Why isn't Filipino food spicy

The cuisine of the Philippines

Filipino cuisine is a mixture of exotic and familiar elements. Just as the Filipinos themselves are a mixture of Malay, Chinese and Spanish roots, so is Filipino cuisine. And more recently, other cuisines have also influenced Filipino cuisine. These influences come from America, from the Japanese and also from Germany.

About 20,000 years ago, the Ice Age lowered the sea level to such an extent that land bridges were created between the various islands, which made settlement possible in the first place. The Malay were the first to settle in the Philippine Islands. The Malay influence on Filipino cuisine can be seen in some of the original recipes such as kare-kare (a meat and vegetable stew in a peanut sauce), pinakbet (another meat and vegetable stew that is seasoned with shrimp paste) and dinuguan (a stew from Pig's blood, which is spicy with chilli).
Here is an overview map.

Foreign influences

From around 300 AD Chinese traders sailed for the first time in the South China Sea and from around the year 1000 sea trade had taken a firm place and the Chinese had established ports and colonies. By 1400 the Chinese had also explored the Filipino inland and were slowly becoming part of Filipino culture themselves. Today the Filipinos call themselves or Pinoys with Chinese roots themselves Chinoy. The Chinese contribution to Filipino cuisine is primarily associated with the noodle dishes, such as Pancit, the steamed dumplings Siomai and the pancakes Lumpiaeaten both fresh and fried.

Ferdinand Magellan's expedition in 1521 marked the beginning of a period of Spanish influence and dominance for the next more than 300 years. Magellan owned the islands in the name of Spain and the then Spanish King Philip then named them the Philippines. Also in the 16th century, Pope Alexander VI divided the then known world between the two then leading colonial powers Spain and Portugal in order to suppress the armed conflicts between the two. He drew a vertical line in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (Treaty of Tordesillas): Everything east of the line should belong to Portugal and everything west of it should belong to the Spanish.

The line of Portuguese influence went from the easternmost tip of South America - what is now part of Brazil via Africa to East Asia. Spain's influence should extend from the western part of South America, North and Central America to most of the countries that bordered the Pacific including the Philippines. Historians say that while Spain got more of the countries known at the time, Portugal got control of the main trade routes and centers that were established at the time. This division of the world explains why Brazilians speak Portuguese today while the rest of South America speaks Spanish. Although the Philippines is part of Asia, many Filipino languages ​​and dialects are peppered with Spanish loanwords and phrases.

The Spanish influence on Filipino cuisine dominates. It is said that around 80% of all Filipino dishes are originally of Spanish origin. The Spanish introduced the tomato and garlic into the kitchen, and they also brought in the frying of the two ingredients with onions in olive oil.

Another essential addition to Filipino cuisine by the Spanish are the many baked desserts and other baked goods, including this Pan de Sal (a crispy bun) den Flan (an egg pudding), Ensaymada (Cheese rolls) and many, many other delicious dishes. Most were derived directly from the Spanish recipes, but adapted to Filipino tastes and the ingredients available.

Ever since the Spaniards had to sail west to get their Pacific possessions, the Philippines have been administered from Mexico for more than 200 years. The Manila galleons plowed the waters between Acapulco and Manila, heavily laden with goods and treasures from Asia and Europe. Hence, Filipino cuisine also has a strong Mexican influence, as demonstrated by the use of bay leaves and annatto seeds. Such dishes as Adobo (braised pork and / or chicken in vinegar and soy sauce) and Menudo (a pork and liver stew) which are well known in both countries and have no doubt their roots in Spain. The annatto seeds also called Atsuete or achote is a natural coloring agent that gives dishes an intense orange to red shade. Both Mexicans and Filippinos use it extensively and Americans use it to color preserved meat and sausages.

From 1890 the Spanish-American War flared up and the former Spanish colonies, including the Philippines, became US territory. With the Americans, for example, potatoes or noodle salads, baked fruit pies and, lately, fast food such as hamburgers, french fries or pizzas have found their way.

The influence of the Americans became strongest after the Second World War, especially through the massive importation of canned food. One of the results is the Filipino fruit salad, which actually consists of a canned American fruit cocktail mixed with local, preserved sweet fruits such as buko (young coconut), kaong (Palm nuts) and pieces of langka(Jackfruit), which give the whole thing a Filipino taste and consistency.

Canned beef is another staple product that can now be found in most Filipino pantries. In the United States, this meat is mostly mixed with potato cubes. In the Philippines, it is steamed with onions and garlic and eaten with rice.

But the most important contribution that Americans make to Filipino culture is the English language. It's not uncommon for a Filippino to speak in a native dialect like Tagalog and suddenly sprinkle in English words or phrases. Official government announcements are also distributed in English so that one can break through the barriers of the many indigenous dialects.

