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Filipino Food & Eating Healthy

7 March 2011 11 Comments

 

 

We always tend to describe our cuisine as “fatty, succulent and delicious” (I believe it’s the perfect description for Lechon haha) but I couldn’t help but wonder… in these times that healthy living is a fast becoming trend, and people are getting conscious of what they eat, is there any room for Filipino food in anyone’s stomach?

One of the greatest attributes of our cuisine is comfort. Simmering pork belly for an hour in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and pepper until it’s very tender, is not really one person’s idea of healthy food. But don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the food you’ll catch me eating in the middle of the night, in my bed, watching movies. But is there really a chance that we can associate Filipino food with healthy eating?

Last Friday, I was invited to do a cooking demo on a health and wellness expo, which got me thinking on the possibilities of incorporating Filipino ingredients, techniques and recipes which might contribute to a balanced diet and wellness of being.

 

Sweet Potato by Geocachernemesis from Wikimedia Commons

 

Let us take the underrated sweet potato for example. When Filipinos talk about “camote” the first thing that we associate it with is getting a gassy stomach but we sometimes overlook the possibility that it is a complex carb with natural sugars that can give us all the energy that would get us through the day. We can actually substitute it with any recipe that would require a regular potato whether baked, fried or mashed. Did you know that sweet potatoes are also great combined with curry powder? Or with fresh herbs like Thyme, Cilantro and Basil? (Hmm, a recipe… CURRY-BAKED SWEET POTATO WITH CILANTRO SOUR CREAM haha sounds good).

Tinola Lunch by FoxLad from Wikimedia Commons

 

A healthy Filipino dish that I can think of is “Tinola” –  light chicken broth with ginger, papaya, and malunggay. All the nutrients in one pot. In a way, I am becoming a fan of “fusion and modern cuisines” as being cooks, we are slowly trying to change the techniques and ingredients to create a lighter version of Filipino classics that are smaller in portion, but still retains the identity that we all grew up with. As a modern cook, I am not here to “murder“ the dishes of our heritage or preach about what to eat, but to share with you that small hole of potential; that Filipino food and ingredients could also be a part of a healthy lifestyle, and aid in the never-ending battle of promoting Filipino cuisine in the modern world.

Organic Farming by Surachit from Wikimedia Commons

 

Recently, organic farming and the use of organic ingredients has been a real hit. Well… we don’t get vegetables as big as we used to, but believe me when I say that it definitely tastes better and it is really worth that extra penny (yes, and of course it’s a healthier alternative). We Filipinos are very fond of planting vegetables in our backyard without using chemical fertilizers and I believe it is the way to go. I remember long time ago, when I was catering for a client, her grand mother wouldn’t eat the chicken that I served. She told me that ever since she was little, she would only eat free-range chicken and organic vegetables, from their backyard. She is 98 years old now, still strong and still planting vegetables within her lot. It is very inspiring really, and while we are at the subject of “healthy eating”, many restaurants now in the Philippines are offering fat-free alternatives to classic Filipino dishes. The group of restaurants that I work in now offer low-salt options in their menu and some even make dishes according to diet specifications.

Going back, There are many Filipino Ingredients or dishes that can be suitable for a very strict healthy diet like “Dalandan, Ampalaya, Monggo…” the list goes on. All we need to do is try to exploit the possibilities and combine it with organic ingredients with a little substitution, if necessary. Then we can actually say that Filipino cuisine is suitable for a healthy lifestyle and of course, I would not forget the primary reason why I am trying to incorporate Filipino cuisine with ingredients in promoting health and wellness….because they’re just so GOOD!

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11 Comments »

  • seigfredtristan said:

    I’ll be the first one to comment since I cannot stop myself from saying something while reviewing this post. LOL.

    Yes. Filipino food and healthy living can happily hold hands and walk towards the sunset forever.

