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Learn about Filipino cuisine and create your own Filipino feast at home with these recipes, from Chicken Lugaw to purple Ube cheesecake.




A little familiar, a little exotic, Filipino food is masarap (the Tagalog word for “tasty”) and it’s finding new fans.

Whether small mom-and-pop spots feeding immigrants from this southeast Asian nation, vivid purple ube desserts trending on Instagram, or celebrity chefs (think Chicago’s Tim Flores and his Michelin-starred Kasama or London’s Budgie Montoya of Sarap), diners around the world are exploring Filipino flavours, and Victoria is no exception



A scattering of some 7,000+ islands, stretching across the South China Sea, the Philippines is a maritime country with a melting pot of culinary influences, from Chinese, Malaysian and Vietnamese, to Spanish, Portuguese, Mexican and American.

Some say Filipino cuisine the original fusion food. Typical sauces combine tomatoes with soy sauce and chilies, rice dishes have saffron and spicy cured sausages akin to chorizo, fast food leans toward fried chicken and burgers with fruity banana ketchup. There’s even a popular Filipino take on spaghetti and meat sauce, made with ground pork and hot dogs!

Purple yam — ube.

Add tropical ingredients such as purple yam (ube), fermented fish paste, tamarind and coconut vinegar, and you have a distinct Filipino cuisine.

It’s the inspiration for Filipino chefs today. But you may not be familiar with Filipino food, beyond classic chicken adobo and crispy lumpia spring rolls.

The menu at Ate (AH-tay), a new Filipino eatery in the city, features Filipino-inspired fast foods with one section devoted entirely to the “Purple Sandwich”, their distinctive purple yam burger buns topped with crispy fried fish, roasted “lechon” (pig) or a Lumpia patty inspired by the ground pork filling usually found in the popular Filipino spring roll.

Arroz Caldo is one of the Filipino dishes on the menu at Ate in Victoria

It’s a fusion of co-owner Jonna Deutcher’s memories of street food in the Philippines, and husband Clark’s nose-to-tail philosophy at sister restaurants Hank’s and Nowhere.

Jonna says Filipinos include offal in many of their traditional stews and sauces, so it’s a natural fit for the Ate menu, utilizing off cuts from the island-raised animals they break down in their other popular restaurant kitchens.

And she’s drawing on her mother’s home-style recipes for the modern mash-up of Filipino flavours at Ate, creative comfort food with a local, zero-waste approach.


Pancit — noodles with prawns — at Ate in Victoria.


Filipino food is savoury and rich but not generally too spicy. Sweet, sour and salty notes dominate many dishes, from Chicken Adobo and Kare-Kare, featuring meats and vegetables in a creamy peanut sauce, to Sinigang, a sour seafood soup with tart tamarind juice, and pinakbet vegetable stew seasoned with fermented shrimp paste.

Pork is king in the Philippines. The famous Filipino lechon may be a roasted suckling pig or a rolled pork belly that’s stuffed with lemon grass and slow-cooked until tender, then deep fried to create a bubbly crisp skin. Pork is the filling in lumpia spring rolls, and the ground meat in the oddly sweet Filipino meat sauce for pasta.

The perfectly crisp Filipino pork (lechon) from Benjamin's Cafe in Esquimalt

And its vinegar, or other acidic ingredients, that balance all that richness — used to marinade chicken and meats or as a dip/seasoning, along with other souring agents like calamansi (a tropical citrus fruit) and atchara, green papaya pickle.

Calamansi is a tropical citrus fruit.

Vinegar is also important as a preservative in this hot tropical climate. Like Spanish adobo, Filipino adobo starts with a vinegar-based marinade, but soy sauce and fish sauce are also part of the recipe.

Escabeche is another Filipino dish that traces its roots to Spanish and Portuguese colonists, featuring fish that’s quickly seared then topped with a sweet and sour sauce of slivered sweet peppers, carrots and vinegar.

Beyond these sour specialties are Filipino dishes inspired by Chinese cooking, from lumpia, the Filipino take on crispy spring rolls, to pancit, a popular Filipino noodle dish, similar to Chinese chow mein, with many regional variations.

Nothing is wasted — crispy sisig is made with chopped pork and chicken liver and there’s fiery bopis (heart stew). Popular Manila street snacks include skewered heart, tripe or other offal meats, grilled over charcoal and served with a vinegar dip, and stews and sauces are often made with ground liver.

Street food — skewered heart, tripe or other offal meats, grilled over charcoal

Ingredients like longanisa, a Filipino pork sausage that may be sweet or salty and garlicky, turns up in many dishes, too.

Silog is the typical breakfast dish of crispy garlic rice (or sinangag) with fried eggs and various meats including tapsilog (with strips of fried beef), longsilog (longanisa sausage) and tosilog (chicken).

