Make a case for vegan Filipino food
Over the course of more than three centuries, the Philippine diet has come to include more meat. Gilbuena says: “Going towards avant-garde dishes [is] a way of decolonizing the kitchen and saying, let’s go back to our roots to literally eat whatever grew in our backyards or on our farms.
While vegan Filipino food may honor pre-colonial culture and culinary traditions, the use of new plant-based “meat” products is also an example of the adaptation that is central to Filipino food in its use. together. The layered flavors that Gilbuena says exemplify the cuisine are the result of a blend of foreign influences, born out of international trade and the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. Native cooks adopted and borrowed elements from Malaysian, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and other cuisines and adjusted them to meet local tastes and available ingredients.
Filipino food historian Doreen Fernandez has called this process “indigenization.” She wrote in her 1988 study “Culture Ingested” that the process begins with a foreign element but “ends with a dish that can truly be considered Filipino cuisine.” Take the method of cooking gisa, or stir-fry, she wrote. Indigenous people cooked by simmering and souring, boiling, steaming, roasting, and serving fresh or raw foods. Gisa, meanwhile, was learned from the Spaniards, who sauté food in olive oil with onions or garlic, and also from the Chinese, who sauté their noodles, vegetables and proteins. .
But the Filipinos have skipped theirs. As Fernandez wrote, the garlic needs to be fragrant and golden before adding to the onions, which then need to be made soft and transparent before adding the sliced tomatoes. It doesn’t matter what you add after that, as long as the garlic, onions, and tomatoes are all used and cooked in that order. “This preliminary process can Filipino anything – cauliflower, leftover fish, scrambled eggs, noodles, paella and even canned Japanese mackerel,” Fernandez wrote.
I think this idea of making things your own applies not only to gisa, but to other Filipino cooking techniques as well. Whether you choose to make Jackfruit Adobo, Mushroom Sisig, or Beyond Meat Lumpia, it can still hold the soul of Filipino cuisine. In this way, Filipino vegan food can be seen not as the vegetalization of Filipino food, but rather the Filipino of vegan food.
The challenge for chefs is to find ways to capture the same flavors to keep the feeling and nostalgia attached to the original dishes. Pugao admits, “You can’t imitate everything.” In 21 years of plant-based cooking, he’s never quite managed to find a vegan alternative to dinuguan, pork offal simmered in a thick, dark and flavorful sauce made with pork blood, garlic, chili and vinegar.