Check Out Our Most Popular Pre-2014 Food History ArticlesMay 22, 2019
Today’s the one friday of the year that , probably, won’t leave you stuck in traffic in EDSA if you set out after five. It’s just too bad there’s no place actually left open. So for the few people still stuck here in Manila, why don’t we just stay home and run through some of Pepper’s most popular articles on the history and origins of food from before our 2014 re-launch?
Long before merienda meant stale convenience store hot dogs and burgers sold by disturbingly happy bumblebees (or even more disturbing ginger-haired clowns), peckish Filipinos have flocked for generations to their neighborhood bakeries or panaderia. Rice might be the undisputed favorite carbohydrate in our country, but we’ll always have a soft spot for the cheap, fragrant buns in those glass display cases by the road.
Knocking back a few pints of beer while chowing down on copious amounts of salty, greasy food is a time-honored tradition all over the world. The Spaniards came up with tapas or pinchos, the Koreans snack on anju, and we Filipinos have pulutan. A popular favorite in our country is sisig, which is comprised of a pig’s face that’s been chopped up and fried to perfection. Crispy, tangy, and meaty, it’s a perfect complement for beer’s natural earthy flavors. While its high fat and sodium content can make you dizzy and bloated, none of that matters once you’re three bottles in to drowning your frustrations with your douche ex in between mouthfuls of sizzling sisig.
If those catchy commercials on television are to be believed, merienda is the sole territory of fast food burger heavyweights. However, any homegrown Filipino will tell you that creepy, ginger-haired clowns or bug-eyed jolly bees have nothing on their favorite kakaninsold by their neighborhood suki. After a long day at the office, a slice of biko or a few pieces of palitaw are what most of us normally crave for. We can’t help it; it’s practically in our blood.
While the Philippines and China continue to square off over Scarborough and other disputed territories, a food trip through the streets of Binondo can easily make you forget about those territorial squabbles. While defining the boundaries of our country and that of our populous neighbor’s is simple enough for anyone who can read a map, identifying precisely when and where the Chinese influence on our cuisine starts and ends is a lot trickier. It’d be akin to trying to separate the components of a bowl of Yang Chow fried rice.
Exactly when street food first appeared on Philippine streets remains unclear, but its presence was first documented during the Spanish occupation. Unlike in other countries where street food came into being out of necessity, its emergence in our nation had more sinister roots. The conquering Spaniards considered the natives as second-class citizens fit only for slave labor, and thus kept the best parts of the animals for themselves. All that remained for the Filipinos were cow lungs, pig intestines, and chicken livers: parts that the Hispanic conquerors considered unsuitable for human consumption. To make the undesirable portions easier on the palate, Filipinos came up with creative ways of cooking them. They became adept at cleaning, flavoring, and grilling the innards, and eventually started selling them to fellow workers as a quick snack in between bouts of forced backbreaking work.