FILIPINO DISHES: EATING THEM, COOKING THEM AND BUYING ON THE STREET

FILIPINO DISHES

The Filipino national dish is ababo (pieces of chicken or pork marinated in palm vinegar, garlic and bay leaves, boiled, then fried in lard and finally simmered with a broth). Lechon (roast baby pig with liver sauce often served at gatherings), pata (crispy pork knuckle) and banana hearts (which taste like bamboo shoots) and prawns in peanut sauce are traditional Filipino feast foods.

Other typical Filipino dishes include pochero (a stew made with beef, sausage, or pork and sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, chick peas and cooked in a thick soup), tapsilog (dried beef, garlic fried rice and egg), gulay (a vegetable dish cooked in coconut milk), pinigat (a very hot vegetable dish), sinigang (meat or fish cooked with sour fruits, lime, tamarind, tomatoes and vegetables), afritada (beef in olive oil and tomato paste), and kari-kari (beef, ox tail and tripe cooked with a spicy peanut sauce.

Dishes with a Chinese touch include pork ribs marinated in sweet soy sauce and beef sauteed in black bean sauce with butter melted in and tomato. America dishes such as hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza are also widely available. Chinese restaurants serve mainly Mandarin or Cantonese dishes. Resorts and towns along the ocean are famous for fish, rock lobster, several species of crabs, giant prawns and other kinds of seafood. In some places you can get Spanish food like paella. Sometimes the beef comes from water buffalo. Fish often comes with the head attached and the chicken often has a lot of bones.

Traditional Dishes include: Adobong pusit (squid), adobong isda (fish), adobong gulay (vegetables), adobong karne (meat)—cooked in a mixture of vinegar, garlic, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce; Inihaw na bangus (grilled milkfish), inihaw na hipon (grilled shrimps), inihaw na lapu-lapu (grilled grouper), inihaw na baboy (charcoal grilled pork) with vinegar and garlic dip. Also, there is Relleno (stuffed)—rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), rellenong pusit (stuffed grilled squid); Daing na bangus (fried seasoned milkfish); Sinuam na isda (fish ginger with vegetables); Pinakbet (vegetable stew); Guinataang kalabasa at hipon (squash and shrimps in coconut milk); Sinigang (in sour broth)—sinigang na isda (fish sinigang); sinigang na hipon (shrimp sinigang), sinigang na baboy (pork sinigang), sinigang na manok (chicken sinigang); Pancit canton (sautéed egg noodles); Kare-kare (stew with peanut sauce); Lechon (roasted pork); and Halo-halo - literally means "mix-mix" which is what you do to it before eating it (a dessert made from shaved ice mixed with sweetened bananas, sweet potatoes, yam, black and white beans, agar-agar fruits, smothered in evaporated milk and mixed together). [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning]

Among the best meat dishes are Lechon Kawali (pork braised in a skillet pan) and Adobong manok (chunks of chicken, braised in a broth with soy sauce, bay leaves and other relatively delicate spices); beef dishes tend to be over-cooked, to ensure food safety. Root crops are simmered in the coconut milk and then eaten. Fresh fish is a must. Typically we will eat fish in a sour soup—Sinigang where the broth is made with tamarind and lemon grass. Green vegetables are added to the soup, before simmering the broth. If it is straight from the ocean, merely marinating the fish in coconut vinegar and a little pepper is exquisite fare: Kinilaw (can be Tanguige and other white fish, or "posit" (squid)). [Ibid]

Favorite Filipino Foods

1) Adobo: A ubiquitous dish in every household in the Philippines, it's Mexican in origin, but Filipinos found that cooking meat (often chicken and pork) in vinegar, salt, garlic, pepper, soy sauce and other spices, was a practical way to preserve meat without refrigeration. This cooking style can be applied to different meats or even seafood. [Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 <>]

2) Lechon is the most invited party guest in the Philippines. The entire pig is spit-roasted over coals, with the crisp, golden-brown skin served with liver sauce, the most coveted part. In Cebu, the stomach of the pig is stuffed with star anise, pepper, spring onions, laurel leaves and lemongrass resulting in an extremely tasty lechon, which needs no sauce. <>

