Turo-Turo Philippine Cafe
What is Filipino Food?

It's a question that gets asked.

Especially when people hear about a place like Turo-Turo Philippine Cafe.
Most people tend to assume that Filipino food is something like Thai, or Malaysian - with an expecatation that it's spicy-hot. Those with a little background might assume a more Spanish influence.
Lechon pork head
After all, Indian food has its flagship dishes - perhaps butter chicken or vindaloo. Italian food - pasta, pizza, risotto. Thai food - pad thai, or green curry.

So what would represent Filipino cooking in a few succinct words?

Probably, "it's complicated."

While it is fair to say there are Spanish influences, there are also Chinese, Malay, and even American components to modern Filipino cuisine - in addition to diverse regional cooking styles.

And let's not forget the Philippines' ancient connection to Pacific Island migrations.

Something as classically Spanish as adobo is eaten alongside Chinese-style chop suey, or spring rolls (lumpiang shanghai.) Malaysian style ingredients appear in Filipino dishes like ginataang manok - chicken cooked in coconut milk with red chilli.

Perhaps if there is one Filipino essential ...

... besides rice, that is, (English has one word for rice ... Filipino has seven) - it's pork.

From sisig - chopped pork with onions and chilli - to lechon baboy (a whole spit-roasted pig, essential at big gatherings) - pork is much loved.

It appears in noodle dishes (pancit, bihon) and soups (lapaz batchoy includes pork meat, pork liver, and chicharon - a form of crackling.)  Pork also appears in entrees (the amazing tokwa't baboy; pork and deep fried tofu with onions, soy sauce and vinegar.)

Tokwa't BaboyThe popular crispy pata is pork hock, cooked so that the meat is succulent and tender and the crackling is crisp. Add sawsawin (dipping sauce) and rice and eat it with your fingers, and you’re immersed in Filipino fare.

Only in the far south of the Philippines, where Islam is the dominant faith, is pork less commonly eaten.

Chicken and beef feature in plenty of Filipino cooking

... and fish – ocean fish as well as freshwater fish such as tilapia and bangus. Lamb is not popular, and rare in Filipino fare, although goat's meat features in a number of dishes.

While vegetables feature in many recipes, from vegetable-rich soups like tinola or sinigang, to the classic pork-and-vegetable dish pinakbet, there is a strong preference for cooking them: salads and other raw vegetable dishes are not common, and a Filipino eatery like Turo-Turo seldom sells a salad.

Likewise, there is an expectation that meat is well-cooked. The European taste for rare-cooked beef, for example, is not traditionally shared by Filipinos.

Eating longsilog
There are so many ways to define Filipino food

... and so many different flavours and variants, that finding a defining dish is next to impossible. But one guaranteed to take the eater back to the streets of Manila or the copra-scented provinces is a ‘silog.

There are many, many different ‘silogs – tapsilog, tocilog, bangsilog, hotsilog, longsilog, the list goes on – but central to all of them is meat, sinagag (garlic fried rice) and a fried egg (itlog.) The smell of freshly fried garlic rice symbolises breakfast all over the Philippines.

So what to expect?

The common lesson from first-timers coming to Turo-Turo to try Filipino food is ... don't bring any expectations. It's generally not spicy-hot, it's generally not high in complex flavours or ingredients, and Filipinos don't eat with chopsticks. They use a spoon and fork. 

Kain tayo!  (Let's eat!)

*thanks to Kiwi-Filipina model Krystle

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Turo-Turo Philippine Cafe  26a Mayfair Place Glen Innes Auckland 1072 New Zealand (64) 9 528 6050
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