Tapsilog (with strips of fried beef) and ube pancakes for breakfast at Benjamin's Cafe.



Gerald Tan, the executive pastry chef at the Empress Hotel, grew up in the Philippines and says desserts and pastries often feature Spanish-inspired sweets, from creamy leche flan (the Filipino crème caramel), almond cakes and cream-filled pastries to Halo-Halo, a kind of crazy Philippine sundae cup featuring layers of ice cream, flan, tapioca pearls and fruit.

Purple yam (ube), a popular ingredient for bakers, adds a vivid violet hue to breads, cakes, cookies, pies and frostings. It's the colour that's made all things "ube" social media stars.

Purple yam (ube) adds vivid colour to ice cream, cheesecake, baking and breads.

Tan says you can start with fresh yams, cooked with sweetened condensed milk and cream to create a sweet purple “yam jam” (halaya) to incorporate into desserts, or find it in jars at Filipino groceries. Dried and powdered purple yam or frozen yam is also an option when making halaya, and purple yam concentrate (an artificial colouring) is also boost the amethyst colour in ice cream, bread and baked goods.

At Benjamin’s Café, Chef Ervin Maliwanag makes his own creamy purple ube halaya, and uses it to layer with ube pancakes and French toast for a sweet and decadent breakfast dish. It’s also folded into the custard fillings for his tender Brazo de Mercedes meringue rolls and pastries.

At Friends & Family Bakery in Chinatown a variety of sweet pastries feature ube, too, whether the deep purple ube crinkle cookies, ube buns topped with creamy ube jam, warm ube-filled rolls, or colourful frosted cupcakes and layer cakes.


A little sweet, a little sour, a little salty and always savoury, Filipino foods offer a comfortable melting pot of flavours. Go for the crispy pork belly and stunning purple ube desserts but dig deeper a discover a world of delicious dining and family feasting, morning 'til night!





Lugaw (aka Arroz Caldo) is a comforting rice porridge made with chicken (similar to Chinese congee) to serve for breakfast, lunch or as a first course. Short grain rice and bone-in chicken thighs are best for this dish — if you have skin-on thighs, remove the skin, chop it and fry until crisp to garnish the porridge. I wanted to learn how to make this Filipino dish at home after enjoying the Arroz Caldo they serve at Ate in Victoria. Here's my version.

1 cup short or medium-grain white rice

8 cups water

2 tablespoons concentrated chicken base

½ teaspoon salt

3 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed (or boneless/skinless), about 250g

1 tablespoon minced ginger

3 dried Chinese shiitake mushrooms (optional)

Splash of fish sauce

White pepper

2 tablespoons neutral oil or chicken fat

3 large cloves garlic, sliced and fried until crisp

2 green onions, finely chopped

Juice of ½ lemon or lime


In a large pot, combine rice with 7 cups cold water, concentrated chicken base and salt, then bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the chicken to the pot (skin removed), along with the ginger and optional dried mushrooms, and simmer, covered, for 30-45 minutes, until chicken is very tender. Remove the chicken, discard bones, shred the meat and return to the pot. Slice the mushrooms, discarding the tough stems, and return to the pot.

Season porridge with a splash of fish sauce and white pepper to taste. Add all or part of the remaining 1 cup of water to thin to desired consistency. Continue to simmer to break the rice down more, if desired.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat and add the sliced garlic. Sautee garlic until just starting to colour, then remove to a paper towel to drain. If you have chicken skin, cut it into shreds, add to the hot oil and cook until crisp, draining on the paper with the garlic. Set aside.

To serve, ladle the rice porridge into individual bowls, and top each serving with fried garlic chips and/or crispy chicken skin, chopped green onions and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Makes 6-8 starter servings (four main dish servings).



Adobo has its roots in Spain and Portugal, proteins that are marinated with sweet paprika, chilies, red wine and vinegar. In the Philippine’s tropical climate, vinegar helps preserve meats and the marinade includes Asian ingredients. Some Filipino cooks use coconut oil and coconut milk (instead of canola oil and chicken broth) in the recipe for a creamier adobo sauce.


2 pounds pork shoulder (butt) or boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-3-inch pieces

½ cup soy sauce

3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

½ teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon canola oil

4-5 large cloves garlic, chopped

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cups good quality chicken stock

3 bay leaves

1-2 teaspoons Asian chili garlic paste, to taste)

1/3 cup vinegar (rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar)


Combine the pork (or chicken) with soy sauce, fish sauce and peppercorns in a bowl and stir to coat the meat well. Place into a zippered plastic bag and refrigerate 3 hours (or overnight) to marinate the meat.

