Filipino Cuisine: From Malayo-Polynesian to American Influence

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The history of filipino cuisine is quite interesting. It’s a mix of many different cultures and has evolved over the years.

Filipino food is known for its spiciness and sourness, with a focus on fresh ingredients. The cuisine is very diverse, with influences from Malay, Chinese, Spanish, and American cultures.

Let’s look at the history of filipino cuisine and how it came to be what it is today.

What is filipino food

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Filipino Dishes: The Original Fusion Food

The geography of the Philippines has played a significant role in shaping the country’s cuisine. The islands are rich in rice paddies, coconut trees, and seafood, which are all staples in Filipino cooking. The country’s diverse geography has also led to the development of regional cuisines, each with its own unique flavors and ingredients.

The Influence of Indigenous and Immigrant Cultures

Filipino cuisine has been heavily influenced by the indigenous cultures of the Philippines, as well as the immigrants who have settled in the country over the years. The Austronesian people, who are the ancestors of the Filipinos, were skilled farmers and fishermen who used ingredients like sour fruits and coconut milk in their cooking.

Chinese traders brought with them soy sauce, noodles, and stir-frying techniques, while Spanish conquistadors introduced pork, grilled meats, and stews. American influence can be seen in the popularity of fast food chains and the use of processed ingredients in Filipino cooking.

The Emergence of Fusion Cuisine

Filipino cuisine is the original fusion food, with its mix of indigenous, Chinese, Spanish, and American influences. In recent years, Filipino chefs have taken this fusion to new heights, creating dishes that feature a blend of traditional and modern flavors.

Fusion cuisine has become popular in the Philippines and around the world, with restaurants and food trucks serving up dishes like adobo fried rice, sisig tacos, and lechon sliders. These dishes showcase the creativity and innovation of Filipino chefs, who are pushing the boundaries of traditional Filipino cuisine.

The Unique Characteristics of Filipino Cuisine

Filipino cuisine is a fusion of different flavors and cooking styles. The use of rice as a staple food is common in the country, and it is often served with a variety of dishes. Pork is a popular meat in Filipino cuisine, and it is included in many dishes. Beef and seafood are also widely produced and served. Vegetarian dishes are rare, but some dishes contain soy products. Filipino food is known for its spicy and slightly sweet taste, and it often contains sugar and onion. Some dishes are topped with a sauce, while others are served steamed or grilled. The ability to store dishes for several days and improve the taste is also a particular characteristic of Filipino cuisine.

Examples of Popular Dishes

Filipino cuisine has a variety of dishes that are loved by the people. Some of the most popular dishes include:

  • Adobo- a dish made with meat (usually pork or chicken) cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and other spices.
  • Sinigang- a soup made with tamarind, vegetables, and meat or seafood.
  • Kare-kare- a stew made with oxtail, vegetables, and a peanut sauce.
  • Lechon- a whole roasted pig that is commonly served during special occasions.
  • Pancit- a type of noodle dish that can be served with meat or seafood.

Influence and Connections

Filipino cuisine has been influenced by different cultures throughout history. The country’s connections with Western countries, particularly the United States, have led to the introduction of new ingredients and cooking methods. Fast-food chains have also started to sell Filipino dishes, although the variety is limited. Filipino cuisine is an important part of the country’s history and culture, and it is a product of the Filipino people’s love for food.

Tracing the Roots: The Malayo-Polynesian Beginnings of Filipino Cuisine

Filipino cuisine has a rich history that can be traced back to its Malayo-Polynesian roots. The Malayo-Polynesian people were seafarers who traveled across the Pacific Ocean and settled in the Philippines. They brought with them their own unique cooking methods and ingredients, which eventually became the foundation of Filipino cuisine.

The Role of Rice and Beef

Rice and beef are two staples in Filipino cuisine that have been present since the Malayo-Polynesian era. Rice is typically served with every meal and is often used as a base for many dishes. Beef, on the other hand, is usually prepared as a main dish and served with a sauce. One of the most well-known beef dishes is called “beef steak Tagalog,” which consists of sliced beef that is marinated and cooked in soy sauce and onions.

The Influence of Chinese Traders

Chinese traders arrived in the Philippines in the 9th century and introduced new ingredients and cooking methods to Filipino cuisine. Soy sauce, which is a common ingredient in Filipino dishes, was introduced by the Chinese. They also taught Filipinos how to cook using the steaming method, which is still popular today.

The Chinese Influence on Filipino Cuisine

  • Chinese traders have been coming to the Philippines for centuries, and their influence on Filipino cuisine is significant.
  • They brought with them their own dishes, including rice dishes, which Filipinos experienced to a degree that followed them in their own cooking.
  • One of the most significant dishes that the Chinese introduced to the Philippines is pancit, a traditional noodle dish that continues to dominate the Philippine food market today.

The Role of Chinese Ingredients in Filipino Dishes

  • Chinese influence is not limited to just a few dishes; it includes a wide range of ingredients that are now a staple in Filipino cooking.
  • Soy sauce, for example, is included in almost every Filipino dish, and notes of Chinese cooking can be found in many other varieties of dishes.
  • Vegetables are also a key component of Chinese cooking, and they complete many Filipino dishes that would otherwise be lacking in nutrition.
  • The word “pancit” itself is derived from the Hokkien word “pian i sit,” which means “something conveniently cooked.”

The Commercial Participation of the Chinese Community in Filipino Cuisine

  • The Chinese community has been a competitive force in the Philippine food market for decades, with many commercial establishments having a completely Chinese ownership.
  • The participation of the Chinese community in the Philippine food market has resulted in the creation of new and modern dishes that effectively blend Chinese and Filipino cooking styles.
  • The growing influence of Chinese dishes in the Philippines is a testament to the long history of Chinese traders in the country and their significant role in shaping Filipino cuisine.