3) Sisig is a food example of how nothing goes to waste in Filipino food. In the culinary capital of Pampanga, they turn the pork’s cheeks, head and liver into a sizzling dish called Sisig. The crunchy and chewy texture of this appetizer is a perfect match for an cold beer. Serve with hot sauce and Knorr seasoning to suit the preference of you and your buddies. Credit goes to Aling Lucing who invented this dish at a humble stall along the train railways in Angeles City, Pampanga. While Sisig can be found in many restaurants, try the original version at Aling Lucing Sisig. <>

Favorite Filipino Meat Dishes

1) Chicken inasal: Yes, it's grilled chicken. But in Bacolod, this is no ordinary grilled chicken. The meat is marinated in lemongrass, calamansi, salt, pepper and garlic and brushed with achuete (annatto seeds) oil. Every part of the chicken is grilled here from the paa (drumstick), pecho (breast), baticulon (gizzard), atay (liver), pakpak (wings) and corazon (heart). It must be eaten with a generous serving of garlic rice, with some of the orange oil used to marinade the chicken poured over the rice. Go chicken crazy at Manukan Country where there is a row of authentic Inasal restaurants. [Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 <>]

2) Pork barbecue: In a country where almost everything is marinated, skewered and grilled in the street corners, everyone has their favorite barbecue meat. Pork is the most popular. Cebu is known for barbecue stalls along Larsian Street just off Fuente Osmena Circle. Manila residents are addicted to that from Ineng's, which has many outlets in Metro Manila, for its big, chunky pieces of pork with a perfect, salty-sweet marinade. <>

3) Inihaw na Liempo: A Filipino-style barbecue using a popular pork part: liempo (pork belly). Arguably, the best is Cebuano style -- a slab of liempo stuffed with herbs and spices and roasted, resulting in juicy flavorsome meat inside and crackling skin outside.

4) Crispy pata: Not for the easily spooked, this pork knuckle is simmered, drained and deep fried until crisp. The meat is tender and juicy inside, with a crisp, crackling exterior. Served with vinegar, soy sauce and chili.

Cebu Lechon – Whole Roasted Pig

Léchon, a suckling pig that has been roasted until the skin forms a hard brown crust, is served at important occasions. The inside is very fatty. Strips of the skin with attached fat are considered the best pieces. The importance of the host and the occasion are measured by the amount of léchon served. Blood drained from the pig is used to make dinuguan. Cebu-style Lechon baboy is usually enjoyed with lechon sauce or homemade liver sauce. [Source: LechonHQ]

Generally referred to as whole roasted pig, lechon got its name from the Spanish word for milk – leche. There is an assortment of ways to roasting a whole pig; however, it is Cebu lechon baboy that has earned the distinction of being the “world’s best” as unabashedly proclaimed by world-renowned chef and author, Anthony Bourdain.

In one past episode of his show on the Travel Channel, Anthony Bourdain—a self-proclaimed pork expert—declared Cebu lechon baboy as one of the best roasted pig dishes he has ever had the privilege of eating because of its crispy skin and tender juicy meat. On his blog he said: “And speaking of pig? It can now be said that of all the whole roasted pigs I’ve had all over the world, the slow roasted lechon I had on Cebu was the best.”

How to Do a Filipino Pig Roast

Jeremy Hoefs wrote: “Pig roasts are common for events and gatherings where you cook the whole pig over an open fire or in an underground pit. There are numerous recipes and cooking methods for a pig roast, but a Filipino pig roast -- also referred to as lechon baboy -- is a specific method that results in a roasted pig with crispy skin and delicious meat. A traditional Filipino pig roast is used during special occasions and holidays, but you can use a Filipino pig roast anytime to enjoy the flavor of pork. [Source: By Jeremy Hoefs, February 19, 2104]

Step 1: Select a pig that weighs about 100 lbs. Smaller pigs are easier to cook during a Filipino pig roast and a 100-lb. pig should feed a large party. Step 2: Clean and dress the pig by removing the entrails and washing the inside and outside of the pig. Use a garden hose to spray the inside cavity of the pig to remove excess blood or innards. Step 3: Season the pig with various spices, sauces and rubs. A traditional Filipino recipe calls for rubbing salt and pepper on the outside and inside of the pig along with rubbing soy sauce on the outside. The combination of flavors helps to result in a crispy skin.

