18 Jun2007

Brown Lunch?!?

by Marketman


Who said our Filipino food is all brown and unattractive? Actually, I think it is a pretty fair description of much of what we eat. But I also totally agree it doesn’t HAVE to be that way and that by crafting menus with interesting pairings and paying attention to plating, the food can and should be made to look a bit more appetizing to our eyes before our taste buds. Since we tend to stew or deep fry or grill a lot of our dishes, we do end up with a lot of brown and black tones… but the fantastic colors of our tropical fruits and some of our vegetables and herbs should be able to balance out what I would call “the blah factor.” Yesterday for lunch we had a home-cooked meal of paksiw na lechon (I actually like this dish better than lechon itself), a hearty pinakbet tagalog style, with lots of kalabasa, some brown rice under the guise of trying to eat healthy, and a few slices of acid green mango with bagoong to temper the oiliness/richness of the lechon paksiw.

The photos here were of my actual lunch plate and as an afterthought, I took a photo. Yup, pretty brown to me but if this was to be “styled,” one could gussy up the paksiw2lechon paksiw a bit, see this earlier version here, make the pinakbet with a little more attention to the colors as in this recipe here, and maybe throw in a tomato and salted egg salad or a tomato and green mango salad/relish for a burst of bright color. Making the food look more appealing is one area where I have to applaud several restauranteurs here and abroad that are employing more classic western touches to bring life to the food. The two cookbooks on Filipino food recently published in the U.S. do a great job of styling food to look better and more appealing. I would draw the line at completely altering the underlying essence of a dish and still calling it a pinakbet or adobo, for example, but nothing wrong with changing the presentation of a classic dish…particularly if it gets more folks to give it a try!



  1. wil-b cariaga says:

    WOW . . .that picture just made me miss Filipino food. . .we are gonna have a Filipino theme night next week here at maldives, so we Filipinos here are quite busy for all sorts of stuff, food and all with barrio fiesta theme, we were waiting for this for a long time. . . well, more so because we really miss our food and this is one of the only chances we could cook and even share it with the whole staff, the Pinoys even prepared a small folk dance number which no one has done before, ofcourse hindi magpapatalo ang mga Pinoy. . . hehehe . . . the picture really looks good MM. . .

    Jun 18, 2007 | 7:35 am


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  3. elaine says:

    Have you tried serving kare kare with bagoong to your foreign friends? I’m just wondering because I’ve noticed that most Westerners have an aversion to the smell of bagoong. It’s a great add-on to most of our dishes such as green mangoes. An American-chef friend have tried most Filipino dishes, Adobo being the favorite no matter how it’s presented,but would cringe at the sight of bagoong..anhovies smell as bad I think. And you’re right, it all boils down to presentation, creativity and maybe innovation. Pinoy food definitely rocks!

    Jun 18, 2007 | 8:12 am

  4. awi says:

    MM,ano ka ba, your plate looks gorgeous! ;-)

    I had surgery a couple of weeks ago, and siempre I couldn’t eat anything solid for the first few days. While I was at the hospital recovering, my first craving was for a meal just like in your picture! So when I got better, I had just that, haha. Chicken-pork adobo nga lang, not paksiw, but still soooo good ;-)

    Jun 18, 2007 | 8:32 am

  5. bernadette says:

    I think Filipinos have an innate eye for colors in everything they do and have. When I look at a Filipino party table it is always very festive looking—full of colors and hues. At times, it is just so chaotic but fun to look at. Smell is another thing though. We’re just so used to the smell of bagoong but then what about some European cheeses?!?

    Jun 18, 2007 | 9:50 am

  6. suzette says:

    you’re right, filipino food is usually brown and shiny… i think i should start eating some brown rice too.

    Jun 18, 2007 | 11:09 am

  7. Manggy says:

    It certainly doesn’t help that we like our kalabasa cooked this side of mushy, that the beautiful carotene color is camouflaged into the meat!
    However, there are plenty of colorful dishes:
    Afritada (when the sauce rolls over the veggies, the bright yellow and orange come out)
    Embutido (it’s also great when they put boiled eggs in, which I think is just for show)
    Pansit (except for this dish I hate– Palabok)
    Fruit salad (I think it’s now a Filipino thing– cocktail, cream, condensed milk)

    Jun 18, 2007 | 11:46 am

  8. Marketman says:

    Manggy, you are right, many Filipino vegetable dishes seem to be overcooked… also, the list of colorful dishes you mention is interesting… afritada and embutido, heavily influenced/taken from the Spainiards, many pancits from the Chinese and Fruit salad with cream (the canned kind) from the Americans. Halo-halo from the Japanese/Malay influence. many of our native kakanins are quite blah colorwise as well… bernadette, bagoong seems off-putting at first sniff, but surprisingly, the Thais, Indonesians and Malays seem able to pull off dishes that incorporate types of bagoong to raves from Western palates; so we should be able to do the same, but perhpas not in big blobs like I have here to be eaten directly with the mango… awi, I can just imagine how hungray I would be after surgery and several days of no or little food… yikes! Elaine, oddly, I am not a big fan of kare-kare, though I did post a recipe on it that took some time to do right…I do like the bagoong with veggies and sauce of the dish but I have NEVER served this to foreign guests… wil-b, good luck with the mini-fiesta… it’s always nice to have a taste of home…

    Jun 18, 2007 | 12:46 pm

  9. Apicio says:

    Early on I observed that the only way to find out if you like something is by trying it. When we entertain, we usually set out a spread of a variety of things that even if the guests did not like one or two particular items, no one is likely to go home hungry. They can feast on the desserts alone if that’s the only ones they like on offer. To second guess what (non-Filipino) guests are going to like might sound the height of hospitality to some but begs the question for me. Why in heaven’s name would they accept an invitation for dinner in a Filipino home if they only want to eat their own food?

    Jun 18, 2007 | 11:52 pm

  10. Maria Clara says:

    Totally agree with you, we eat with our eyes first – food is like a woman needs the right hair cut, make up, accessories and jewelry to get the attention of the man next door. Plating is a simple way to present our dish without compromising the primal and traditional taste of our food. Our food is fine the way they are like the bagoong you can tame by offering small portion instead of a bowlful which really brings out the unpleasant appeal. A little dab of bagoong has a long way to go. Our humble tuyo turns them into gourmet ones with garlic and pepper spices to bring out the taste and color. It is a matter of presentation – elegant plating/styling – just like a new product a manufacturer launches to the public – giving it the best look possible to make it more marketable and appealing to the general public.

    Jun 19, 2007 | 12:44 am

  11. kulasa says:

    This entry remined me of one of our previous ex-pats. He”d bring his own food or order out instead of eating what he calls “brown food” from our cafeteria. He found it funny when he sees “mashed squash” mixed with “fainting veggies” (pinakbet) and would really take it on with our cafeteria crew when he sees them serving “dehydrated porkchops”.

    Jun 19, 2007 | 9:57 am

  12. harris says:

    Hi Wil-b Cariaga,

    What resort are you in the Maldives?


    Jun 20, 2007 | 2:18 pm


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