The Filipinos’ Undying Love for the Sour

As they say, when the world throws lemon at you, you make a lemonade. And the Filipinos did just that. We made lemonades and sinigang and sawsawan (dipping sauce) and a thousand variety of kinilaw (local ceviche). Sourness is one of the main flavor that defines the Filipino cuisine, and what makes it distinct from other Asian food culture. 

Sour is present in every Filipino restaurant menu and in every home. We always crave for that tangy sinigang, a tamarind based sour soup. Our crispy fried meat, chicken or fish is always served with a tiny plate of fish sauce and lemonsito for dipping. Our local salad, ensalada, is mostly green crunchy mangoes, diced with ripe juicy tomatoes and doused with a teaspoon of salty fish paste. Imagine a riot of sour and salty going on inside your mouth with every teaspoonful.

about filipino food

The Filipino cuisine is a triad of flavors. A protein, either grilled or fried or adobo, presented with a steaming sinigang and kilawin (our local ceviche) forms part of the triangle that defines our taste. In all these plates, the sour taste is never underrated. 

This food triad is consumed by every class of society across the archipelago. For the sinigang alone, each region across the country has their own version of souring agents, from tomatoes, to mangoes, to guava, to local herbs, to tree barks and what have they. Any meat or fish or shell food can be cooked the sinigang way. Filipinos believe that sipping a steaming sour tangy soup help cools down the body. 

about filipino food

Our famous kilawin, or sometimes called kinilaw, a local version of ceviche of Latin America, can be prepared in hundred different varieties. Usually, fresh tuna, squid or oyster is the meat of choice for preparing kilawin. Traverse between the main islands of Visayas and Mindanao and I bet you will uncover many ways on how the kinilaw is prepared and the curing agent used.

about filipino food

Photo Credit: Flickr | Yvette Tan

On a recent trip to Mindanao, I had the unique experience of sampling a local dish, called SuTuKil. It was fresh tuna, presented in 3 ways, SUgba for grilled tuna belly, TUwa or tinuwa for tuna fish sour soup in quartered  tomatoes and Philippine lime, and KILawin or kinilaw, fresh tuna meat, cubed and cured in coconut vinegar loaded with green chili peppers and thinly sliced onions. I felt I had a food awakening of some sort sampling this triad. Hence the name SuTuKil. I thought I heard the word “shoot-to-kill”. Everything in front of me was so good that it felt like I’m having the last supper of my life.

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about filipino food

In every Filipino home, head to the condiment tray and you will not miss kalamansi, red chili pepper (sili labuyo) and fish sauce or soy sauce. This is the most truthful evidence of our undying love for the sour.

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Christine Cognieux - 7 months ago Reply

Very interesting article! I love eating local when I travel and understanding why and where some food habits or tastes come from makes it sometimes easier to adjust to the differences of the eating habits. The photos are beautiful. Now I am craving some filipinos food! Thanks for sharing.

Penny - 7 months ago Reply

I absolutely love sour and tangy food. While Goa does use a lot of viniger, raw mango and tamarind in the food. The craving goes much further. I think the difference (I’m not sure) is that we love to mix it up with spice!

danik - 7 months ago Reply

Havent been to Philippines yet but its one of my top destinations to visit in Asia and when I do, I cant wait to check out all this yummy food 🙂

Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie - 7 months ago Reply

I’ve heard the reasoning behind a hot, tangy soup cooling the body, but does it actually work? I think it’s hard to judge as a visitor because my body isn’t accustomed to the climate, but it’s certainly something you see a lot of people doing in the Philippines and throughout Asia.

sherianne - 7 months ago Reply

I have not been to the Philippines but I’m a fan of sour and salty so I believe i would enjoy the food. Especially if I could stop somewhere for a sweet after meal treat later on!

    Carla Abanes - 7 months ago Reply

    Oh should come visit soon! We’ll be glad to show you around and you should sample our ice cream with calamansi!

Sydney Zaruba - 7 months ago Reply

Wow, I had no idea that Filipino cuisine had so much reliance on lemon!! Really interesting read, thanks for sharing. I’m a big fan of all things sour, so I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind!

Claudia - 7 months ago Reply

I dont think I have ever tried filipino food or know much about it so thank you for introducing it to me! I had no idea that they used so much lemon!

Barb - 7 months ago Reply

I love the Philippines, I have been there twice, but I didnt realize they eat ceviche there. Ceviche is actually really healthy for you. I am not sure if you know that.

Madhurima Maiti - 7 months ago Reply

I personally love food with a hint of sour and these are so delicious food. Healthy too! Would love to visit Philippines soon.

Debra Schroeder - 7 months ago Reply

Who knew that sour defined Filipino cuisine. I’ve never thought about it or detected that sour taste in all the dishes I’ve eaten. Maybe cause limes are a staple in my diet. 🙂

Sandy N Vyjay - 7 months ago Reply

The sour taste seems to rule the roost in the Philippine cuisine. Personally I like the sour taste, but just a hint of it. The sourness in lemon and raw mangoes is something I love. In our cuisine too, we use a lot of tamarind to get the sourness.

Vicki Louise - 7 months ago Reply

I haven’t been to the Philippines yet, but I loved all the food I ate throughout the rest of SE Asia – and I’m sure everything in the Philippines will be just as good. I can’t wait to try it all!

Reshma Narasing - 7 months ago Reply

I have been to the Philippines and you are so true about lemons! In fact, I added a tinge of lemon to all that I tried and loved it absolutely. Also, the red chilly peppers added an awesome taste to the lovely dishes in this country.

Megan - 7 months ago Reply

I love the line – you have to taste the culture to understand it. That’s so true! I’ve only had a little bit of Filipino food but agree on the sour. Hope to make it there one day to explore it even more.

Promise Chika Maxwell - 7 months ago Reply

Never visited the Philippines but I heard there cuisine are toasty tasty. Also like the idea of adding lemon to some dishes it gives it a unique taste.

Samantha Sparrow - 7 months ago Reply

Didn’t realise sour was such a huge part of filipino cooking – I’d love to have a go at reacreting at home as we always love to try new cuisine as like you said it helps us understand the culture!

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