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A Taste of Home: 7 Essential Ingredients in a Filipino Kitchen

  • July 7, 2020

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Essential Ingredients in a Filipino Kitchen

Filipinos are among the most hardworking people in the world, with millions of them employed all over the world in almost every profession imaginable. There are significant Filipino communities in countries all around the globe, from the United States, to Canada, and even many nations in the Middle East.

And wherever they go, Filipinos bring with them their unique and intricate cuisine. Filipino cooking is perhaps the greatest testament to the multicultural background of the nation, incorporating ingredients and techniques from Asia, Europe, and North America.

If you are one of the millions of Filipinos overseas or would like to experience the rich flavors of the Philippines, here are seven essential ingredients every Filipino kitchen contains.


Rice is ubiquitous in most East and Southeast Asian cultures, and the Philippines is no exception. According to their government, a Filipino family consumes an average of over 10 pounds of rice every week. Rice is the primary carbohydrate source of the entire nation, and no meal is considered complete without it. As for preparing rice, forget all the fancy techniques you might have heard about. Rice is simply washed and boiled until cooked, occasionally stir-fried with garlic for breakfast.


This condiment is at home in every Filipino kitchen. The pungent and savory paste is made of fermented fish or shellfish and is used to flavor a variety of meals. Almost every Filipino cook had at some point servedsweet and spicy bagoongwith kare-kare, a local delicacy of oxtail, peanut sauce, and eggplants. Bagoong is also used for dipping unripe mangoes as a snack.

Soy Sauce

While many Asian cultures make extensive use of soy sauce, Filipinos use it in recipes in unique ways. For example, soy sauce and vinegar are the key ingredients in adobo, perhaps the Philippine's signature dish. Chicken or pork are marinated and cooked in the soy sauce to infuse it with saltiness. Soy sauce is also the condiment of choice for sisig, or sizzling pork, as well as the marinade of the local steak recipe, or bistek.


A citrus fruit native to the Philippines, calamansi is often used to provide a sour kick to a dish. Calamansi, more popularly known as calamondin outside the country, is squeezed over noodle dishes, such as pansit canton and pansit bihon. It's also a popular marinade for various fried meat dishes. Finally, calamansi is often used to make a refreshing thirst quencher similar to lemonade.

Tomato Sauce

Tomatoes were first brought to the Philippines by the Spaniards, and the fruit (or vegetable, depending on your leanings) was incorporated seamlessly into the local cuisine. Tomato sauce is the base for several Hispanic-inspired dishes such as caldereta, a beef stew with carrots and potatoes, as well as afritada and menudo. All of these recipes call for extensive use of tomato sauce.

Fish Sauce

Known as patis in Filipino, fish sauce is a by-product of making bagoong. The sauce is often used as a substitute for salt, usually in stews and sauces. Namely, patis is added to nilaga, or stewed meats and vegetables, and occasionally in tinola, a chicken-based stew popular among Filipinos.

Banana Ketchup

When you visit the Philippines, few restaurants and cafeterias will be without banana ketchup. This variation of the classic condiment tends to be sweet rather than sour, but it provides a different taste experience when paired with fried foods. Banana ketchup is also the key ingredient in Filipino spaghetti, giving the dish its trademark sweetness.

When you're missing home, sometimes the best solution is some good home cooking. If you miss or simply want to try the flavors of the Philippines, begin by exploring these seven ingredients.