Cooking it up in the Philippines – What’s For Supper?

The phrase ‘When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do‘ refers to the importance of adapting yourself to the customs of the people who are in a certain place or situation and behave like they do. … When in the Philippines, do as the FIlipinos do!”

Unfortunately, many (if not most) foreigners do not subscribe to the above proverb when it comes to living in the Philippines and Filipino cuisines. Many will go out of their way for a simple cheeseburger or something that resembles a slice of pizza. But to eat nothing but rice and fish and greens everyday… It’s not going to happen with the majority! There are basically two cuisines in the Philippines – Filipino or Western… and the latter can get very expensive. But there is a more cost-effective way!

                           What’s For Supper?

Learn To Eat Rice?

Being from Illinois, I have to admit I was raised on meat and potatoes. My first look at a plateful of rice was at Navy boot camp in 1973, and when it was topped with something else, I kind of liked it. At the ripe old age of 19, I found myself living in Guam eating rice at every turn (meal) as most of the cooks in the Navy galley were Filipino or local Chamorro folks. Rice was on the menu most days during my dining experiences at the Navy’s chow hall and over time, I found myself shunning the potatoes for more rice.

Many of the fellows I have met in the Philippines will not eat much rice, nor will they eat many of the typical Filipino foods. And in all honesty, you won’t typically find me eating a plateful of rice without anything to smother it in. While I love my rice, I do need to dress it up with something… like some good chili or beef stew!

If some guys would only learn to use rice as their staple food, along with some hybrid cooking (as I like to call what my wife cooks), they would not only be satisfied with new menu choices, they would also realize a huge savings on the monthly grocery tab. There will be no hope though for those stubborn, Big Mac’er types. They will always be spending most of their disposable income to satisfy their western food cravings… which can get very expensive in the Philippines. And if you just cannot do rice, well there is usually always a good supply of locally grown potatoes that can get you by.

                   Red Rice with BBQ’d Chicken

Red Rice

If plain white rice just doesn’t do it for you, try making some red rice. It is as easy as making regular white rice but the red dye used in the cooking process adds a bit of a twist in flavor. Not overpowering, but something substantially different when compared to white rice, especially when topped with soyu-based sauces like Finadeni (aka fina ‘deni). Filipino Red Rice is made with regular white rice (usually refered to as Java Rice) which when prepared is a yellowish to reddish rice that is usually served with grilled or fried main dishes. Not to be mistaken with any rice variation in Indonesia, the Java Rice recipe is Filipino Style which is suited for the Filipino taste. On Guam, the Chamorros have their own variation which is not much different from the Java Rice in the Philippines. They both use “Annetto,” also known as achote (achiote, achuete), all readily available in the Philippines or on Guam. In Guam it has been said that you couldn’t get married unless you learned to make it! Personally, I love me some red rice and BBQ ribs or chicken!

       Finedene on all my rice – with or without peppers!

Hybrid Cooking

This is where a little imagination can go a long way. Using rice as the main staple, there are a myriad of concoctions you can stir up that will go excellent with a mound of hot steaming rice (Filipinos tend to eat their foods more on the cool or cold side, but for me it better be hot!) Here is one recipe that is sure to please even the most discriminating – Hungarian Sausage/Cabbage Stew. I picked this meat because it seems to go over well with many expats and it is readily available most everywhere a supermarket is found.

Main Ingredients:

Hungarian Sausages
Onions or stewed tomatoes (optional)
Tomato sauce (regular, not Filipino or sweet style)
Tomato paste (small amount to suit taste)
Spices to suit taste like salt, pepper, basil, thyme, oregano, Italian, etc. (We like to use a bit of caraway seed for flavoring.)

               Hungarian Sausage and Cabbage

Notice I did not put ingredient quantities or measurements. This is because it is a simple recipe that can easily be adjusted for your own tastes and family size. Basically you just cook the sausages covered in water, bring to a boil, then add tomato sauces, peeled and quartered potatoes and spices. Simmer until potatoes are half-cooked, then add large chopped cabbage. Again, add spices to suit taste. Sometimes we might add little beef bullion or a Worcestershire sauce for flavoring variations. You can also add celery stalks or sliced green bell peppers for even more variety. Cook until cabbage is tender. Serve over a small bed of rice, or without! Then after all the meats and vegetables have disappeared, you should have a good bit of good tomato soup broth leftover, to enjoy by itself or to cook up something else with. I like to capture the leftover soup and add some cooked elbow macaroni for a follow-on soup and sandwich style lunch.

Remember that hybrid cooking is done to suit your own tastes. While you can use locally purchased chicken, pork or beef for many recipes, adding local vegetables to the mix is much more affordable than buying western products off the shelf. Using a soup bases like Cream of Mushroom, Cream of Celery, or Cream of Asparagus in your recipe, you can create a variety of gravied dishes that you will never grow tired of. This style of cooking at home can not only be satisfying for the expat’s tastes, by cooking in bulk, it can take a lot of the strain off the food budget. But beware, gravied type cooking tends to come with high calorie counts!

Another favorite: Hamburger Steak in mushroom gravy stewed with local green beans AND rice!

And if you just have to have your Philadelphia Cream Cheese with your morning bagels, sorry… there will be no hope for your food budget!