Popular dishes like lechon, adobo, and sinigang often attract the spotlight when it comes to Filipino foods. What is not discussed as often are the native ingredients that enhance the taste of several dishes in the Philippines.
While ingredients such as garlic, onion, and tomato are commonly used in the country as well, this list contains ingredients that are unique to the Philippines and may have been exported to bring the taste of home to millions of Filipinos working and living abroad.
1 | Calamansi
Calamansi (Citrus × microcarpa), also known as calamondin and Philippine lime, is a type of citrus native to the Philippines. This tangy and aromatic tiny fruit is popularly used in marinades, dipping sauce, and in various noodle dishes. It’s also made into juice, fruit shakes, and baked goods like muffin. One of the most popular native ingredients, calamansi is not difficult to find as it is available year round all over the Philippines.
2 | Bagoong
Bagoong is a condiment that is either made of fermented fish (bagoong isda) or fermented krill or shrimp (alamang). It is known for its strong smell, salty taste, and pinkish to reddish color. It is often sauteed in garlic, cooked with pork, made into dipping sauce, served with kare-kare, and an ingredient of pinakbet. It is also popularly partnered with green mangoes which is drool worthy for almost every Filipino.
3 | Tablea
Tablea is made of cacao beans that are dried, roasted, and ground into thick paste and formed into tablets. It is popularly used to make native hot chocolate drink called tsokolate which is best partnered with rice cakes and local breads such as pandesal. Tablea is also used in cooking other traditional foods like champorado and desserts like brownies, cakes, and cupcakes.
4 | Pili
The Philippines is the only country that grows pili (Canarium ovatum), a symmetrically-shaped evergreen tree that bears a drupe fruit with a large, round kernel. It is used in candies, brittle, and pastries like cakes and muffin. Pili is mostly grown in the Bicol region which is recognized as the prime location of the pili nut trade.
5 | Asin tibuok
Asin tibuok is a Filipino artisanal sea salt with a distinct sharp taste with smoky and fruity undertones. The ingredient is rare as the process to make it is long and difficult. It is made using a clay pot that will eventually crack and reveal the solidified mass of salt. The salt is sold along with the broken pot so it is easily recognizable for its unique appearance. Produced in the province of Bohol, asin tibuok is used by grating a light dusting over food particularly sinangag (local fried rice). It is also used in stews and other dishes like regular salt.
6 | Landang
Landang is a local version of sago and is made from buli or buri, a type of palm found in the Philippines. Landang is used in cooking binignit, a Visayan dessert soup made with glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk and containing sweet potato, saba bananas, and others.
7 | Tabon-tabon
Found in Northern Mindanao, the fruit of Tabon-tabon tree (Atuna racemosa) is used in making kinilaw, the local version of ceviche. The flesh of this roundish or pear-shaped fruit is grated to help neutralize the fishy smell of kinilaw.
Tabon-tabon has been used in cooking for around a thousand of years as remains of it along with fish bones have been recovered in Butuan in northeastern Mindanao.
Bignay (Antidesma bunius), kamias (Averrhoa bilimbi), and tamarind are also popular ingredients in the Philippines but they’re also native to other Asian countries including Indonesia, India, and Malaysia.
READ MORE: Filipino Food & Drinks