaten as a snack. The lumpia wrapper is a paper-thin crêpe made from a mixture of wheat flour (originally rice flour), salt, and water. The lumpia tends to be slenderer and longer than its Chinese version.
Austronesian people from Taiwan and china brought their farming practices and cultivation of rice to the archipelago along with their cultural dishes and cooking practices.
Despite lumpia generally being known as a savory food, sweet versions exist although they are seldom referred to as, ‘lumpia.’ These include balolon/daral, and turón. The wrapper of daral is made from glutinous rice flour and coconut milk while the filling consists of sweet coconut meat. On the other hand, turón is most commonly made by combining brown sugar and sliced bananas, wrapping the mixture in a lumpia wrapper, and deep-frying it. Some versions of turón are made with jackfruit added to the banana mixture while others consist solely of sweetened mung beans. However, the banana version seems to be the most common.
Arab and Indian Influence
The Arabs had been trading with India for several years and, in turn, the Indians traded with the Filipinos sharing ingredients as well as cooking practices and dishes. This resulted in foods made with Arab spices as well as dishes such as atchara, bibingka, kare kare, nasing biringyi, and puto which are reminiscent of the Indian achar, bebinca, curries, biriyani, and puttu, respectively.
Kare kare is a rich Filipino peanut stew (curry) flavored with aromatic roasted peanuts (turned to peanut butter), garlic, onions, soy sauce, and a broth, and colored with achuete. It is believed that kare kare’s originated from Indian infantrymen who were stationed in the Philippines during the 20 months Manila and the City of Cavite were colonized by the British. The infantrymen missed their cultural dishes and sought to make something similar using the ingredients available to them in the Philippines. The dish they ended up making was named ‘kari-kaari,’ as it reminded them of Indian curries. The name then evolved to what it is known as today – kare kare.
Traditionally, kare kare is a rather meat dense dish with an assortment of meats in it. Therefore, many Filipino vegan cooks have made versions of the dish using an assortment of vegetables, banana blossoms, tofu, and mushrooms to make a hearty, filling, plant-based kare kare.
In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a Spaniard (after renouncing his Portuguese nationality in 1517), arrived on the Filipino islands and spearheaded their colonizations. During this period, the Spanish colonizers introduced ingredients, cooking methods, and styles from Spain as well as those of the South American areas they colonized (with emphasis on Mexico). The ingredients they brought to the Philippines include achuete (annatto/achiote seeds), avocado, bell peppers (capsicum), chayote, chillies, corn, jicama, peanuts, pineapple, potatoes, and tomatoes.
Apart from the ingredients, the Spaniards exported to the Philippines, they also introduced dishes such as paelya and named practices such as adobo.
As the name suggests, paelya, is inspired by the Spanish dish, paella. However, it is cooked with malagkit (sticky short-grain glutinous rice) or tinawon rice (short grain heirloom rice from Ifugao) as opposed to the bomba, redondo, albufera, or calasparra rice which are used to make Spanish paella. In place of the saffron in paella, the Filipinos use annatto to give paelya its color. Alternatively, some cooks will use kasubha (safflower) or luyang dilaw (turmeric) to create a similar effect.
Adobo, from the Spanish word, ‘adobar,’ which means, ‘to marinate,’ is a mixture of garlic, oregano, salt, paprika, and vinegar in which raw foods are immersed in to preserve them or to impart flavor in them prior to cooking. Despite the name being Spanish, Filipino adobo is pre-colonial. This means that the Filipino cooking practice the Spaniards labeled as, ‘adobo,’ is indigenous to the Philippines and existed before Spain colonized the archipelago.
Filipino adobo has a different recipe from that of Spanish adobo. It is made using black pepper, bay leaves, garlic, salt/soy sauce, and vinegar (cane, coconut, palm, or rice vinegar) – ingredients local to Southeast Asia. The ingredients being marinated, for example, vegetables, are simmered in the adobo sauce mixture to create a stew which is served with rice.
In 1898, Spain and the United States of America signed the Treaty of Paris to end the Spanish-American War. Under this treaty, the Spaniards relinquished the Philippines to America. The Americans brought relatively cheap and more processed cooking ingredients to the archipelago thus encouraging an alteration of traditional recipes. For example, that of pandesal.
The Americans brought relatively cheap and more processed cooking ingredients to the archipelago thus encouraging an alteration of traditional recipes.
Pandesal, also known as, ‘pan de sal,’ or, ‘salt bread,’ was originally introduced to the Philippines as a Spanish-Filipino version of the French baguette. Its original recipe consisted solely of whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and oil/shortening. Due to the exorbitant price of wheat, which was brought to the archipelago by the Spaniards, some Filipinos substituted the whole wheat flour with a cheaper and more accessible local flour. This resulted in softer and fluffier pandesal.
The Americans then influenced the recipe of pandesal through cheaper and more processed white flour, yeast, sugar, and animal byproducts. Therefore, the pandesal recipe evolved into that for a bread made from the enriched dough (containing eggs, butter, and milk). It became even softer and fluffier due to less gluten and fiber in the dough. This modern recipe for pandesal has been veganized by some home cooks and bakers to exclude the animal byproducts while maintaining the soft and fluffy texture of the bread and subtly sweet flavor.
Sisig is another dish that was created during the period America colonized the Philippines. However, it was created for ingredients that would have otherwise been discarded as the U.S. Air Force personnel (stationed at Clark Air Base) did not eat them. These ingredients were specific animal parts to be thrown out which the native Filipinos were able to take for free or purchase at low costs.
Despite its meat-laden origins, sisig has evolved over the years since its creation to have varieties, some of which are plant-based. This includes tofu sisig, which is part of the modern vegan Filipino cuisine.
Tofu sisig is made by frying cubes of tofu until they are golden brown then combining it with a mixture of sautéed onions, garlic, chillies, bell peppers, and shiitake mushrooms (for a variety of textures and umami flavor). A sauce made of mushroom sauce (vegan oyster sauce) or vegetable broth, soy sauce, calalmansi (Philippine lime) juice, sugar, and black pepper is then stirred into the fried mixture to give it the signature sweet-salty-savory-sour flavor characteristic of sisig and the dish is thickened slightly using a cornstarch slurry or a creamy condiment before it is served sizzling hot.
Recipe from Vegan Filipino Cuisine: Tokwa’t “Baboy” (Filipino Fried Tofu and “Pork”) by The Foodie Takes Flight
Tokwa’t “baboy” is similar to tofu sisig in the sense that it is also traditionally made using pork, fried tofu, and a sweet-salty-savory sauce.
For this vegan version, Jeeca (@thefoodietakesflight on Instagram) uses soy chunks in place of pork to give a meaty texture. The tofu and soy chunks are fried until golden then they are combined with an aromatic delicious sauce and left to sit until all of the sauce has been absorbed then served as is or with some rice.