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.
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).
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.
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!