What do bagoong, tinapa flakes, dried mangoes, and nata de coco have in common? They all use food preservation techniques that figure heavily in Filipino cuisine. You’ll find that many beloved Filipino dishes involve at least one of these methods: marination, fermentation, smoking, and dehydration.
For example, the pre-refrigeration era called for locals to find ways to preserve meat – hence adobo’s vinegar-infused marination process, writes historian Ambeth Ocampo in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The abundance of produce also made it logical to dry and pickle fruits and vegetables to stretch their use and avoid food waste.
Do you want to know more about how food preservation stars in Filipino cuisine? Read about the most common techniques and how to use them in your cooking.
Examples of Food Preservation in Filipino Cuisine
Food preservation methods help prevent food from spoiling. In Filipino cuisine, the sweet, salty, and sour flavors that these techniques emphasize have become flavors characteristic of the country’s most popular and well-loved dishes.
Dehydration is one way to maximize the country’s tropical produce. Slice mangoes, guyabano, pineapple, and other tropical fruit into thin strips. Soak them in sugar water before drying. You can sun-dry, air-dry, or use a dehydrator. The result? Sticky, candy-like fruit strips you can snack on!
Drying or smoking
Nearly every Philippine region boasts of a dried or smoked delicacy. The most popular dried-fish dishes in the Philippines are tuyo (dried herring), daing (often dried bangus or galunggong), and danggit (dried rabbitfish). The fish is heavily salted, then air-dried or sun-dried to draw out moisture and preserve the meat. Bigger fish varieties are often butterflied.
There are many ways to smoke food. Tinapa is fish (typically bangus or blackfin scad) that is air-dried, brined, cured, and then smoked over charcoal for extra flavor. Meanwhile, etag is cured, smoked pork from the Cordilleras. The process entails weeks or even months of curing, air-drying, and smoking to get the final product.
Pickling happens when you immerse food in brine or vinegar. Burong mangga (pickled green mangoes) pairs well with fried food; its sweet-salty flavor gives a touch of brightness to heavier dishes. Add chilies, peppercorns, and carrot sticks to your brine for extra flavor.
Atchara is a vinegar-based pickle made of green papaya, carrot, bell pepper, chilies, and aromatics like peppercorns and ginger. You can find it alongside breakfast staples, like beef tapa, longganisa, and pork tocino – all of which use other food preservation techniques.
Bagoong (shrimp or fish paste) is a condiment that undergoes an intense salt fermentation process. Tiny fish, shrimp, or krill are mixed with salt and placed in large earthen or stoneware jars called tapayan. The ingredients become a thick, funky, flavor-packed paste after weeks in the container. Enjoy it with kare-kare, green mangoes, or binagoongan.
Recipe Ideas to Highlight Filipino Food Preservation Methods
From adobo to kinilaw, you can see these food preservation methods applied in many Filipino dishes. Here’s how you can use them to add flavor to your meals.
Arroz caldo with tinapa flakes
Add hot water then enjoy Knorr Hot Meals Instant Arroz Caldo in three minutes. It provides a delicious canvas for customization: add leftover chicken and top it with tinapa flakes to give it extra oomph and texture.
Binagoongan is a dish that puts together bagoong with the main ingredient (usually pork, chicken, or vegetables). These recipes are easy – grab a spoonful of your favorite shrimp paste, add to the pot, and simmer away.
In the good old days, beef tapa was a regimen of curing beef with salt and letting it sit under the sun to release all the moisture and preserve the meat. Today, beef tapa often gets its salty punch from flavor-packed marinades and salt cures, skipping the more tedious process of air-drying.
Food preservation will always be part and parcel of Filipino cooking. Take pride in these local creations and make the most of their benefits in your everyday cooking.