In tonight’s episode of Pinoy Junior Masterchef, they tackle the issue of “strange” food pairings… I was asked to comment on this topic, but frankly, had a hard time thinking any of the pairings were truly strange… I thought it more accurate to call them unusual rather than outright weird… Things like ripe bananas with adobo, fresh carabao’s milk with hot rice, champorado (chocolate rice porridge) with dried fish, saba bananas with guinamos (fermented fish sauce), green mangoes and shrimp paste, etc. Ultimately, such “unusual” pairings become popular because they TASTE GOOD. :)
Extremes and opposites tickle the palate — Our tongues are made up of hundreds of taste buds, you can actually see them if you look closely at your tongue — and they perceive sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness and umami as they come into contact with foods with those characteristics. I am convinced pairings such as salty/sour, salty/sweet etc. heighten our eating experience and make us happier about consuming the food. Green mango and bagoong (shrimp paste) is a classic example… the sourness of the unripe mango is actually tempered by the saltiness of the shrimp paste. The combination literally makes your taste buds go into “overdrive and your “mouth waters”. It isn’t unlike the concept of a sour lime based margarita with some salt rimming the glass… One taste sensation makes the other more acute, or in other pairings, more subdued. Salt on sweet chocolate is one example where the salt makes the chocolate actually seem sweeter in a sense. An aged salty cheese with sweet jam is another international example that seems odd but tastes brilliant.
The pairings are logical from a balance of nutrients perspective — Often pairings include carbohydrates and proteins. Champorado with dried fish is almost a complete meal if you had a bit of fruit and vegetable with it! Puto or rice cakes with dinuguan (pork innards blood stew) is another match made in culinary heaven.
Pairings are probably also driven by a mitures of textures such as soft and crunchy, or dry and mushy…
Finally, pairings were probably the result of economy or necessity or a function of whatever produce was available at that point in time. Suman and mangoes not only taste good together, they were probably first discovered when rice harvests perhaps coincided with the peak of mango season…
Personally, I look at many dishes as a balance of flavors that provides gustatory pleasure. I wouldn’t isolate the issue to just specific food pairings, but perhaps look at the dishes at a meal and see how they complement each other. Hence the balance in say a meal of deep fried fish with a side of bitter ampalaya or mustasa salad. Or a refreshing salad of greens with lots of shaved salty parmesan cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette. It’s all about a balance of taste, nutrients, texture and seasonality. So what’s your favorite “unusual” food pairing? Champoy and coke? Duhat and salt? Radishes with butter? Caviar with Champagne? Strawberries and cream? Salmon and cream cheese? Mangoes with Patis? Adobo with ripe bananas? :)