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The 10 Filipino Staples Needed in Every Care Package

December 17, 2015

No matter how many rewards living abroad can reap, there are times when the situations can get a little too lonely. Exploring cultures and discovering new flavors will make for an exciting journey, but a break from adventure is always welcome, especially when it involves your dining options. Residing in Tokyo might give you the best ramen, but some rainy days need mami or tinola instead. When things are getting a little too different, tell your loved ones to send you a care package for an instant dose of familiarity.

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This condiment is quintessentially Filipino; it has transformed from a wartime staple to one that’s instrumental on every dining table. It may be divisive, but the sugary ketchup is essential to some well-known dishes. What’s torta, fried chicken, or sweet spaghetti without it? It shows off our flair for uniting savory with sweet, and has become so celebrated that its distinct taste instantly feels like home.

1. Banana Ketchup

This condiment is quintessentially Filipino; it has transformed from a wartime staple to one that’s instrumental on every dining table. It may be divisive, but the sugary ketchup is essential to some well-known dishes. What’s torta, fried chicken, or sweet spaghetti without it? It shows off our flair for uniting savory with sweet, and has become so celebrated that its distinct taste instantly feels like home.

2.  Golden Sweet Corn

Even Buzzfeed has labeled this snack as one that’s distinctly Filipino—it’s round, soft, and sweet, which apparently makes up the foundation of favorite Filipino dishes. Both salty and sweet, the golden puffs were almost always included in everyone’s merienda or baon when they were kids.

3. Pancit Canton

Every country may have their own addictive form of dried noodles, but the Filipino version of this faster-than-fast food was derived from Chinese immigrants that turned into a comforting bowl found at every street corner. Regional flavors may differ in style, flavor, and noodle texture, but those in little plastic packets largely remain the same. Springy ramen-style noodles that are dry instead of drowned in broth, are showered with packets of powdered flavoring, then served with an optional fried egg and slice of calamansi.

4. Adobo, Sinigang, and Other Mixes

Filipino grandmothers might disown you for taking shortcuts, but when you’re abroad and devoid of kamias, gabi or tamarind, there might be no choice but to betray tradition. It might not matter if these mixes are the closest thing to home, without having to substitute for ingredients that might not end up yielding the same flavorful results. From garlicky, soy sauce-laden adobo, to sinigang sour enough to make your lips pucker, these are lifesavers when you’re down in the dumps and need something that reminds you of dinners at home.

5. Knorr or Maggi

The thing about the Filipino palate is that it is trained to love so much of certain profiles. We’re often accused of combining too many flavors, but that is sometimes what makes our dishes incredibly distinct. We might even pack on more to create bigger punches—extremely sour kinilaw, dangerously spicy Bicol express, way too sugary leche flan. If we need a fast dose of salt, it’s Knorr or Maggi to the rescue, the magical cure-all bottle for brightening up any plate, morning to night.

6. V-Cut

What Filipino doesn’t love snacking? V-Cut has maintained a spot as one of the best of them all. The barbeque flavor is the kind of cross between sweet and spicy that Filipinos have perfected, reminiscent of street food sticks at every corner. An airy bag of the stuff will have you back at the playground in no time, with memories of recess and Chinese garter close by.

7. Corned Beef

When people tell you corned beef means that classy meat found in an Irish stew with potatoes, or the one sandwiched between other deli meats and deli bread, then tell them they have been missing out their entire lives on something Filipinos have turned into their own. Whether found in a soupy mess with cabbage and onions, or crispy and dry with tons of garlic and wet egg, the canned corned beef is a crazy carnivorous dream that is the Philippine stringy, beefy version of mystery meat. In all its forms, and no matter what brand even, corned beef is one of the best breakfast staples, and will turn anyone on to canned goods.

8. Choc-Nut

Choc-Nut is a damn mystery. Its powdery, polvoron-like form hardly counts as chocolate, yet pop one into your mouth, and it’s the chocolatey, nutty bar of generations of childhood dreams. No care package would be complete without something to sate the sweet tooth. Bitter and sweet, soft but sometimes with a surprising crunch from the crushed peanuts, Choc-Nut is the definitive, nostalgic choice.

9. Sardines or Tuyo

While mostly eaten during breakfast, bottled and dried fish are part of any Filipino’s diet. Bright and early, tuyo is used as a salty component to creamy, intense champorado, while sardines come sandwiched between warm pandesal with pillows of creamy kesong puti. The flavors of these might be extremely Filipino, but they lend themselves well to virtually any dish that needs a bit of a salty, fishy hit. If you’re starving after a long day, a few slivers would do well on crackers, and chopped up into dressing, tuyo can instantly substitute anchovies.

10. Taba ng Talangka

The trouble with aligue may lay in its bountiful cholesterol and fat, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from indulging in mounds and mounds of potted crab roe. The bright orange stuff might signify a pending heart attack, but with a little garlic, chili, and calamansi, it can be as luxurious as even caviar, whether mixed into pasta or cupfuls of rice. Aligue can be intense, but a bottle of this could last in your cupboard for weeks, and spread out for several tasty meals.

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All photos courtesy of Barby Tan.

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Pamela Cortez Pamela Cortez

Pamela Cortez writes about food full-time, and has honed her craft while writing for publications such as Rogue, Town and Country, and The Philippine Star. She once rode on a mule for a mile just to eat mint tea and lamb in Morocco, and has eaten a block of Quickmelt in one sitting. Her attempt at food photography can be viewed online @meyarrr.

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1 comments in this post SHOW

One response to “The 10 Filipino Staples Needed in Every Care Package”

  1. valdeaunia says:

    Nice list, the pancit canton was the only one that made it in our personal list lol (based on what me and my friends bring back with us) 😂😃
    1. Tender Juicy hotdog
    2. Tocino
    3. Boy bawang (even our local colleagues love this stuff lol)
    4. Goldilocks dinuguan
    5. Happy peanuts
    6. Lucky Me (both the soup and pancit canton)
    7. Polvoron
    8. Mang Tomas
    9. Longanisa
    10. Hopiang munggo/ube

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