    There are still a lot of Filipinos who grow their own chicken, pig and goats, fruits and vegetables in rural areas. Whenever I visit relatives in the farm, they would just run after roaming free range and I would even consider them wild chickens. My uncle would always nd forever have Sinigang for dinner because he’s scared of hypertension and he is pretty strong for his age. Unless we load up with grease (usually during fiestas and holidays) I think Filipino food is absolutely healthy except of course for fatty dishes.

  • myrabella said:

    mmmmmhhhhh …. i think this is a very tricky issue …. if we simplified the whole essence of filipino cuisine … we are talking about salty, overcooked vegetables or meet swimming in oil … I admit I LOVE THEM! but I think if I were to judge … our food is not really that healthy, if we are really honest to ourselves. Our salads are even bombared with 110% calories ….. But as I mentioned, we just LOVE our dish … nevertheless … we stick to them! :)

  • ChefMike (author) said:

    Yes Myrabella, I get your opinion. That’s why I am slowly becoming an advocate of “Modern Cuisine” as we are trying to change those overcooked, fatty ingredients and changing the techniques and methods to make the all the ingredients stand-out instead of one or two ingredients becoming an accessory in a dish. Recently, we are also trying to promote our “other” dishes like our ensaladas and broth soups I believe there is still that small potential on Filipino cuisines becoming diet staples and healthier alternatives, the question is how do we exploit them in making them so. Thank you for your comment! :)

  • luisg said:

    paksiw na fish (not the lechon) is another healthy filipino dish especially with ampalaya and/or talong.

    i just started growing sili indoors. i am more interested in the leaves for tinola than the sili itself. i just found a nice spot ideal for malunggay at the back of the building. got to find me a malunggay branch.

  • Grafton Uranus said:

    In our home, “Ay, kamote!” isn’t an expression of derision. If you use kamote for your fries instead of potatoes, it isn’t French fries anymore, is it? Also, we love our chicken curry better with kamote than with potatoes. I don’t know, though, if it would be healthy, even with vegetables like green beans and carrots and enriched with coconut milk, because we tend to eat more than the usual. Which leads to the hypothetical question that if we lighten up our cuisine, will we be as jolly as Filipinos are characterized to be?

  • lei said:

    hi chef,

    what a very good point to raise since essentially foreigners’ (and even Filipinos) impression of Filipino food is that it’s unhealthy. this is mainly because some of our most popular dishes are indeed fatty: lechon, chicharon, pork adobo (somehow my mind conjures an image of cuts of pork streaked with fat soaking and relaxing in a tub of oil, laurel-infused), even our desserts can be very sweet. but one can also argue that other foreign dishes could be unhealthy as well — cooked with unbelievable amounts of butter, duck or goose fat (eg cassoulet), deep-fried stuff, and their desserts can be sickeningly sweet too.

    i believe the dilemma lies in how food is approached and taken. everything that is excessive can be bad. i think the trick is eating in moderation. also, your idea of substitution is perfect in bringing forward awareness of local ingredients that tend to get overlooked. even substitution of meat cuts (using leaner meat instead of fatty cuts), using healthier oil in cooking, and employing other methods to reduce the fat content would ultimately transform these seemingly unhealthy dishes into much viable and healthier alternatives. and of course, if one’s circumstances would permit it, there is no argument against organic farming.

    great article. claps and snaps. :)

  • Aileen@KitchenKwento said:

    Great article! There’s many healthy Filipino foods that don’t get the same airtime as fiesta foods. This is so important because it really shouldn’t be about choosing between culturally relevant foods and health. There must be a way to integrate both.

    On the subject of substitution, I recently taught a cooking workshop for Filipino families receiving “grub boxes” of local grown, fresh vegetables. One challenge was to not only cook vegetarian, but to include non-traditional vegetables that came in their grub box (ie, kale). While the dishes didn’t taste exactly the same, they captured the spirit of Filipino flavors. I’ve also heard some community wellness groups, ie Kalusugan health services in san diego, ca, have compiled entire cookbooks on adapted Filipino foods. Its growing everywhere!