The Spanish Conquistadors and their Influences on Filipino Cuisine

In 1521, the Spanish conquistador Ferdinand Magellan reached the Philippines, claiming the islands for Spain. The Spanish established a successful trading relationship with the Filipinos, introducing new ingredients and cooking methods to the local cuisine.

The Catholic Influence

The Spanish also brought Catholicism to the Philippines, which had a significant impact on the culture and cuisine. Many traditional Filipino dishes are served during religious holidays and celebrations.

The Death of Magellan

Magellan died shortly after arriving in the Philippines, poisoned by an arrow during a battle on the island of Mactan. Despite his short stay, his legacy lives on in the spice trade. Magellan introduced the grouper fish to the Philippines, which is still a popular ingredient in Filipino cuisine.

Preserving Spanish Influence

The Spanish influence on Filipino cuisine is still evident today, with many dishes incorporating Spanish ingredients and cooking techniques. The national language of the Philippines, Tagalog, also contains many Spanish loanwords.

Overall, the Spanish conquistadors played a significant role in shaping Filipino cuisine, introducing new ingredients and cooking methods that are still used today. Their influence can be seen in the staples of Filipino cuisine, as well as in the ways that dishes are prepared and served.

The Everyday Staples of Filipino Cuisine

Rice is the staple food in the Philippines, and it is served with almost every meal. It is usually steamed and served plain, but it can also be mixed with a variety of ingredients to create different dishes. Some popular rice dishes include:

  • Sinangag: Fried rice mixed with garlic and onions, usually eaten for breakfast.
  • Arroz Caldo: A rice porridge simmered in chicken broth and served with chicken, ginger, and kalamansi dipping sauce.
  • Adobo Rice: Rice cooked in adobo sauce, which is a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and bay leaves. Adobo is a popular Filipino dish, and the sauce is used to marinate meat, seafood, and vegetables.

Popular dishes include:

  • lechón (whole roasted pig)
  • longganisa (Philippine sausage)
  • tapa (cured beef), torta (omelette)
  • adobo (chicken and/or pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil and soy sauce, or cooked until dry)
  • kaldereta (meat in tomato sauce stew)
  • mechado (larded beef in soy and tomato sauce)
  • puchero (beef in bananas and tomato sauce)
  • afritada (chicken and/or pork simmered in a peanut sauce with vegetables)
  • kare-kare (oxtail and vegetables cooked in peanut sauce)
  • pinakbet (kabocha squash, eggplant, beans, okra, and tomato stew flavored with shrimp paste)
  • crispy pata (deep-fried pig’s leg)
  • hamonado (pork sweetened in pineapple sauce)
  • sinigang (meat or seafood in sour broth)
  • pancit (noodles)
  • lumpia (fresh or fried spring rolls)

The Protein: Meat and Seafood

Filipino cuisine includes a range of meat and seafood dishes, usually cooked in simple and distinct ways. Some of the most popular include:

  • Adobo: A dish made with meat (usually pork or chicken) marinated in adobo sauce and then simmered until tender.
  • Lechon: A whole roasted pig, often served at special occasions.
  • Sinigang: A sour soup made with a variety of meats (pork, beef, or seafood) and vegetables (cabbage, tomatoes, and root vegetables).
  • Kare-Kare: A stew made with oxtail, vegetables, and a peanut sauce.
  • Bistek: A beef dish marinated in soy sauce and calamansi juice, then fried with onions.

The Sauce: Dipping and Mixed

Sauces are an essential part of Filipino cuisine, and they are often used for dipping or mixed with other ingredients. Some popular sauces include:

  • Toyomansi: A dipping sauce made with soy sauce and calamansi juice.
  • Bagoong: A fermented fish or shrimp paste, often used as a condiment or mixed with other ingredients.
  • Sarsa: A sweet and sour sauce made with vinegar, sugar, and kalamansi juice, often served with fried or grilled meats.

The Vegetables: Coconut and Cabbage

Vegetables are commonly included in Filipino dishes, and two of the most popular are coconut and cabbage. Coconut milk is used to add a creamy texture and flavor to many dishes, while cabbage is often used in soups and stews. Some popular vegetable dishes include:

  • Ginataang Gulay: A vegetable stew made with coconut milk and a variety of vegetables.
  • Pinakbet: A vegetable dish made with a combination of vegetables (usually including eggplant, bitter melon, and squash) and shrimp paste.
  • Laing: A dish made with taro leaves cooked in coconut milk and spices.

The Breakfast: Leftover and Cured

Breakfast in the Philippines often includes leftovers from the previous night’s meal, or cured meats and fish. Some popular breakfast dishes include:

  • Tapsilog: A combination of cured beef (tapa), garlic fried rice (sinangag), and fried egg (itlog).
  • Daing na Bangus: Milkfish (bangus) marinated in vinegar and garlic, then fried.
  • Longganisa: A sweet and garlicky sausage, often served with garlic fried rice and egg.

The origins of Filipino cuisine lie in the combination of Asian cuisine and Spanish influences, brought to the Philippines by settlers and traders. The result is a cuisine with a range of flavors and cooking methods, from hot and spicy to sweet and sour. The staples of Filipino cuisine are simple and small, but they are meant to complete a large and varied meal.


The History of Filipino Cuisine is a rich and diverse mix of influences from Malay, Chinese, and Spanish cooking, with a touch of American fast food. 

Filipino food is known for its spicy and sweet taste, and is often served with rice, especially Filipino adobo, a dish made with meat and vinegar, and sinigang, a tamarind soup dish made with meat and vegetables. 

So, if you’re looking for a new food experience, why not try Filipino cuisine? You might just like it!

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Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.