The most recent influences on Filipino cuisines come from Japan and Germany. The Philippines are an attractive travel destination for tourists from Japan and Germany (divers!) And many Filipinos go to these countries as contract workers, for work or for other reasons. Through this exchange there is also an exchange of cooking techniques. Japanese restaurants are not uncommon in the big cities of the Philippines and there are also many sushi bars, tempura restaurants and fast food shops for rice or noodle soups. Many hotel restaurants have included traditional German dishes in their offerings. Many Filippinos have found that in both cultures the use of or seasoning with vinegar, pepper and salt is normal. While in Germany the preservation with vinegar, salt and other spices was mainly used for storage in winter, the Filippinos use the same ingredients for preservation from the tropical heat. So you can find a similar preparation as for sauerkraut in the Filipino Atsara, which consists of crushed green papaya that has been preserved with vinegar and is eaten as a side dish or in soups and stews.

Originally, one of the main reasons Europeans came to the Orient was to get spices. Nowadays the circle has come full circle, so to speak, when European dishes with these same spices find their way back into the cuisine of the countries of origin. In the age of globalization, this cultural exchange will deepen even further and in the further development the good influences will be assimilated and of course adapted to the Filipino taste.

Regional influences

Not only the outside influences have helped the Filipino cuisine, but also the geographical and cultural diversity within the Philippines itself. There are 6 main regions of the different cuisines in the Philippines:

  1. Northern Luzon

    The coastal and mountainous region around the northern tip of the island of Luzon is rough and so is life. The people are usually very frugal and lead a simple life, a trait that is also reflected in their cooking habits. This region is mainly inhabited by the Ilocanos and Pangasinans, but also some ethnic minorities such as the Ifugaos, Bontocs, Ibanags and Kakingas have their home there.
    The Ilocanos love their vegetables, which are steamed or cooked and with bagoong - a fermented paste made from fish or shrimp is seasoned. And to give the vegetables an extra taste, pork or cooked fish is added. Typical dishes of the Ilocano are Pinakbet, Dinengdeng or Inabraw.   
    A vegetable that is very popular in northern Luzon is saluyot or okra leaves. Saluyot is not related to the okra pod and looks like spinach when cooked, but has a similar slimy texture to the okra pod. The Japanese have started saluyot import it in the form of powder and use it as a health tea.
    The Pangasinans are known as fish farmers, which means predominantly the Bangus is meant. The Bangus or milk fish has a firm, white flesh that thrives very well in brackish water. In this area of ​​northern Luzon and along the central plains of Luzon, the Bangus Bred in a system of specially reserved, medieval fish ponds. Here the young fish grow to maturity under the professional supervision and care of the fish farmers and are then fished.
    Also the Gobi (Mudfish), the hito (catfish), carp and perch have recently been bred in such an aquaculture system. But instead of setting up extra fish ponds for breeding, you simply use the rice fields at the times when they are filled with water.
    The use of local vegetables such as saluyot together with the local fish specialties, the self-produced chicken and partly also pork, together with the bagoong, give the dishes of Northern Luzon their own identity.
  1. Central grasslands of Luzon

    In the central part of Luzon, including the areas around the capital Manila, the combination of a rich, solid diet and the influences of foreign immigrants, especially the Spanish and Chinese, has developed the most developed cuisine in the Philippines. For example, be at the court Rellenong Manok (Stuffed Chicken) removed the bones of the chicken from the inside, leaving an intact shell. The skin is then filled in such a way that a sausage is stuck in the very center, usually a Chorizo ​​de Bilbao, which is then covered with a layer of carrots, celery and eggs, followed by a layer of mixed chicken, minced pork, raisins, pepper and other spices . This is put back into the chicken skin, everything is sewn up, even steamed and then baked until golden brown. It is served with a spicy, hot red sauce and tastes sweet and spicy at the same time and not only tastes very differentiated but is also a culinary highlight in terms of appearance and smell. Other specialties in this part of the country are Morcon (stuffed beef rolls), and Embutido (stuffed pork sausages). They are all very nutritious and are always served with interesting sauces.
  2. Southern Tagalog

    In this area, just south of Manila, people speak the main Philippine dialect, Tagalog. This region is remarkable for the varied contrasts in the individual meals. The Tagalogs prefer to season their starters very sour, for example with vinegar and fruits such as Kamias, Tamarind or overripe guavas, which give dishes a very sour taste. An example of this is Sinigang, a dish in which fish, seafood, vegetables and / or meat are cooked in a broth that is very sour from tamarind and other sour fruits.
    Another common method of preparation is to marinate freshwater fish caught in the many streams and rivers in vinegar that has been seasoned with crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Then the fish is fried or boiled and served with a dip sasawwhich also contains a lot of vinegar, garlic and salt. The type of preparation is inihaw called.
    To soften the sour taste on the palate, sweet fruits such as bananas and melons are served with sour side dishes. And at the end of the meal, local cakes and other delicacies will be like Espasol, Suman and Babingka made from sticky rice and coconut, which is the main source in the Philippines for South Tagalog.

