There are a remarkable number of Filipino food influences. Mia Orino and Carlo Gan from Kamayan ATL Pop Up restaurant talk about the global and regional factors that are present in the food they create.
Mia: What makes Filipino cuisine unique, and a little different from other Asian foods, is that the Philippines were colonized for 300 years by the Spanish. Then we were bought by America, and eventually occupied by the Japanese in World War II.
Carlo: So those flavors, like tomatoes, we have adopted and adapted into our food culture.
Mia: Then on top of that, Carlo and I are both of Chinese decent, so we have influences from there. My grandmother came from China in the 1930s, and my mom was born in the Philippines 5 years later.
Carlo: There was a wave in the 1930s where a bunch of people moved to the Philippines. My grandfather relocated from central China in the 1930s too.
Mia: And then because the Philippines are a bunch of islands, the food is really regional. If you meet a Filipino here in the U.S., the first question they would ask is “Where are you from?” They mean “which province?” Then they will bond with you if you are from the same region. I come from the only region in the Philippines that uses a lot of chilies and coconut milk. Our cuisines is more like Thai and Lao. As you go to other provinces there are differences – like different sugars, garlics, and vinegars. Every region has its own.
Carlo: A good example is Adobo, which is a very well-known Filipino dish. I cook my Adobo differently than Mia just because of where I grew up. It’s the same dish, but ours taste different. I can’t cook hers, and she can’t cook mine! Hers is more Chinese, and mine is more Filipino.
Mia: I actually love his because it’s real Filipino. The soy sauce is different, and even the vinegar. There are so many varieties of vinegar: sugar cane vinegar, coconut vinegar, palm vinegar, and palm wine vinegar too. In the region where Carlo grew up they use Sukang iloko vinegar – which is a fermented sugar cane vinegar, and acidic in flavor.
Carlo: We have a lot of sugar cane plantations. The cane tastes different grown in different soils, so can make a variety of flavors in your vinegar. Sugar cane and rice are our two main agricultural crops. We export a lot of it.