Step 4: Stuff the inside cavity with lemongrass, apples and onions and sew shut. Step 5: Build the fire using firewood and coals. Avoid using propane and allow the fire to get red hot. Step 6: Push a bamboo stick through the pig's mouth and hind quarter. The bamboo stick serves as the rotisserie while cooking and adds to the overall flavor of the Filipino pig roast. Step 7: Place the pig over the fire, but avoid placing the pig's back directly over the flame. Make sure to leave room in the fire for grease to drip from the pig. Step 8: Cook the pig for about eight to nine hours, turning occasionally. You may need to adjust the cooking time based on the temperature, wind and size of the pig. Step 9: Check the internal temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking the pig to an internal temperature of 145 degrees before removing from the fire.

Tips: Serve the Filipino pig roast with a dipping sauce and other side dishes, which include include baked beans, cornbread, vegetables and fried rice. Things You'll Need: garden hose, spices and/or rubs, salt and pepper, soy sauce, lemongrass, apples, onions, firewood, coals, bamboo stick.

Favorite Filipino Seafood Dishes

1) Taba ng talangka: The fat of a small variety of crabs are pressed and sautéed in garlic. This cholesterol-laden Filipino food is often used as a sauce for prawns or eaten with fried fish and rice. The best taba ng talangka comes from the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac and Bulacan. Buy a bottle or two from the markets there, or pasalubong shops like Bulacan Sweets. [Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 <>]

2) Fish tinola: The freshness of Cebu's rich marine life can be tasted in its fish tinola, a simple sour broth flavored with onions, tomatoes and sambag (tamarind) and cooked over coco-lumber firewood for hours. Cebuanos know to go to A-One, a small hole in the wall known, cooking up to 200 kilos of fish daily.

3) Sinugno: Cooking with coconut milk is common in the province of Quezon, south of Manila. Freshwater tilapia fish is grilled then simmered in coconut milk and chili. It's definitely freshest when eaten close to the fishponds as they do in Kamayan Sa Palaisdaan. <>

4) Relyenong alimango: Filipino cooks are never fazed by fuzzy food preparations like relyenong alimango. The crab is delicately peeled then sautéed with onions, tomatoes, herbs and stuffed back into the crab shell, then deep fried. Chicken or bangus (milkfish) are also cooked relyeno. Often cooked in homes for fiestas, but enterprising housewives sell them at the Sunday market in Quezon City (Centris Mall, Edsa, Quezon City) or the Saturday market in Makati (Salcedo Village, Makati)

5) Inihaw na panga ng tuna: General Santos and Davao City are known for their numerous ways with tuna. The panga or jaw is often grilled over coals and dipped in sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, chili and calamansi (local lemon). <>

6) Fish kinilaw: The day’s fresh catch is dressed in palm coconut vinegar, ginger, chili and spices. Each province has its own way of preparing kinilaw. Most wet markets will prepare this for you. Most popular in Cebu is to eat it in Su-tu-kil, the row of seafood eateries <>

7) Sinanglay: Fresh tilapia stuffed with tomatoes and onions, then simmered in coconut milk and wrapped in pechay leaves (similar to bokchoy), which helps keep the fish together and adds a peppery taste. It's a staple Filipino food. <>

8) Camaro rebosado: Shrimp coated in egg and flour batter and deep fried. Served with a tomato-based sweet and sour sauce for dipping. <>

Favorite Filipino Soups, Stews and Porridges

1) Bulalo: Despite the perennial heat, Filipinos often enjoy sipping piping hot bulalo soup made with from freshly slaughtered Batangas beef. The broth is rich with flavors seeped from the beef after boiling for hours. The bones are big, meaning more bone marrow to enjoy. In Santo Tomas, Batangas, there's a row of restaurants along the highway serving bulalo. But the best one stands out further away in nearby Tagaytay city, called Diner Café. [Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 <>]

2) Arroz Caldo: While chicken soup soothes sick Westerners, Filipinos turn to arroz caldo, a thick chicken rice porridge. Cooked with ginger and sometimes garnished with a hard-boiled egg, toasted garlic and green onions, this Filipino food is sold in street-side stalls. <>