  3. Bicol

    The Bicol region is the southernmost tip of the island of Luzon. The Bicolanos are best known for the extensive use of coconut and hot chili peppers. One example is the popular dish Laing, which consists of meat or prawns and vegetables that come with bagoong and hot chilli are flavored in gabi- or taro leaves are wrapped and then cooked in coconut milk until the coconut milk has thickened into a thick, tangy and hot sauce.

  4. Visayas

    The Visayas is made up of many islands that make up the central region of the Philippines along with the eastern parts of Mindanao Island. The two main dialects spoken here are Hiligaynon and Cebuano. The dishes of the Visayas are mainly characterized by the fact that a lot of dried, salted fish is used, the fermented fish or shrimp paste used here guinamos has a completely different taste and the area is also the main producer of sugar.
    The islands of Visaya are surrounded by the waters of the Sibuyan, Visayan, Sulu, Mindanao and China Seas, as well as the Pacific Ocean. Saltwater fish are abundant here. Fish and seafood that cannot be eaten immediately are soaked in saline and then dried in the sun. There are a variety of such different salted and dried specialties on the Visayas: daing (Collective term for small, native fish), tuyo (Sardines), push (Squid) and hipon (Shrimp). Due to the heavy use of such ingredients, Visaya's cuisine tends to be relatively salty.
    Visayan's cuisine is simple. The fish is either grilled over charcoal or cooked in a well-seasoned vinegar sauce. This method is called pinamarhan. It is similar to the Tagalog dish spaksiw na isda, in which the fish is cooked in vinegar together with a lot of pepper and vegetables to form a rich, sour broth. The pinarmahan on Visayan differs from the Tagalog paksiw in that the dish cooks until the liquid has completely evaporated and the taste of the vinegar and the throwns has penetrated deep into the fish meat.
    The residents of Visayan also like to eat the fish “raw”, as in the dish kinilaw. In contrast to some Japanese dishes such as sushis and sashimi, the fish is marinated in a mixture of vinegar, garlic, onions and salt. Sometimes slices of tomatoes and unripe mangoes are added for extra flavor and texture.
    As already mentioned, the use of guinamos another distinctive feature of Visayan's cuisine. This paste is different from other fermented shrimp or fish pastes that are used in the rest of the Philippines bagoong are known. Baggong is made by fermenting the fish or shrimp with salt and then boiling them until a salty sauce floats on top. This sauce is skimmed off and sold as patis or fish sauce. What settles down on the ground is bagoong. At guinamos If the fish or shrimp are fermented and then mixed with a lot of salt to make a paste, no sauce is made. The taste and smell is much stronger than that of the bagoongs.
    Since the Visayas is the main producer of sugar in the Philippines, this region is known for its original Filipino sweets such as pinasugbu (sweetened pineapple), turrones (Candies with nuts), banana chips and traditional cakes and pastries, all of Spanish origin but adapted to the tastes of the Filipinos.

  5. Mindanao

    When we talk about Mindanao in this context, we mean the western part of Mindanao Island, which is closest to Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia. It is precisely this neighborhood that sets the region apart from the rest of the Philippines. A number of peoples live in this area: the Maranao live on the shores of Lake Lanao, the Maguinado live in the rest of the Cotabato Province; the Tausags, the Badjaos and other groups of fishermen who live in the Sulu Sea area. Although these ethnic groups differ from one another, they also have one thing in common when it comes to cooking habits - Islam.
    The Philippines is the only Asian country where Christianity is predominant; mostly they are Catholics. The only exception is western Mindanao. Since Islam forbids the consumption of pork, which is eaten with delight in the rest of the country, the people there have to make do with the cattle and fish that live in these areas.
    The chefs in Mindanao have copied the use of hot chili peppers and a variety of spices for the production of curries in the cuisine of Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as in the dishes Tiola Sapi, a spicy cooked beef, Piarun, a fish starter that is heavily prepared with hot chiles and Lapua, blanched, local vegetables, which are salted, guinamos and vinegar to be eaten.
    In summary, it is above all the influence of Islamic and Malay cuisine, as well as the use of the products that the land and sea offer in this area, that distinguishes the cuisine of Mindanao from the rest of the Philippines. So close to the equator, not only are the temperatures so hot, but also the dishes.

