Filipino food is underrepresented in Australia. Here are eight dishes that showcase the flavours of this Southeast Asian cuisine.
“Filipino cuisine is one of the most underrated in the world,” says Adam Liaw, author, food personality and host of The Cook Up. It’s the antithesis to the fussy and preachy individual serves of stuffy European restaurants. It’s a cuisine that’s all about fun, flavour and togetherness.”
The Philippines is comprised of 7641 islands, so there are sub-cuisines and spins on dishes aplenty. If you’re not sure where to start, kick things off with these eight suggestions.
Food photographer Luisa Brimble grew up in the region of Bicol in the Philippines. She says there’s one main reason that Filipino food in Australia is underrepresented: Filipinos only began migrating relatively recently.
“Filipinos really didn’t travel until quite recently, until they were looking for a lot more nurses in the US,” says Brimble.
In Australia alone, by the end of 2009, the Federal Government had recorded about 175,000 Filipino-born people in the country. By the end of 2019, that number had grown by approximately 68% to nearly 300,000.
One of Brimble’s favourite Filipino dishes is tortang talong, which is an eggplant omelette that’s commonly enjoyed at breakfast or lunch. It’s made from grilled eggplant that is soaked in an egg mixture, then fried.
Tortang talong is best eaten with steamed rice and banana ketchup. “Tomato wasn’t really something that grew in the Philippines, so banana ketchup was a genius invention,” says Brimble. The sweet and sour sauce is now quite popular across the country.
James Meehan runs Hoy Pinoy, a Filipino food catering business, with his wife Regina. Inihaw, a sub-cuisine featuring barbecued meats and seafood that are basted and often skewered, is undoubtedly a favourite of his.
“This is a big category when it comes to Filipino cuisine, every part of the Philippines has [its] own unique twist on inihaw,” says Meehan.
Chicken, pork belly, squid and fish are some popular inihaw items. Straight off the barbecue, the meats are usually served with a chilli and vinegar sauce.
Pork sisig is an iconic dish Filipino dish, traditionally combining different cuts of pork, which are chopped into small pieces, paired with onion and seasoned in soy, chilli and vinegar. Sisig is sometimes topped with an egg and commonly served sizzling on a hotplate.
The addition of pork crackling makes this one a standout, taking the texture to a whole other dimension. It’s one of those perfect all-occasion dishes; sisig can be shared around the table or simply eaten by one person.
Garlic butter prawns
Garlic butter prawns are a must-try, and there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to its title.
A flavourful dish where prawns, traditionally still in their shell, are the hero. The twist? They’re marinated in fizzy lemonade which tenderises the prawn meat.
The dish comes together by melting butter in a pan or a wok, which is used to saute chilli and garlic. The lemonade is drained from the prawns before being tossed in the hot butter mixture.
“My mother-in-law would cook this for me almost every day!” says Meehan, a big fan of bistek Tagalog.
It’s a hearty dish of thinly sliced beef that is marinated in soy and calamansi (a small native citrus) overnight.
The beef is first pan-fried, then braised using a combination of water and the citrus marinade for almost an hour. If you’re after a dish that’s tangy and loaded with umami, look no further.
It’s a labour of love to make lechon kawali, which is thrice-cooked pork belly.
The pork is braised until tender, then cooled and dried. This process is repeated and the pork then fried to finish the dish, creating melting soft meat with a crispy exterior.
Meehan suggests eating lechon kawali with chilli sauce and yema, which is an egg yolk caramel.
Will Mahusay runs Sydney Cebu Lechon, one of Sydney’s most renowned Filipino restaurants. Mahusay says, “I’ve always personally believed that Filipino flavours are just as amazing as all the other Southeast Asian flavours, and I’ve made it my mission to really put Filipino cuisine [on the map] and make it part of mainstream Australia.”
“I’ve always personally believed that Filipino flavours are just as amazing as all the other Southeast Asian flavours”
One of Mahusay’s favourite things to cook is chicken humba, a dish his grandmother often used to prepare.
Pieces of chicken (usually the thighs or drumettes) are braised in dark soy sauce with brown sugar, black beans and plenty of aromatics such as star anise, five-spice, bay leaf and a generous helping of black peppercorns.
Halo halo is the perfect solution for those who can’t choose which dessert to have. It boasts a bounty of flavours and textures, satisfying everything that a dessert stomach could demand.
Halo halo is an iconic summertime treat, combining shaved ice, sweetened beans, fruits, ice-cream and evaporated milk. You can take it a level up with different jellies and sago.
Usually served in tall glasses or glass bowls, it’s a colourful and totally joyful treat, designed as much for the eyes as it is for the stomach.