3) Kare-kare: This stew of oxtail has the most delicious sauce made from ground toasted rice and crushed peanuts. Banana blossom, eggplants and string beans add more interesting textures, to make it a complete meal on its own. It's eaten with steamed rice and bagoong (shrimp paste). While mom’s kare-kare is always best, the version at Café Juanita is authentic. <>

4) Sinigang: Sinigang is a stew of fish, prawns, pork or beef soured by fruits like tamarind, kamias or tomatoes. Often accompanied by vegetables like kangkong, string beans and taro, this stew is eaten with rice. <>

5) Bicol express: A fitting tribute to people who love coconut and spicy food is bicol express, a fiery chili, pork and coconut milk stew. Try it at the hole-in-the-wall eatery called Top Haus in Makati. <>

Fruits and Vegetables in the Philippines

Fruits are abundant all year. Several kinds of banana are eaten, including red and green varieties. Mangoes, the national fruit, are sweet and juicy. A fruit salad with condensed milk and coconut milk is very popular on special occasions. Vegetables are included as part of a soup or stew. Green beans and potatoes are commonly eaten foods. The leaves of camote, a sweet potato, are used as a salad and soup ingredient. Ube, a bland bright purple potato, is used as a colorful ingredient in cakes and ice cream.[Source: everyculture.com /=/]

Up north in Ilocos, the vegetable dish of okra, eggplant, bitter gourd, squash, tomatoes and bagoong (shrimp or fish paste) called pinakbet is a favorite. And now, this healthy, cheap, and easy to cook dish has made its way around the archipelago. It is cooked in most households and local restaurants. [Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 <>]

The Philippines produces excellent mangos. Mango season is joyous time when it seems like everyone is eating mangoes. Among the locally consumed fruits are lansones, santols, jackfruits, guavas, lychees (red, wiry-skined fruit), rambutans (lychee-like fruit), custard apple (zurzat), bread fruit, passion fruit, jerek (pomelo), star apple, pineapples, oranges, bananas, tangerines, coconuts, papaya, watermelons, cantaloupes and wide variety of local fruits and vegetables.

One Canadian with a Filipina wife posted: Our favourite tropical fruits are: Lanzones, (a white soft white skinned fruit); Santol (large orange fruit with a delightfully sweet meet inside the hard orange shell); Atis (custard apple); Chiku (an oval fruit the size of a large grape); Rambutan (a round plum sized fruit covered in soft red and yellow spikes); and of course Mangos! We grow our own calamansi (a small cherry tomato sized lime) but use them mainly as a fruit juice drink. Papaya is a great breakfast fruit. Bananas and pineapples are excellent, but choose one of the local varieties—the small but fat Latundan, the small and slender Senorita bananas, or the small brown pineapples, almost weather beaten in appearance—they taste so much better than the export varieties. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning+++]

The northern Philippines town of La Trinidad made an 11,146 kilogram strawberry buttercake. La Trinidad bills its itself as the strawberry capital of the Philippines. It has been making giant cakes for a number of years. The Guinness Book of Records said it had no entry for strawberry buttercakes. Organizers of the cake baking event tried to convince the Guinness people to make a new category.

Filipino Desserts and Snacks

Among the snacks available on the streets are mongos (chick pea spread similar to Lebanese humus), lechon manok (barbecued chicken), lumpia (spring rolls made with pork, vegetables and chilies), pangsit (dumplings), mami (noodle soup similar to mee soup in Indonesia or Malaysia), balut (a duck egg with a partially formed embryo inside), empanadas, skewered grilled chicken dipped in garlic vinegar, longanisa sausages, fried pork chips dipped in vinegar and pork and chicken adobo served on banana leaves.

Popular sweets include fritters, cakes and tarts made with palm sugar and coconut milk, bibingka (pancakes made with rice, cassava, eggs and coconut milk cooked in a pan lined with banana leaves), suman (rice, palm sugar and coconut milk steamed with banana leave), halo halo (a popular refresher made with ice cream, crushed ice, coconut milk and crushed fruit), tsampurado (rice and chocolate), san rival (egg whites, cream and coconut) and queso puti (water buffalo cheese). Sticky rice prepared with coconut milk and sugarcane syrup is wrapped in banana leaves. Glutinous rice is grown especially for use in this traditional dessert.

