Filipino cuisine likely has its roots in Malaysia, but after centuries of colonial rule and foreign trade, it has evolved into something uniquely Filipino with a mélange of Spanish, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, and American influences. In fact, the Philippines’ colonial history can be interpreted through its food. Spanish food—the closest thing to “court cuisine” in the Philippines—is served to this day on special occasions such as weddings or Christmas. Traditional Filipino food is everyday fare, the comfort food of hometowns and childhood, and is eaten mostly at home. Chinese and American food are both popular and ubiquitous, found in local restaurants and fast food outlets. In Manila, there are sophisticated restaurants that cater to all palates, including Asian, European, and Middle Eastern flavors.
The halo-halo, literally meaning “mixed”, is a classic dessert of ice, condensed milk, fruit, and assorted sweets. With its colorful appearance, mix of ingredients, and perfect fit for the tropical climate, it’s a good example of the diverse and simple nature of Filipino cuisine.
Each region or province has its own array of specialties, usually sourced from available produce and livestock in the area. Typical flavors include sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. Northern Ilocano cuisine favors bitter flavors, while food from Bicol (in southern Luzon) features coconuts and chilis. Each province has its own version of sinigang, a sour soup perfect for cooling the body in the tropical heat, or adobo, a popular dishcooked with garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce. Vinegar is widely used in Filipino cuisine as a preservative and flavor enhancer. Rice and coconuts are staples throughout, while seafood, pork, exotic tropical fruit and vegetables are also popular.