Filipino food is gaining in popularity around the world.
But Filipino cuisine has been slowly emerging onto the international scene. Chefs like Andrew Zimmerman and the late Anthony Bourdain speculated that Filipino food will eventually break thru onto the world stage. And with a large Filipino population here in the United States (in particular on the west coast and in the New York City area), many Americans have already become familiar with Filipino cuisine.
A new generation of Filipino Chefs trained in Western-style cooking have entered the restaurant business. And they have also brought their own Filipino influences. The cuisine’s increased visibility has given this under-rated cuisine a much-needed boost. Here are three authentic Filipino dishes that you might never have heard of but should definitely try.
What is Kare-Kare?
Kare-Kare is an authentic Filipino food that seemingly every Filipino suggests tourists try when going to the Philippines. This dish is a Filipino-style stew with vegetables, various cuts of pork or beef, and a thick savory peanut-gravy sauce. Originally, oxtail was the meat in kare-kare but over time versions came to include various pork and beef cuts. I have had kare-kare with tripe and pigs feet, but have also seen it with seafood.
Kare-kare is a native Filipino dish around since before Spanish colonization occurred. It is considered a Filipino comfort food during the rainy season because of its hearty soup and slightly sweet, rich taste. The dish is great paired with rice, and the distinct flavor of kare-kare comes out from the combination of roasted peanuts and warm rice.
Restaurants in Manila to Find Kare-Kare
What is Sisig?
Sisig is also a commonly suggested authentic Filipino food for foreigners to try. Sisig is a traditional Filipino dish that likely dates back to before the 17th century.
It consists of meat from a pig’s face and belly, plus chicken liver and typically seasoned with calamansi, onions, and chili peppers.
Calamansi, known as a Philippine lime, is a citrus fruit commonly used to make calamansi juice (similar to lemonade but with a taste more like a mixture of lemon and lime). Sisig is best known as a snack accompanied by alcoholic drinks or what Filipinos call pulutan. You can also pair it with rice. The crunchiness of the pig ear cartilage with the creaminess of the liver came to define a well-prepared plate of sisig.
History of Sisig
Sisig originates from Pampanga, a province on the island of Luzon just north of Manila. It is a staple of Kapampangan cuisine.
Originally more of a salad, sisig didn’t include pigs head until after the US occupied the Philippines. Commissaries in charge of preparing the food of the US Air Force stationed at Angeles City would dump unused pig heads into the garbage. Nearby residents would take these discarded portions rather than letting edible parts go to waste.
One of these residents was Lucía Cunanan, known as Aling Lucing. She is credited for re-inventing sisig by adding grilled pig ears and cheeks to the dish. The popularity of her dish led to Angeles City becoming the Sisig Capital of the Philippines and earned her the distinction of being known as Sisig Queen.
Restaurants in Manila to Find Sisig
What is Gising-Gising?
Gising-gising, also known as “ginataang sigarilyas” is a creamy and spicy Filipino stew consists of ground meat or seafood and winged beans (a bean native to South Asia) cooked with coconut milk. Locals also add Shrimp paste and chili pepper to this dish. These provide umami (also known as savory) and heat to the dish making it more enjoyable to eat.
“Gising-gising” is a Filipino word that means “wake up, wake up” in English. By tasting it, you will feel awakened by its flavor and also its spiciness. The dish can be eaten alone, paired with rice, or as a side dish to grilled meat dishes.
Restaurants in Manila to Find Gising-Gising
Filipino Cuisine - A Wrap Up
It is said that Filipino cuisine is never a meal without rice. You will likely find that locals will likely include rice as part of every meal. And the heavy influence of neighboring countries (especially China but also Japan) as well as colonizing and occupying countries (Spain and the United States).
There are many more great Filipino foods, including several of my favorites – adobo, lumpia, and pancit. But the above are three lesser-known authentic Filipino dishes that you should definitely try.