Friday, May 18, 2012

Week Nineteen: A Journey to the Philippines

As this project continues, I realize the difficulty in defining a cuisine from a country influenced by multiple cultures over centuries of change.  Such is the case with my journey to the Philippines.  Filipino dishes have evolved from the converging influences of China, Malaysia, Spain, Germany, the United States, Japan, and India.  The resulting cuisine is one that combines the best of these cultures and finds reverence in its bold combinations of sweet, sour, and salty.  For this week’s menu choices, I focused on cooking the best known and favorite dishes of Filipino cuisine as a way to experience its flavor profiles.

Interestingly, @FilipinoFood posted this tweet “Best Pinoy Food is _____” early yesterday morning, and the three dishes I prepared for this week’s menus were definitive favorites based on the responses.  At my last count, Adobo led with 30% of the vote, and there were multiple mentions of Pancit and Lumpia.  At least I know I selected the right dishes for this week’s project.

Monday Night Dinner:  Adobo Chicken and Steamed Rice
Adobo Chicken
Without a doubt, Adobo is the most famous and beloved dish in the Philippines.  By most accounts, it is considered the national dish.  In its most basic form, adobo is made by stewing chicken and/or pork in soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic.  (Variations with the addition of coconut milk and sugar are made in specific regions of the islands.)  The components of the sauce exemplify the flavor profile of combining sweet, sour, and salty. 

After Monday night's dinner, I understand why this dish is so beloved.  The bold flavors of the sauce resulting from such a simple combination of ingredients presents a tangy, delicious flavor that beckons one to keep going back for another bite.  For my preparation, I used bone-in chicken thighs and breasts, and I served it with steamed jasmine rice to soak up the extra sauce.  This is a dish I will make again, especially for a quick weeknight dinner.   

Friday Night Dinner:  Lumpia and Pancit Bihon
Burnt Lumpia is the most inspiring blog focused on Filipino Food that I found during my research.  I referenced the site several times when looking for authentic presentations of Filipino dishes.  In addition to great articles and recipes, the site includes valuable links to national articles and stories related to Filipino cuisine.  Those links lead me to my choices for lumpia and pancit.
For all practical purposes, lumpia are simply Filipino-style spring rolls.  Characterizing exactly how they are different from other spring rolls is a question I still cannot answer definitively.  I’ve read conflicting information all over the internet.  Some state that they are never fried while others state that they are usually fried.  There are numerous variations of fillings, too.  In many cases, the lumpia wrapper is thinner than those used in traditional egg rolls, and the actual rolls are smaller and more compact.  Most of the lumpia fillings include cabbage and carrots, which are typically found in spring rolls, but I also found lumpia filling recipes that include green beans, sweet potatoes, garlic, and celery, which are not standard in spring rolls.  Confused?  Yes, I know.  It’s a bit much to decipher as an outsider, but when I found a Washington Post article about Feli Orinion, a Filipino woman in Washington D.C. known in high-profile circles for her lumpia, I found a path to successful lumpia. 
To say that I loved Feli’s Lumpia is an understatement.  Thank goodness I shelved the extras in my freezer before my husband and I sat down to enjoy the eight rolls I fried up for us.  If not for that, I probably wouldn’t have any lumpia in my freezer for later.  There are three key components to this recipe that make the resulting lumpia such a success.
1.  The filling includes a long list of ingredients:  carrots, green beans, celery, onion, green cabbage, sweet potatoes, water chestnuts, garlic, sesame oil, ground pork, soy sauce, and freshly ground black pepper.  When I read this list originally, I thought it would be too many components, but in actuality, they complement each other to create a delicious bite full of different flavors and textures.

2.  The reason that this long list of ingredients works well lies in the preparation of the vegetables.  The recipe calls for each vegetable to be individually chopped finely in a food processor.  This is genius because it provides for each bite to contain the full mixture of vegetables resulting in multiple flavors and textures delivered in a single bite.

3.  The flour and water paste used to “glue” the wrapper end to the lumpia keeps the lumpia tightly rolled resulting in even cooking when fried.

The perfectly balanced Filipino bite occurs when these lumpia, full of sweet vegetables and seasoned with soy sauce, are dipped in a sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, freshly ground black pepper, and a pinch of sugar, which spans the full scope of sour, salty, and sweet.
Pancit Bihon
Pancit is a Filipino noodle dish with many variations depending on the type of noodle used, as well as the vegetables, meats, and seasonings included in the dish.  With so many options, I chose a recipe for Pancit Bihon by Janet Rausa Fuller featured in the Chicago Sun-Times.  Fuller’s mother has been making the same Pancit Bihon for years, and after several long telephone calls, Fuller translated her mother’s notes into a recipe for the rest of us to enjoy. 

Traditional Pancit Bihon is made with thin rice noodles, soy sauce, citrus, sliced meat, and chopped vegetables.  Chinese sausage and cabbage are also common ingredients in this dish.  Fuller’s recipe includes pork loin, Chinese sausage, wood ear mushrooms, garlic, carrots, celery, and cabbage.  The sauce, which also serves as a marinade for the pork loin, includes soy sauce, sherry, sugar, salt, and pepper.  (For my pancit, I substituted Shaoxing wine for the sherry.)  I stir-fried the dish in a wok and served it with lime wedges to brighten the heavier flavors of pork loin and Chinese sausage.  The dish was simple to make and came together quickly.  As with the adobo and lumpia, the pronounced bold flavors of sweet, salty, and sour combined to produce a satisfying and balanced flavor profile.

All in all, I really enjoyed this week’s dishes.  Despite the fact that Filipino cuisine has so many influencing factors, these dishes and my research have helped me better understand its unique flavor profile and combinations of ingredients.  I predict that my freezer filled with two dozen lumpia will be empty in the very near future.....

No comments:

Post a Comment