On the web, there’s an interesting article on The Daily Meal. For those not familiar with The Daily Meal, it tends to focus on finding hidden or iconic restaurants around the world. The recent article was entitled, “http://www.thedailymeal.com/food-travel-150-iconic-dishes-around-world“, and makes for an interesting read that got me thinking about food and where different dishes originate.
Think for a minute.
New York: Pizza, bagels, and pastrami sandwiches.
England: Yorkshire pudding with Sunday roast dinner, beer.
Singapore: Chili crab.
Malaysia: Nasi goreng and Laksa.
Italy: Wine, pizza, and pasta.
Belgium: Beer, Frites.
Bahamas: Peas & Rice, Cracked conch.
Certainly this list is not exhaustive. I can think of dozens of different dishes, and a true comprehensive list would fill many large printed volumes of a book. Every nation on Earth, and every city, region, or province has its’ own iconic food that is uniquely prepared. Something that is debated, sometimes heatedly, as to which version is best or which restaurant makes the best. Something that makes a person immediately identify with that culture. Dishes that make expats long for home. Dishes that are so good that you might even contemplate a trip there just to eat out and get your fill.
The site does mention two dishes from the Philippines, Adobo and Lechon. They are propably the most common dishes associated with the country. There are undoubtedly many versions of each dish, each prepared in its’ own unique way or style. Arguments are certain to ensue between customers of one restaurant versus another. Yes, Lechon is iconic. Adobo is equally iconic, too. What dishes in the Philippines are prepared here, and though imitated, are not the same. It’s not an easy question to answer.
For instance, I have relatives in New York City that swear that bagels made in New York are different. I’ve eaten bagels in many different places (And natives of Montreal would vociferously disagree with the New Yorkers’ claims), including New York and Montreal, and I can see quality differences, but I’ve also had bagels in places like London or Los Angeles that were pretty good. Natives of both places always seem to state, and believe, that the local water in the dough makes the difference. Does it? Who knows! But they believe so, right down to the very core of their being.
I got to thinking further about this. I’ve had lechon in many places around the world. I’ve also had whole, roasted pig that is very similar in technique (North Carolina, Hawaii, Colombia, Miami) to the famous Filipino version. Some were very good. You will see and hear arguments among Filipinos, too. I have a neighbor who flies up several whole lechons from CDO every year for his Christmas party. He claims that the lechoneros in Manila lack the proper roasting technique to make lechon. Rebecca and her family swear that using a home-raised pig (so they know what it ate), cooked in Abulug style, is far superior to the versions cooked in Tuguegarao (same province) or any of the Manila or Visayan versions.
Which is better? It depends on your taste and the skill of the cook. Personally, I like the kind from CDO that my neighbor buys. However, I also like the flavor of the Abulug pigs stuffed with lemongrass.
As to adobo, Rebecca swears that with adobo, the quality of the soy sauce used makes all of the difference in the world. When she makes it at home, she uses either Lee Kum Kee (Hong Kong) or Kikkoman (Japan) exclusively, liking the richer flavor that is obtained over the local Silver Swan and Datu Puti brands. However, in Manila there are restaurants like the Aristocrat, that have been in business for decades, that specialize in their own adobo recipes, handed down between generations. Even when we were living in Abu Dhabi, I cannot remember her eating adobo when we went out. She likes her own version, just like her lola made.
So, I got to thinking further… What dishes are made locally that are duplicated, but never matched, when made abroad? What foods do OFWs miss when they are away from home? What foods do the local Filipino neighborhoods, in California, for instance, never seem to quite exactly match. I know that you can eat at Barrio Fiesta, Chow King, Jollibee, or Goldilocks overseas. However, do even the chains ever compare?
What foods would you travel to the Philippines just to sample? Is there anything made here that is like nowhere else? Is there anything that transcends cultural differences in taste, that would appeal to most people of any nationality? Is there anything that is worth the plane ticket alone? Here’s my list of foods that I believe are iconic here, and yes, adobo and lechon are included. (This would actually make a good, ongoing, poll, Bob.) Feel free to disagree on my choices or add your own favorites.
- Pancit. (Two of the oldest restaurants in the country, both established in 1888, specialize in this: New Toho Food Center and Ambos Mundos, both in Manila)
- Ube or Cheese Ice Cream.
- Fresh fruits.
- Kare Kare.
- Siopao (Bola Bola or Asado).
- Lumpia. (either fresh or Shanghai)
- Garlic Peanuts.
- Suman. (or other rice cakes)
What are your favorites?