The next day, in a large heavy pot, heat the oil and saute the chopped garlic and onion over medium heat until starting to brown. Add the meat and marinade to the pot with the chicken stock, bay leaves and a teaspoon of chili paste. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for 30-45 minutes (shorter for chicken, longer for pork), then uncover, add the vinegar, and continue to simmer on medium low until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thickened, about one hour longer.

Adjust the flavour of the sauce with vinegar, sugar or chili paste. Serve adobo over rice. Serves 4.



Pork is a popular meat in Filipino recipes and pancit is a popular stir-fried Filipino noodle dish, reminiscent of chow mein or Singapore noodles, with regional variations across the islands. Various meats are added to pancit, including pork and chicken, shrimp and fish balls. You can use thin rice vermicelli noodles (bihon) or wheat and egg noodles (canton) for pancit, or substitute noodles such as udon, ramen noodles or Chinese wonton noodles.

½ pound boneless pork loin chops, sliced into thin strips

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil

1 medium onion, sliced thin

1 large carrot, cut into matchstick pieces

1 cup sliced white cabbage

2 bunches baby bok choy, stems sliced, leafy bits reserved

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 oz. medium shrimp

8 oz. noodles (rice, egg or wheat)

1 cup chicken stock

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 green onions, sliced

Juice of 1 medium lime, plus extra quartered lime for serving


Season pork with salt and pepper. In a large wok, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium high heat until hot, then add the pork (in two batches) and sear quickly until browned. Remove pork to a plate as cooked, and reserve.

Add remaining oil to the wok and cook the onions, carrots, bok choy stems, cabbage, garlic until just crisp tender, add the shrimp and stir fry for a minute, then remove all from the wok and reserve with pork.

Add the stock, soy sauce and fish sauce to the wok, stirring up any browned bits. Bring to a boil and simmer until slightly.

If using rice noodles, soak in warm water for 5 minutes until soft, then drain and add to wok. If using fresh egg or wheat noodles, bring another pot of water to a boil and cook noodles for a minute or two, just until barely cooked, drain well.

Add noodles to the wok and toss with the sauce. Return the vegetables and pork to the wok and toss to combine and heat through.

Drizzle with sesame oil, add green onions and lime juice and toss again. Serve with lime on the side. Serves 4.

TIP: I also tried this recipe with crispy pork lechon that I purchased from a local restaurant. You might also try substituting half a pound of prawns for the pork.



An ube flavoured polvoron

Polvoron are unbaked Filipino cookies — a combination of toasted flour, powdered whole milk, sugar and butter that’s pressed into a special mold to create a tender shortbread-like cookie. The raw flour, toasted to make it safe for consumption, has a unique flavour.

Gerald Tan, the Executive Pastry Chef at the Fairmont Empress Hotel uses the classic polvoron mixture as a base for this colourful cheesecake, flavoured with vivid purple ube jam (halaya) and ube colouring, both available at Filipino grocers and Fairway Markets.


Polvoron Crust:

1½ cups (180 g) flour

1 1/3 cup (184 g) powdered milk (whole milk powder)

½ cup (100 g) sugar

1 cup (222 g) butter, melted


Place the flour into a large saute pan or wok and stir over medium heat until the flour is lightly browned and toasted. Place into a bowl to cool.

Add the powdered milk and sugar and stir to combine. Drizzle in the melted butter and stir to form a crumbly mixture.

Pat polvoron mixture firmly into a buttered 9-inch springform pan in an even layer and set aside.


Ube Cheesecake:

500 g cream cheese (2 blocks)

½ cup (100 g) sugar

4 tsp (13 g) cornstarch

½ cup (100 g) sour cream

2 large eggs (106 g)

2.5 oz. (66 g) white chocolate, chopped

2 tbsp (33 g) heavy cream

1 tsp ube flavour

1/3 cup (50 g) Ube Halaya (purple yam jam)

1/4 tsp (1 g) purple food colour


Whipped cream to garnish


Pre-heat the oven to 200F.

With an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, sugar and cornstarch and mix well, scraping the sides of the bowl every so often until you get a nice smooth consistency.

Add in sour cream and eggs, and beat until combined.

In a sauce pot, warm the cream along with the Ube Halaya, ube flavor and purple food color.

Place the white chocolate in a bowl and pour the warm ube mixture over top, stirring until the chocolate melts and the mixture is well blended.

Slowly add the white chocolate ganache into the cheesecake base. Mix well until smooth.

Pour cheesecake batter into the polvoron base and bake for about 40-45 minutes until center is set.

Cool down completely, refrigerate (several hours or overnight) then unmold before cutting into wedges to serve, garnished with whipped cream.

Makes one 9-inch round cake.

©Cinda Chavich 2024



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