Halo-halo is a popular dessert that consists of layers of various ingredients such as corn kernels, ice cream, small gelatin pieces, cornflakes and shaved ice. “ Halo-halo literally means, "mix-mix". And its is just that: a mixture of sweetened fruits and beans, lavished with pinipig (crisp flattened rice flakes), sugar and milk, topped by crushed ice and ice cream. You know its summertime when halo-halo stand start sprouting by the roadside and by the beach, all whipping up their heavenly concoctions of such a refreshingly divine dessert. You can make your own by selecting and mixing your ingredients to make a perfect Halo-Halo. Halo-Halo is uniquely, unforgettably Filipino!”

Pancit Habhab (Lucban) is a sweet noodle dish made from rice flour. It acquired its name and developed its unique attraction by the way it is eaten. Otherwise known as Pancit Lucban, these noodles are hawked in the streets and served on a piece of banana leaf, sans fork or any other utensils. Thus, it is eaten straight from the leaf, licking permitted... "habhab"-style.

Sorbetes are a popular street dessert that dates back to the early 1920s, a time where a single centavo could buy you almost anything. The process of this ice cream making and selling it in carts with colorful designs is still the same. Back in the old days, these ice cream dealers bred their own cows and milked them with their own hands to ensure the freshness and sanitation of the milk needed to make the "dirty ice cream".

Favorite Filipino Snacks and Street Food

1) Bagnet: While the lechon kawali, the deep fried pork, is a popular Filipino food all over the country, bagnet, from the northern province of Ilocos, is coveted for its irresistible crunchy skin dipped in the sweet-sour vinegar sukang Iloko. Buy it from the markets of Ilocos. [Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 <>]

2) Pancit habhab: Trust Filipino ingenuity to adapt noodles to their lifestyle. In Lucban, Quezon, pancit habhab is served on a banana leaf and slurped. Garnished with carrots, chayote, and a few pieces of meat, this cheap noodle dish is most often eaten by students and jeepney drivers on the go. <>

3) Laing, a dish of taro leaves cooked in rich coconut milk, is an everyday staple in Bicol. Morsels of meat and chili are added to give punch to the Laing. It's eaten with steamed rice. The authentic versions from kitchens in Naga and Albay are most delicious. In Manila, try it at Dencio’s. <>

4) Ilocos empanada: Yes, its name reveals its Spanish origins. But its ingredients are all local. Grated unripe papaya or bean sprouts, egg and loganiza (pork sausage) are stuffed in the empanada and deep fried, accompanied with a spicy vinegar sauce. Get this staple Filipino food from stalls beside the cathedrals in Vigan and Laoag. <>

5) Empanada de kaliskis: The literal translation of these words is scaly pie. A traditional meat pie from Malolos, it is a flaky, croissant-like pastry filled with chicken and deep fried. Best freshly made, get it when in Malolos or from a reputable restaurant such as Adarna Food and Culture. <>

6) Lumpiang ubod: The fruit, leaves and even the pith of the coconut tree is used in Filipino food. The pith makes a sweet and tender filling for the fresh lumpia, our version of the spring roll. A delicate egg wrapper contains a savory filling of ubod (the pith of the coconut tree), shrimps, pork, onions and a garlicky sweet sauce. <>

7) Suman at manga: Sold along the roadside, suman are sticky rice snacks steamed in banana or coconut leaves. There are many versions of suman, depending on the ingredients and leaves used. These Filipino food snacks are often paired with sweet ripe mangoes. They're cheap snacks, which travel well. Buy them from roadside stalls, or enterprising vendors peddling them on buses.

8) Puto bumbong is one of the world's few purple foods. These may look like miniature chimneys along the roadside stalls, but that's what gives the chewy purple snacks their name. Traditionally, purple mountain rice was used to make these, steamed in bamboo tubes, then served with butter, panocha (brown concentrated sugar) and grated coconut. The Via Mare chain has been consistently producing chewy snack for years. <>

Turon: If you thought bananas shouldn't crunch, think again. This fried banana with langka (jackfruit) all sealed in a lumpia wrapper is our version of a sweet spring roll. It is peddled around the cities and towns for the perfect merienda (mid-morning or afternoon snack). <>

