The New Filipino Kitchen is a charming collection of stories and recipes from Filipino chefs and cooks around the world. Its editor Jacqueline Chio-Lauri told us what lay behind its creation.

What inspired the creation of an anthology of personal stories rather than just a cookbook?

“Philippine culture is very much entwined with food... A common way of greeting people we care about in the Philippines is asking ‘Kumain ka na?’, which means ‘Have you eaten?’. It’s almost interchangeable with ‘How are you?’.

“The book has a lot more stories than you would normally find in a traditional cookbook... To understand a cuisine, especially a very complex and diverse one like Filipino food, we need to get to know the culture and the people who make it.

“I thought storytelling would be an effective approach in connecting people to our relatively little-known and sometimes misunderstood cuisine.

“To define [Filipino food] is like forcing a one-word translation to an untranslatable foreign word.

“To understand it, we need to put it into context [and then] to try it, prepare it, smell it and taste it. That’s what the book wants to give readers, not a restricting definition, but a multi-sensory experience.”

What can we learn about Philippine cuisine?

“First, it’s an evolving cuisine. It’s what’s referred to as ‘original fusion’ because history has organically morphed it into what it is today.

“Philippine cuisine is a melding of the cooking of indigenous inhabitants of the archipelago with that of foreign settlers, traders and colonisers over the centuries.

“And as 10% of the country’s population left the nation to work or emigrate to other countries, the cuisine continues to evolve to meet the needs and circumstances of Filipinos in our new home countries.

“Second, it’s multi-faceted. Filipino dishes, just like many other cuisines, are suitable to be presented in various forms.

“From what we call, ‘turo-turo’ (translated literally as ‘point-point’) version, which refers to food served at street-side joints, to haute cuisine and everything in between...

“Third, Filipino food packs a punch of flavours. Savoury, sour, sweet, sometimes spicy and bitter, and most of the time umami, too, in every mouthful.

“And if the flavours are not bold enough for your palate, there’s always a fall-back — the sawsawans (dipping sauces and relishes), which are one of the cuisine’s hallmarks.

“It is said that a cuisine can be distinguished by the acid it uses. In the Philippines, usually it’s cane or coconut vinegar, and fruits such as calamansi (Philippine lime), guavas, kamias (bilimbi), and tamarind.

“Another distinguishing mark of the cuisine is rice. Steamed white rice is usually the accompaniment of dishes (we call ‘ulam’), the default canvass that help balance the bold tastes of dishes eaten with it.”

What was your favourite traditional food when growing up and why?

“Torta, a stovetop Filipino frittata. My grandmother’s version is packed with protein (shrimps, minced meat, eggs) and vitamins and minerals (veggies such as tomatoes, celery, carrot, bell pepper).

“I remember how my lola (grandmother) served it on the table — gloriously golden and round as a halo... It’s savoury with a hint of sweetness, springy against the coarseness of its stuffing.

“I guess I liked it because of its child-friendly taste. My lola prepared it with the tomalley-flavour she extracted from pounding the heads of raw shrimps.

“It’s a dish that means a lot to me. To this day, I can’t prepare or eat torta without thinking of my lola, who raised me.”

How has the rest of the world influenced Filipino food?

“A wave of pre-colonial settlers from neighbouring countries, such as Indonesians and Malays, influenced the cuisine.

“We share the same tradition of eating with hands and on banana leaves, and the use of coconut milk in cooking, among others.

“Another great influencer were the Chinese that travelled to the archipelago as merchants, traders, and immigrants.

“Two of the big contributions of the Chinese to Philippine cooking were soya sauce, and noodles called pansit.

“The Spanish, which occupied the Philippines for over three centuries, introduced... sautéing and new ingredients such as tomato.

“Kare-kare, a popular Filipino stew with peanut sauce, is attributed by some historians to have originated from Indian sepoys who came to the country during the brief British occupation of Manila between 1762-1764.

“It was believed that kare-kare was their way of indigenising curry.

“The Americans, another long-time coloniser, instilled a love for food like fried chicken and processed meat such as Spam.

“The Japanese, who occupied us during WWII, introduced us to ingredients such as vetsin (MSG) and miso.

“Filipino aristocrats who lived and travelled in Europe, especially in Paris in the late 19th or early 20th century, brought French cuisine back home.

“An example of this is how the cuisine has localised meringue-based desserts such as sans rival and sylvana.”

What role do you think good nutrition plays in Filipino cooking?

“Personally, it plays a big role... My grandmother prepared most of our family’s meals. She was a home economics teacher and often lectured us about nutrition and eating right.

“Though on a shoe-string budget, she always bought the best and freshest ingredients and made sure that we ate a balanced diet, a term she often used.

“Side dishes of veggies and fruits were always on the table. [As with] most children, vegetable dishes were not my favourites, so she found ways of including veggies in our diet in ways that we enjoyed.

“Many Filipino dishes have protein and veggies as main ingredients, such as sinigang, a sour and savoury soup; pinakbet, a mixed vegetable stew often flavoured with shrimp paste and pork; and pansit, a stir-fried rice noodle dish with veggies and shrimp, pork, chicken and/or beef.”

What would be your go-to easy supper?

“One of the following: adobo, which is protein (or also veggies) marinated and braised in vinegar and soya sauce, afritada, which my husband refers to as a Filipino version of the Italian chicken cacciatore, seafood sinigang or stewed mung beans.”

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