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Unique Philippine Foods and the World Market (Part 1 of 2)

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Most Filipinos take for granted the diversity and distinctness of native foods primarily because, in the Philippines, diversity is inherent. With 7,100 islands covering almost all tropical terra types, one can’t expect anything less.

Filipino foods are rich in both cultural traditions and innovation. While its roots are mainly influenced by the diversity of ingredients found naturally in the Philippines, it is also influenced by Malay, Chinese, Spanish, Arab, and American cuisines. And it is marked by creativity.

Over the course of centuries, Filipinos have added Western and Eastern cooking techniques to these many cuisines and created dishes that are uniquely Filipino. These innovations are brought about by the country’s rich diversity in natural resources and by the Filipinos’ deeply rooted love for eating and for enjoying good food. Filipinos take two snack breaks (called merienda) on top of three regular daily meals.

Like its people, Filipino foods are filled with color, flair, and even humor. Only in the Philippines can you find Soup Number 5, which is made from bovine testicles and considered an aphrodisiac. Other humorously named dishes are Adidas (grilled chicken feet named after the popular sports shoe brand) and IUD (grilled chicken intestines named after the contraceptive device).

It’s interesting to note that while most of the foreign demand for Filipino food comes from Filipino immigrants or overseas workers, there is also the emerging market comprising non-Filipinos. We were quite surprised to find a large demand for danggit (a type of dried fish) in Northern Europe and also a large demand for dried fruit from the US West Coast.

World Meets Pinoy Food

It’s amazing how some Filipino dishes, such as Adobo (braised chicken, pork, beef, or fish cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, and spices) has gained a following in other countries. The Pinoy Adobo has even appeared in popular culinary magazines like the June 1991 and December 2002 issues of Gourmet Magazine, and the February 2006 issue of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Magazine.

Other Filipino dishes, on the other hand, are usually met with raised eyebrows or even repulsion. One example is Dinuguan (stew thickened with animal blood), which consistently appears on “most gross” food lists on the Internet. This is quite unfair considering there are many blood-based stews around the world, such as the Polish Czernina, the Korean Haejangguk, and the Singaporean Pig’s Organ Soup.

Another example of Pinoy food with a not-so-pleasant image is Balut. Balut is fertilized duck egg that has been allowed to develop for 19 days. This means the duck embryo is already visible. Once boiled, Balut tastes similar to a regular boiled egg, albeit with a irony or livery flavor. It is a popular snack and is mainly sold by street vendors. Considered somewhat of an aphrodisiac, it is commonly believed to be a source of physical strength.

Balut continues to promote the uniqueness of Filipino cuisine in the international scene. Although other Asian countries have similar delicacies, Balut is almost exclusively associated with Filipinos and is considered by many around the world as the ultimate exotic food. And it has a very strong multi-media presence, appearing on MTV, The Amazing Race Asia, The Travel Channel, Survivor, Fear Factor, numerous YouTube clips, as well as on Internet blogs and fora.

So popular is Balut that it’s now a part of the English language, the plural form being “baluts.” The word appears in the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s (CFSAN) 2005 edition of the Food Code, on which the food industry bases its food safety operations. Balut is now considered a unique category, distinct from Eggs, and has its own set of quality and safety standards.

In our next column, we’ll give you a taste of unique Filipino foods that are gaining a following around the world.

Read: Unique Philippine Foods and the World Market part II

print ed: 06/08


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