Favorite Filipino Desserts

1) Halo-halo: Many people joke that the Philippines has two seasons: hot and hotter. Cool off with some halo-halo. In Manila, Milky Way Café offers the best halo-halo with finely shaved ice and a generous serving of leche flan, gulaman, ube, banana, kaong, beans and garbanzos, milk and a scoop of ube ice cream. [Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 <>]

2) Buco pie is another way to eat the king of coastal fruits. Go loco over coconut. In the province of Laguna, buco pie (young coconut pie) wars are hot. Each claims to be the best. Orient D’ Original may have a tacky name but this pie shop has been a favorite for 45 years. They serve the pie hot, with a delicious filling with generous layers of tender coconut meat. <>

3) Pancit Palabok: When Filipinos have guests, they don't skimp. The pancit palabok served on most birthday parties is oozing with flavor and textures. The noodle dish is layered with rice noodles, a rich orange sauce made from shrimp broth, pork, hard boiled eggs, shrimps, chicharon (pork rinds) and sometimes oysters and squid. Enjoy the rich sauce of Perfect Loaf Bakery and Café. <>

4) Ensaymada at tsokolate: Ensaymada is a handmade cheesebread topped with sugar and cheese, and best served with thick Filipino hot chocolate. Mary Grace cafe serves this unbeatable combination popular for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

5) Pastillas de leche is light, sugary and perfect with a cup of tea. Made from fresh carabao milk and sugar, this sweet confection is stirred until thick and melts in the mouth. Each piece is double wrapped in paper. Traditionally, in the province of Bulacan, they hand cut ornate designs for the wrapper. A consistent source of all things pastillas is Bulacan Sweets with more than 40 years experience in making these sweets. <>

6) Taho is the sweetest mush you'll ever eat. Brown sugar syrup is stirred into warm soybean custard and topped with sago pearls. Traditionally sold by vendors walking the streets calling out to those at home, but can also be sourced from supermarkets and restaurants.

7) Halayang ube: The ube or purple yam is a popular ingredient used for desserts and here it's made into a sweet halayang ube (ube jam). For decades the nuns of the Good Shepherd Convent in Tagaytay have been producing this jam. Their product is smooth and creamy, and helps provide a livelihood to the single mothers who make them. <>

8) Leche flan is a popular dessert among locals -- an egg and milk-based custard capped off with glistening caramelized sugar. <>

Favorite Filipino Breakfasts

1) Tapa is a favorite Filipino breakfast food. A tap-si-log consists of thin slices of dried marinated beef served with fried egg and garlic rice. While it is breakfast fare, it's also a quick, satisfying meal you can eat anytime and available in most places. Making it accessible all the time and even available for deliveries, Tapa King serves it in the classic, sweetish and spicy versions.[Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 <>]

2) Champorado is essentially a bowl of hot, soggy Coco Pops. When the rains start pouring and classes are suspended, children love this comforting breakfast -- a chocolate rice porridge. It's hot, rich and filling. To offset the sweetness it's often served with dried fish. This breakfast of champs can be eaten in roadside carinderias or try the triple chocolate version at Max’s Fried Chicken in various cities. <>

3) Pan De Sal is a simple breakfast for Filipinos on the go. Pan de sal are small oval buns often eaten by Filipinos for breakfast. A brownish crust conceals a soft and fluffy inside. The best pan de sal is baked in an oven using firewood, naturally infusing the wood flavor into the bread. Everyone has their favorite bakery, but Pan de Manila with outlets all over Metro Manila is consistently delicious. <>

4) Longaniza is a sausage often eaten for breakfast. Every province has their version of the pork sausage called longaniza. It varies from sweet to garlicky to spicy. Usually eaten for breakfast with garlic rice, fried egg and a dipping sauce of vinegar.