    Thanks for your article, awesome.

  • ChefMike (author) said:

    To all readers: Thank you for sharing your views and opinions. I really appreciate it! Incorporating the words, “Filipino Food” and “Eating Healthy” can be very tricky, as we have so many factors to consider in doing so. Yes, moderation is a big factor when we talk about “diet” Yes, there are a lot of international cuisines that are “unhealthy” as well. But in our struggle to introduce Filipino cuisine globally, as diet alternative , how do we do it? I believe we have a lot to offer. There are so many unpopular Filipino dishes that are just waiting for their spotlight. It just so happen that our popular dishes are the “unhealthy” ones. So, in our advocacy… is it a matter of choosing what to promote. If we choose to promote our popular dishes to wellness, then we definitely have to consider substitution and while we are at the subject of substitution, I would like to stress-out that I am not only pertaining to substituting different ingredients but taking that extra step to acquire organic ingredients. I don’t think we can go wrong in doing so. :) As for substituting different ingredients like camote for potatoes, I think we can derive a whole new experience, as it could change or retain a single dish but definitely make it better,taste and/or substance. Change in preparation is also vital. In introducing Filipino cuisine to health and wellness, we must try to change meat and vegetable handling and other classical Filipino techniques to make each ingredient stand out and at the end of the day, achieve its individual nutritional value. I would like to know more of your opinions regarding this matter. I believe we can learn from each others views and opinions.
    @luisg – it is very easy to plant malunggay in your yard, If you’re not in the Philippines, finding one would be difficult but I am sure you’ll find it. :)
    @Grafton Uranus – Yes. I suggest you try substituting ingredients, there’s a high probability that it would turn out to be delicious! :)
    @Lei- In our advocacy to promote Filipino cuisine, one primary objective is remove some of the negative and false impression. With that, you have me to help you all the way!
    @Aileen@KitchenKwento-I would like to know more about the compiled cookbooks on adapted Filipino foods

    Thank you very much! God Bless!

  • Misha Ortuoste said:

    hmmmm, i somehow cannot imagine Filipino food to be healthy because as Lei pointed out, when we say Filipino food, a very huge picture of Lechon appears to the minds of almost everyone,hehehehe.. I asked my dad about this and he said, yes, Filpino food can be healthy too. He pointed out the Adobong Kangkong (but i said there is soy sauce in it) and then he said the Ginisang alugbati in garlic (saute garlic, put the talbos ng alugbati,voila!) , and the talbos ng saluyot and sayote salad (washed and poured with hot water, drain,serve)and i am like, the usual Filipino family doesn’t serve these foods, and my dad finalyy gave in and he said, “oo nga ano, walang healthy na pagkain ang Pinoy” hahahahaha.

    come to think of it, nowadays, we just try to incorporate healthy ideas into our food. have you tried to make the Puso ng Saging Burger? It tastes like meat, talaga. I make this to my kids to make them eat veggies. And the grated Calabasa, mixed with flour and egg that i fry in vegetable oil.ano pa ba? hahahaha.

    i rest my case..i love Filipino Food! healthy or not…

  • Rick said:

    Fun Fact: Chicharon has less fat per gram than most potato crisps. (Salt is a totally different matter)

    As a westerner fan of Filipino food, there’s many ways even the traditional dishes can be served with less fats. I make a great Kare Kare but use lean meats. The flavour is all there — to the point where it tastes better than some of the versions I’ve tried in the Philippines.

    My dream is to one day open a Filipino restaurant that’s aimed at westerners the same way there’s Indian, Thai, Chinese etc restaurants on every street corner. There’s amazing flavours that need to be experienced by the rest of the world! (Most Filipino restaurants that I’ve been to look like church hall potlucks and are clearly aimed at the expat community.)

  • ChefMike (author) said:

    That’s good information Rick, I didn’t know that! Thank you for sharing your views!:)

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