There are three main ingredients a Filipino kitchen will always have on hand:
It’s rare to find a Filipino recipe that doesn’t start off with sauteing one, two or all of the ingredients listed above.
First the garlic is added to the pan, sizzling when they hit the hot oil. When the garlic is tender, the chopped onions go in, cooked until they turn translucent, and then it’s time to add the tomatoes. Soon, the tomatoes release their juices and melt into the other two ingredients. The aroma of these three ingredients fill the kitchen, as I gradually start adding the other ingredients for my dish.
I’ve mentioned that Filipino cooking takes a lot of prep time, chopping each of the base ingredients for sauteing, then other vegetables are always peeled chopped, cut, or diced, and fish or meat is cleaned/trimmed and seasoned.
When I was growing up, big box/chain grocery stores were inconvenient and expensive, and the “palengke”/market was the place to be for fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, meat, and fish.
The palengke/market is divided into two sections ; wet (fish and meat) and dry (fruits and vegetables). Vendors are lined up in rows calling out to shoppers walking by “suki ma’m! suki sir! bili na mura lang po! suki po!”
Translation: “loyal customer sir/ma’m, please buy, low price!”
The word “po” is used as a sign of respect, commonly used for elders and has no english translation. The word suki stands for “loyal customer” meaning, the vendor gives you the lowest price possible that ensures your return on your next shopping trip to the market.
Also, a shopping trip in a palengke is not complete without haggling! It’s commonly accepted, and builds a relationship between the vendor and his/her soon to be suki/loyal customer.
After a trip to the market, prepping the fish (scaling and cleaning) and meat (trim and cutting) was usually done at home. I also remember that coconut milk did not come in cans and was grated and squeezed by hand from coconuts bought from a street vendor or picked from our backyard.
A lot of things have changed over the years and there are presently easier ways of cooking a Filipino meal. However, a Filipino kitchen will always be “slow food” cooking that usually starts with the three base flavors, garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Then, other ingredients such as ginger, coconut milk, laurel leaves etc., are added to make up a Filipino dish made up of layers upon layers of delicious flavors.