Lumpia: Hand-Wrapped Filipino Spring Rolls

Feli Orinion is an executive housekeeper for the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher in downtown Washington. She was born and raised in the northern Philippine city of Dagupan and didn't really learn to cook until after she and her husband of two years, Pete, moved to Washington in 1977. She is now is regarded as a master of making lumpia—fried Filipino spring rolls—and even has a blog about them. [Source: Bonnie S. Benwick, Washington Post, December 23, 2009 ^^]

Bonnie S. Benwick wrote in the Washington Post: “Lumpia are the high school musicals of finger food: no easy feat, but a definite crowd pleaser. Skilled hands and much practice bring together great heaps of raw ingredients. The rolls can be put together like fresh spring rolls, but most are filled with a mixture of cooked vegetables and some kind of ground meat, poultry or shrimp, then fried briefly till golden brown. Served with a garlic-vinegar dipping sauce, they tend to disappear in a fraction of the time they took to make -- a bittersweet rush for any cook who produces labor-intensive fare. "I put them out and, poof! Where did they go?," Orinion says. "I think, 'I should have brought more.' My people eat them as a snack, as a main dish, any time of day." ^^

“She reckons that she makes 200 to 300 at a time, either with Pete at her side or with some of her friends in Washington's Filipino community."I've had other kinds of egg rolls and Filipino lumpia. I've never had anything exactly like the ones Feli makes," says one friend. "The filling is different, and hers don't go soggy after an hour." ^^

“Judging from the recipes for lumpia that show up in just about every online link for Philippine cuisine, there's plenty of room for interpretation. Garlic, green beans, carrots, cabbage and onion are common filling ingredients; mushrooms and mung bean sprouts are fairly popular. Ideally, the rolls' exterior should be shatteringly crisp, as TenPenh's chef de cuisine (and Philippines native) Cliff Wharton remembers from his youth. Or like the ones Burnt Lumpia food blogger Marvin Gapultos recently was moved to try after reading Andrea Nguyen's new cookbook, "Asian Dumplings." "I called my blog that just to show that I'm Filipino but that I don't always know what I'm doing" in the kitchen, Gapultos says. Following Nguyen's lead, the 32-year-old Riverside, Calif., marketing writer made some fine lumpia this fall, although their loosely packed filling made dipping difficult. "I've got the technique down now," he says. ^^

“Orinion doesn't claim to make the best lumpia in town. Her rolls are, however, obviously the work of hands with muscle memory: tightly constructed, of similar length and thickness. Arthritis in her fingers and a knee in need of replacement have prompted certain concessions. She does not make the wrappers herself. She buys a super-thin kind of spring roll shell instead (see the accompanying recipe and step-by-step photos) because real lumpia wrappers, whether homemade or store-bought, can tear so easily: "I don't have time for that, once we get going," she says.

Her food processor does most of the chopping. Assembly takes place at the dining room table, sitting in a chair "with pillows at my back," Orinion says. "That way, I can do about 100 in an hour." Using clean foam trays that once held raw chicken, she creates flat packages of the just-rolled lumpia, wrapping each layer in plastic wrap. It keeps them from drying out and readies them for freezer storage.

Making Filipino Pancit

Bonnie S. Benwick wrote in the Washington Post: Orinion is known for her very good rendition of pancit, a noodle dish that also starts with lots of chopping. She says the dish signifies long life, so it is served at every Filipino birthday celebration. [Source: Bonnie S. Benwick, Washington Post, December 23, 2009 ^^]

“Unfortunately, Orinion has found that for pancit, the vegetables must be cut by hand. "I can't do them in the food processor," she says. "They don't turn out right." So Pete, who works in the mailroom of a foreign information office by day and whom she calls Poppy, becomes her sous-chef. He will pick up a Chinese cleaver and, under his wife's close watch, dispatch the carrots, celery, cabbage, onion, green beans, garlic and boneless, skinless chicken breasts into small pieces: "You want them like this, yes, Mommy?" Most of the time, Feli allows, "we cook as two." ^^

“After the vegetables have been prepped and the noodles soaked, the pancit comes together fairly quickly in an enviably well-seasoned wok. Orinion uses two big wooden spoons to keep the mixture moving; it initially appears to be much greater than what the cooking vessel can contain. She does not usually measure how much sesame oil or soy sauce or chicken broth goes in, and yet her pancit turns out light and never sodden. She checks the consistency of the vegetables, which must achieve an equal degree of doneness, "never anything that's crunchier or harder than anything else." ^^

“Keeping track of ingredient amounts and stove top temperatures, as Orinion obligingly did for this article, slows down her kitchen duty considerably. "My daughter said it was going to be interesting," she says with a beaming smile that connects her apple-y cheeks. "I never measure anything." ^^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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