Philippine cuisine has been influenced by Chinese, Malay, Spanish, Mexican, American, and Indian cooking. The staple of Filipino food is rice, usually served with pig, seafood, chicken, and/or native fruits, and the ever-present dipping sauces.
Filipinos love to eat, and since they're naturally hospitable and gregarious, food is the basis of their social life. Because the feeling of fulfillment after eating rice, their staple ingredient, is relatively short-lived, they eat three meals a day and two snacks in between. Filipinos, especially country folk, rise early. Some will eat a segundo almuerzo (second breakfast) around 10:30, plus a merienda, or mid-afternoon snack. Rural folk eat their main meal at midday, while city dwellers emphasize the evening meal. The diet of poor families is usually rice, fish, vegetables, interspersed with starchy snacks. At fiesta time, all families try to eat meat.
Since few provincial households own a refrigerator, ingredients are customarily either fresh or salted. Housewives go to the market daily to buy their immediate requirements. Leftovers rarely remain after a meal. Extra food is eaten by servants, helpers, and hangers-on, and scraps go to the dog or pig. Food isn't served in courses; people like the complete meal laid out before them so that they can eat simultaneously from all dishes—soup, meat, and vegetables—at random. Cooks provide condiments, flavorings, and dipping sauces to be used at the diner's discretion. Food is eaten with a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, knives are seldom used. Rural Filipinos prefer to use their hands. Some upscale native restaurants in Manila serve food this way (kamayan-style).
A stranger passing Filipinos who are eating will automatically be invited to "come and eat." It's polite to say you've already eaten. If people insist, or if there's an abundance of food such as at a wedding or fiesta, then by all means participate. Don't accept the first invitation. It's better to point out how inconvenient it would be for the host, or to make a polite excuse, then wait to see if you're pressed further. It's the Filipino way, enabling the visitor to gauge whether an invitation is genuine or not.
Travelers should always take into account the reverence Filipinos have for food. Regular mealtimes are strictly observed. When visiting a home, you'll be offered food and drink. It's polite to wait to be urged to sit at the table or begin eating. If you don't like the food, eat a little and make an excuse rather than reject it outright. Guests leave a little food on the plate to indicate they're satisfied.
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This page modified January 2007
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