Today's cooking and eating habits of Filipinos

Just as there are differences in the different, historically grown, regional cuisines, there are also differences in the modern cuisine of the Philippines. The residents of Luzon, for example, prefer to eat rice as a side dish. The Visayany on the islands of Cebu, Leyte and Samar use a lot of maize for this. The people of Luzon and also some of the Visayas eat root vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams and cassava only as dessert or as a snack. If they were eaten as the main side dish, it would show others that you are poor; on the other hand are cassava or panggi in Mindanao the normal side dishes. The Bicolanos and Tagalogs of South Luzon, where many coconut trees grow, of course also use coconuts in their recipes in a variety of ways.

There are many different types of chilli in the Philippines. The hottest and most popular variety is that sili labuyo. Although it grows throughout the Philippines, it is only used extensively in their kitchens by the inhabitants of Bicol Island and the southern tip of Luzon, as well as the Muslims of Western Mindanao.

The most popular meat for most Filipinos is pork. Other popular meats are beef and poultry. The inhabitants of Pampanga, as well as the ethnic groups of the Igorots, Bontocs, Ifugaos and Ibanags from northern Luzon, like dog meat. The Tagalogs and Pampanguenos eat frogs as a delicacy, while the rest of the Philippines prefer not to even touch them.

Because of its location, fish is of course also very popular and always available. The Visayans prefer saltwater fish such as sardines, tuna, bonito and mackerel, which are caught around the Philippine islands. The Tagalogs, Pampanguenos, Ilocanos, and Pangasinans prefer freshwater fish, which they catch in the area's rivers, lakes, and canals. In Pangasinan and Pamganga there is a system of fish farmers and aquaculture where bangus, mudfish, catfish, carp and tilapias are raised in artificial ponds and rice fields.


Traditional Filipinos rarely use cutlery to eat, they usually eat with their fingers. This "technique" is called kamayan and the word for "eat" in Filipino is called cumal. For eating, small rice balls are formed with the fingers and then the ingredients are dipped on the plate with these balls. Small pieces of fish, meat or vegetables are simply wrapped in the rice balls. Then you put your finger in your mouth and push it a little with your thumb.

With the western influence, the use of fork, knife and spoon came up. However, the cutlery is used differently in the Philippines. Here the fork is held in the left hand and the spoon in the right hand. The food is forked up and held with a fork, while small pieces are picked up with the spoon or smaller pieces are cut off from the piece held with the fork. Then everything is pushed onto the spoon and then rice is placed on the spoon with a fork and finally everything is eaten with the spoon.


In the Philippines there is not the usual menu sequence for a larger meal as in the West with starter, main course and dessert, but for a menu the dishes are put together according to taste and consistency of the dishes, as is common in Asia as a whole. It is important to combine sweet, sour, bitter and salty dishes in a balanced way, and soft, crispy, firm dishes should alternate in terms of properties. All dishes are brought to the table at the same time and the guest decides for himself which combinations he would like to eat. It actually resembles a buffet in the western way.

The focus, of course, is a large bowl of rice. There can be different types of rice such as long grain or short grain rice. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different types of rice, each with a slightly different taste and texture in the mouth. Meat, fish or vegetables, which can be grilled, fried or roasted, are served together with the rice and make the crispy and firm part. This can also be done by fried a few Lumpias or pancakes can be achieved. Both the meat and the lumpias are then seasoned with something salty, which can be soy sauce, bagoongs (i.e. fish or shrimp paste) or orpatts (a fish sauce). The salted sauces are also served with something sour just before the meal, such as kalamansi, Lemon juice or vinegar. Also a soup like sini gang is served in a bowl or large cup and should complement the soft and silky consistency of the dishes. Many Filipinos also serve a pasta dish such as pancit or goulash-like dish such as adobo or caldereta for an extra piquant taste.

In the meantime, many people in the Philippines also place more value on the calories and health of their dishes and therefore vary their traditional dishes accordingly.

No Filipino meal would be complete without a dessert. That can easily be fresh fruit like bananas, mangoes, papayas and melons or sweets like matamis na kamote (Glazed Sweet Potatoes) and kaong (Palm nuts). But it can also be real desserts like flans (egg puddings) and cookies like biko or bibinka made from rice and coconut milk. The dessert is not necessarily eaten at the end, but can also be enjoyed in the middle to counterbalance the salty, sour and sometimes bitter dishes.


So Filipino cuisine is a mixture of traditional, original dishes and taking in the best aspects of foreign influences. Filipino food is spicy but not too spicy, simple but not sparse, different from western cuisine but not too exotic, plentiful but not excessive. Due to globalization, the Filipino cuisine will continue to develop and adapt in this way.