The Filipino Pantry
Curated by food-stylist extraordinaire, Lynee Calamia
The Main Characters
- Soy Sauce — My Mom’s Adobo is better than yours. Why? Silver Swan. It’s smoother, richer, and not as salty as some other brands. I used to mess with the other brands when I made adobo and wondered why it could never touch my Mom’s. Now the secret is out. You’re welcome.
- Cane Vinegar — What even is it? It’s made from sugarcane, which is one of the most profitable crops grown in the Philippines. The juice of the sugarcane is fermented and eventually grows up to become cane vinegar. Silver Swan brand is good. Datu Puti is better. In a side-by-side taste test (which I totally did) Datu Puti sucker punched my taste buds with its bright acidity (5%) whereas the Silver Swan (at 4% acidity) was just…sour.
- Rice — Jasmine rules the roost and this is the one you’ll find in my Mom’s rice cooker. You may find sweet/glutinous rice co-starring with Miss Jasmine in Arroz Caldo. It adds another textural dimension that I really like.
- Fish Sauce — In the Philippines it’s called patis. Rufina is the brand I grew up on. What I didn’t know, is that Rufina was an actual lady who invented patis! It’s salty and loud but reminds me of my childhood and how I would just pour the stuff right on my rice and plow it down. Fast forwarding a few years, Red Boat brand enters the scene and fish sauce lovers, like myself, flocked to it. Still salty, but delicate, kind of sweet, and deeply flavored at the same time. It’s the stuff that the now grown up me pours straight on her rice.
- Bagoong — It’s shrimp paste. Millions of tiny shrimps got together with some salt and a whole lot of time fermenting and gifted us with what Filipinos call bagoong. Eaten straight out of the jar is how I like it, especially when smeared over slices of crunchy green mango. It’s the snack you didn’t know you needed in your life, but trust me, you do.
- Garlic and Ginger — If garlic is Fred and ginger is…well, Ginger, this duo is always paired beautifully in Filipino cooking.
- Spring Roll Wrappers — We use these thin, crepe-like shells for lumpia. The thicker wrappers you sometimes see contain eggs, thus the name eggroll, which lumpia are not. Fun fact: It’s not a Filipino party until Lumpia shows up.
- Noodles — Pancit is another favorite dish that always shows up at the party. It simply means noodle. Pancit bihon gets the skinny rice noodles. Pancit canton gets the fat wheat ones.
The Supporting Cast
- Banana Ketchup/Sauce — A condiment used like American Ketchup, only bananas.
- Hoisin, Oyster, and Sweet Soy Sauce — Added to dishes for that “why is this so good?” flavor.
- Chinese Sausage (Lap Cheong) — An easy find in Asian markets, fresh or frozen. Slice, fry, eat. You won’t be able to stop.
- Tamarind — Tamarind grows on tropical region trees in cute little pod-like packages. It also comes conveniently de-podded in jars at your local international market. It’s tangy and sour but also dark and sweet. It puts the “sin” in sinigang.
The Sweet Finishers
- Macapuno Strings — Are they coconut? Are they gummies? I had to look this up. All these years I had no idea what I was even eating. In a nutshell (pun intended) they come from a type of coconut specially cultivated to produce this stuff. So no, they’re not gummies.
- Cassava — This little tuber went to market and came out grated, packaged, and frozen. Its main responsibility in the Filipino pantry is putting the magic in Cassava Cake.
By magic, I mean it acts like flour to thicken and bind. So, if there’s no flour in there, this dessert is gluten-free. Bonus!
- Coconut and Condensed Milks — You know what they are, and you’ll need them for that magical Cassava Cake.