Filipinos around the world love to cook and eat. But no Filipino kitchen can be complete without these basic seasonings that help us achieve that distinct Filipino flavor we have always loved. Here’s a list of the most common seasonings that can be found in a typical Filipino kitchen.
You can’t cook without salt. Well, technically you can, but who wants to eat bland food anyway…unless you’re on a salt-free diet. However, when we talk about Filipino food, or any other cuisine for that matter, salt will always be one of the key ingredients.
There’s more to salt than saltiness. Salt brings out the flavor of the food by combining the various tastes of different ingredients in order to create a flavor that makes every dish distinct from each other. There are many types of salt worldwide, but inside the Filipino kitchen, the two most popular types are rock salt and table salt.
Rock salt is cheap, easy to find, and natural. What I like about rock salt is its unique straight-from-the-sea flavor. Its coarse texture makes a great salt rub on fish and other meat to remove the unpleasant smell and to enhance the flavor. I prefer using rock salt over table salt when cooking because it makes the food tastes so much better.
Rock salt is not only great for savory dishes; it also perfectly complements the sourness and sweetness of food. That’s why I love sprinkling some on my fruits!
Table salt, on the other hand, is great to be placed on what its name suggests – on the table. I rarely use table salt for cooking because it has a stronger salty flavor which I personally find difficult to measure. Also, I find the flavor unnatural because it underwent certain chemical processes, especially if it contains enhancers, such as iodine, as an additional nutritional supplement. But just to give you an idea (in case you run out of rock salt), to substitute one for the other, my estimated ratio is 1 measure of rock salt to ¼ measure of table salt.
Pepper is the perpetual partner of salt. Although salt and pepper are not distinctively Filipino, these two seasonings will always be the most popular food enhancers in our kitchen, pepper being the top among the spices. It simply heightens the flavor of your food to a new level.
Like salt, there are various kinds of pepper, although in the country, black pepper is the most commonly used. What I would like to focus on is pepper’s different types of texture and their uses. We have three: whole peppercorns, coarsely ground, and fine ground.
Peppercorns are whole dried seeds of the black pepper plant. In Filipino dishes, peppercorns are typically used in cooking Adobo, Paksiw, and Nilaga.
Coarsely or roughly ground pepper is great for general cooking usage. I use this as a rub when marinating various types of meat. Its rough texture is effective in bringing out the natural flavor of the food.
Fine ground pepper is perfect as a table condiment to conveniently adjust the flavor of the food to your satisfaction.
Pound peppercorns with mortar and pestle or grind it with a pepper mill to produce fresh ground pepper at home. Take control of the fineness depending on your needs. Better yet, bring home some bottles of McCormick Black or White Pepper for a hassle-free cooking. Now, it’s easier for you to achieve that special Pinoy flavor sans the tedious grinding and pounding.
3. Fish Sauce/Patis
In case you still don’t know, I grew up in Malabon where patis making is one of the leading local industries. This is my favorite sauce which I use in almost every meal at home. But patis is more than just a salty condiment. It’s also frequently used in cooking to give out a distinct Asian flavor, beyond what an ordinary salt can provide. Try it on your saucy dishes, such as Menudo, Mechado, and Caldereta.
Patis or fish sauce is a distinct food enhancer in many Asian countries. Made from fermented fish, its dark brown, pungent juice extract is bottled and sold in many local markets. In the Philippine provinces, patis is commonly known as “Rufina” – a brand name of patis manufacturers that has become a generic trademark. Patis in the provinces of Visayas and Mindanao is actually soy sauce. That’s why when you ask for patis in restaurants, chances are, they will hand you a bottle of soy sauce.
4. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is another favorite Asian condiment, especially among the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos. This dark, menacing black juice is extracted from fermented soybeans, hence the name.
Filipinos love soy sauce on their adobo, pancit, and barbecues. It’s also great for marinating chicken, pork, and beef before grilling or stir-frying. Aside from cooking, soy sauce is also a desired condiment to enhance the taste of many local dishes. Mix it with some calamansi juice and chili pepper to create a tangy, spicy dip for your siomai, barbecues, and steamed vegetables.
Albeit vinegar can sometimes have a negative (amoy-suka) or positive (may asim pa) connotation in a Philippine context , its strong sour taste and odor provide an appetizing aroma in the kitchen once incorporated with other food items. One of the key ingredients in dishes like Adobo and Paksiw, vinegar has made some of our ways of preparing food easy, fast, lasting, and inexpensive.
Aside from cooking, vinegar can also be used to dress salads and preserve food. Daing na Bangus and Achara (pickled papaya) are good examples of food preserves using vinegar. Not only that, vinegar is also one of the popular condiments in a Filipino meal. Its sour taste adds a delicious tang in every bite – perfect as a dip for Tapa, Chicharon, and Grilled food.
From sukang Paombong to cane, various types of vinegar can be purchased from your nearest supermarket. Cane vinegar has mild sweetness while sukang Paombong a regular white vinegar have stronger sour aroma. Try to experiment and taste test all these types of vinegar to check which one satisfies your taste buds.
I understand that not a lot of people are fond of adding vetsin in their cooking. Whether it’s true or not, there’s an existing fear that vetsin causes a negative side effect to one’s health.
However, vetsin or MSG has always been a part of every Filipino family’s cooking tradition, that’s why I’m adding this here. Even if you don’t actually use it to when you cook, remember that other food items, such as chips and canned goods, have enhanced flavor because of vetsin.
Vetsin has a distinctive flavor called umami that is also found naturally in some ingredients, such as meat and vegetables. In vernacular, this particular flavor is called “linamnam” or savory, which is a separate kind of taste from sweetness, sourness, and the likes. In short, it is a flavor enhancer that intensifies the essence of the ingredients to make it savory. Try to sprinkle some vetsin onto your favorite savory dish and taste the difference.