The Love We Have for Filipino Comfort Food
Fiestas are a time for Filipinos to come together and celebrate, and they always involve eating different foods. But even when it’s not fiesta time, Pinoys spend a lot of time wondering where to eat, and they often consider their feelings when it comes to food. Not convinced? Here is a list of Filipino moods and foods to help you understand.
Masaya / Happy
Filipinos have been referred to as the happiest people in the world, and it’s no surprise. Even in the worst circumstances, they have the energy to smile from ear to ear. And when it’s time to celebrate, they go all out and enjoy colorful and sweet food!
Halo-halo is arguably the most popular Filipino dessert. A combination of boiled sweet beans, gelatin, fruits, milk, and ice, it’s the most indulgent way to beat the summer heat. For extra treat, it can be topped off with ube ice cream, leche flan (which they’ll discuss later), and pinipig.
A more humble dessert is sapin-sapin, a rich and filling cake made from glutinous rice and coconut milk. The cake is made up of different layers, each a different color and flavor, all topped off with toasted coconut shavings. No fiesta is complete without it!
Antok / Sleepy
Many Filipinos are early risers not because it’s their nature necessarily, but because they have to in order to comfortably earn a living. Some do it to avoid heavy traffic, while others do it to avoid the late morning heat. When you rise before the sun does, you naturally feel sleepy and need something to wake you up.
Among the most common breakfast items for Pinoys is taho. Mix soft tofu with some syrup and tapioca pearls, and that’s basically it. The common version is served with ordinary sugar syrup, but if you’re lucky enough to be in Baguio, don’t miss the chance to try out the strawberry taho!
Another common Filipino breakfast meal is tapsilog, which is beef jerky served with fried egg and garlic fried rice. The dish has a smell that’s sure to perk anyone up in the morning. With more restaurants in various food hubs offering all-day breakfasts, even those on unusual schedules can enjoy this.
Galit / Angry
Filipino men are known for their inuman or drinking sessions, where they hang out with their buddies and just let loose. More often than not, these gatherings are their chance to let off steam, and a good complement to the alcohol they drink and their curse-filled rants is the pulutan they eat.
Sisig, a dish from Pampanga, traditionally consists of different parts of a pig’s face and chicken liver grilled with soy sauce, garlic, and chili, with calamansi on the side to cut through the grease. Many gastropubs offer the traditional sisig in different modified versions, and its spicy-savory flavor is widely seen as the perfect partner to an ice-cold beer.
If you want less grease in your pulutan, sinuglaw is the viand for you. A mixture of grilled pork belly, onions, cucumber, and chili, all drenched in vinegar, this Davao dish has made its way northward to other parts of the Philippines. More health-conscious individuals can even opt for tuna sinuglaw.
Hindi Mapakali / Restless
There are many cases when Pinoys become restless. Perhaps they’re anxious over a problem at work or they’re excited about a happy upcoming event. Whatever the reason, the thing to do in that case is to munch on something crunchy.
Chicharon, or pork cracklings, is made just for this purpose. Made from different cuts of pork that are deep-fried, it’s a sinful snack that Pinoys automatically associate with crunchiness. It’s usually very salty, so some people dip it in vinegar.
Looking for more than a snack to satisfy your cravings? Bagnet is a great option. It’s a crispy dish from Ilocos, a province in northern Philippines. It’s basically pork that’s fried multiple times, giving it a distinctive crunch. Some restaurants give bagnet a different spin by incorporating it into other Filipino dishes, like dinuguan (pork blood stew) or kare-kare (peanut sauce stew). You should be able to find this in many food hubs around Metro Manila, such as BF Homes in Parañaque.
Umiibig / In Love
Filipinos fall in love deeply and sweetly. They’re so passionate about love that they feel kilig or romantic excitement even over courtships that don’t involve them personally. And when two Pinoys become a couple, of course they must share sweets!
There’s a Filipino saying about love: “Ang pag-ibig, parang leche flan. Minsan sweet, minsan leche. (Love is like leche flan. Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes it’s just annoying).” Whether or not you agree, you’re sure to love this dessert. A kind of firm custard topped with sugar syrup (which could be bittersweet, depending on how the brown sugar is melted), it’s a mainstay in many Filipino restaurants.
A more humble dessert is the saba con yelo, which is just boiled plantain served with sugar, ice, and milk. For variety, the plantain can be sliced, or other ingredients like tapioca pearls can be added. Not all food establishments offer this dessert, but it’s a great way for a Filipino couple to cool down on a hot afternoon (or make up after a heated argument).
Malungkot / Sad
Even the happiest Pinoys can still feel sad or melancholic. Whether they’re just having a bad day, have had their hearts broken or are in mourning, they all turn to comfort food.
Bulalo, a beef stew, is one popular example. The hot broth served with string beans and cabbage (corn is an optional add-in) is just the thing to warm you up on cold and gloomy days. Bulalo is great for those doing a bit of soul-searching in a cold place like Tagaytay or Baguio, though foodies on a hunt can find it even in urban food districts like Kapitolyo in Pasig, where you can find a bulaluhan called Bullchef.
Another option is arroz caldo, a rice porridge cooked with chicken meat. The most basic arroz caldo just includes water, rice, chicken, chicken stock, fish sauce, garlic, and pepper. But for a richer experience, a boiled egg and some lemon or calamansi can be included. Whether you prefer to eat at your house or in your condo or go outside to eat, it’s a simple, satisfying dish to eat at the end of a draining day.
Nangungulila sa bayan / Homesick
A common Pinoy life story is that of a young man or lady who had to leave home in search of better opportunities. That move could be from the province to the big city or from the Philippines to another country, but it’s always the same: sooner or later, they miss home so much that even ordinary food becomes special in their mind.
Many Philippine provinces have buko pie. Traveling from the city to a province or vice-versa, it’s practically impossible to avoid roadside stalls selling this coconut meat-filled treat. While not all buko pies are created equal, the best ones will turn your merienda experience into a trip to heaven and back.
Bibingka is another Filipino favorite. It’s a simple rice cake that’s cooked in banana leaves and topped with coconut shavings; the more special varieties include cheese on top. It’s typically popular during the Christmas season. Ferino’s Bibingka is the definitive bibingka seller, making and serving their special bibingka for both local and US-based Filipinos.
The Pinoy palate is characterized by a love for extreme flavors, maybe it reflects the fact that when they feel an emotion, they feel it intensely. The Filipinos’ deep connection to feelings—whether it’s pain, sadness, love or joy—is the recipe hidden in Filipino comfort food.