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Filipino Soup Customs

You are now entering the world of fusion cuisine...except that it happened in slow motion, over a couple thousand years. Filipino cooking is a distinctive amalgamation of Malay (the first inhabitants), Chinese (who arrived in 300 AD as traders and were full members of Filipino cuture by the 1400s), and Spanish (who arrived with Magellan in 1521. And its soups, as you would expect, are fully reflective of the larger Filipino cuisine.

The Malay influence underlies nearly all the soups--with their fish sauce flavorings and native ingredients. China brought noodles (pancit), dumplings, and egg rolls (lumpia), contributing noodles, flavorings, and techniques to different traditional soups, like manok mami, a Chinese-style chicken noodle soup. Spain brought cattle (especially important to Islamic Mindanao cuisine, which proscribes pork), tomatoes, garlic, onions, and the technique of sauteeing in olive oil. It also brought elegant soups like sopa de ajo (garlic soup) and hearty soups with bread and sausage in them--and gave the Filipino people an almost addictive taste for vinegar (brought to Spain by Romans). As an interesting historical footnote, Spain administered the Philippines through it's government center in Mexico...so, yep, Mexican influences crept in--hot chilies, bay leaves, and annatto seeds. Some favorite traditional soups are variations of Mexican picadillo and albondigas, the latter called almondigas. And let's not forget arroz caldo, Spanish in name but a classic thick rice soup that truly reflects the "rice" soul of Filipino cuisine.

All in all, soup is an important, but not central part of Filipino cuisine. It's not part of breakfast, as in many other Asian countries. It's not part of tradional meriendas, or snack times at midmorning or midafternoon. It is, however, served (often simultaneously with all the other dishes, including desserts) as part of lunch and dinner--to stimulate the appetite, especially in the shape of sour sinigangs; to add contrast in texture and flavor to the rest of the dishes; and to serve as a beverage.