Filipino Food Finds a Place in the American Mainstream

Bagoong ranging from muddy brown to plumeria pink in color, commonly made of tiny krill, anchovies or bonnetmouths brings to soups and stews a depth of flavor that evokes cheese interred in caves and aged steak, with an extra dimension of ocean floor.

It also may be eaten straight, daubed on rice or anointing slices of green mango. Along with its byproduct, patis (fish sauce), its an essential seasoning that claims a place on the table next to suka (vinegar) and banana ketchup (bananas cooked down in vinegar and tomato paste), as much a condiment as an ingredient.

As such, its part of what the Manila-born food historian Doreen Fernandez termed a galaxy of flavor-adjusters that define how Filipinos eat: seasonings added to dishes after theyre served, in trickles and pinches, according to each diners taste. A chef feeding Filipinos must sublimate ego and accept that no dish emerges from the kitchen fully finished. A meal is a joint effort between cooks and eaters.

IF BAGOONG IS THE SALT, suka is the sour lifeblood of the cuisine. Extracted from sugar cane or the sap from coconut trees or nipa palms, it was originally a necessary preservative in a warm climate.

How to take the bounty of fish from the surrounding seas and make it last? Cure it in suka and it becomes kinilaw, an ancient recipe that may have been one of the earliest forms of ceviche. To this might be added the bite of ginger, the silkiness of coconut milk, or a sunny kiss of calamansi, which has a sharper sting than ....

read more from