A Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines has a population of more than 100 million people, substantial communities living abroad, and a multi-ethnic history – Malay, Chinese, Spanish and American – that shapes its cuisine.
Popular dishes are pancit (stir-fried rice noodles), sinigang (meat or seafood in sour broth with tamarind), embotido (meatloaf), longganisa (sausage) and lumpia (fried spring rolls). Chinese influences appear in afritada (chicken and/or pork simmered in a peanut sauce with vegetables), kare-kare (oxtail and vegetables cooked in peanut sauce) and pinakbet (kabocha squash, eggplant, beans, okra, and tomato stew flavored with shrimp paste). Hamonado (pork sweetened in pineapple sauce) makes use of the country’s tropical ingredients. Garlic fried rice, or sinangag, is a breakfast dish served with fried eggs and cured meat or sausages. Pandesal rolls are a common Filipino bakery item.
The Philippine’s Spanish colonial heritage is also tasted in Filipino lechón. From the Spanish word for milk, lechón originally meant roast suckling pig, prized for its mild milk-fed flavor and thin skin. In the Philippines, a traditional lechón is whole adult pig cooked outside on a spit over burning wood. The pig is basted periodically to create a crispy ochre-colored skin that is the hallmark of Filipino lechón, typically prepared with a spice mix featuring salt, black pepper, sugar, onion, vinegar and ground pork liver. Cebu-style lechón adds the flavors of lemongrass, star anise and bananas.
Filipino food is becoming easier to find across New Jersey. Hudson and Bergen counties are home to the most New Jerseyans reporting Filipino ancestry. For the greatest concentration of Filipino restaurants, visit Jersey City’s Little Manila along Newark and West Side Avenues. Jersey City, Bergenfield, Piscataway, Edison, Belleville and Woodbridge are the towns with the largest Filipino communities in New Jersey. The New Barbecue Pit in Bergenfield and Legal Beans in Jersey City are popular spots for Filipino barbecue. Many Filipino restaurants offer turo turo, or “point point”, style dining. Point at what you want among the dishes behind the counter and a generous portion is served on your plate.
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