“Unusual” Food Pairings…

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? :)

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63 Responses

  1. freinch fries dipped in vanilla- caramel sundae. used to do this with classmates way back in high school; after class in Mcdo a few blocks from school. Back then we thought it a strange and brilliant (!) combination; just to be overwhelmed with the abundance of sweet-salty combo treats when we became adults ;)

  2. I think your treatment of the subject is complete. Agree too that certain combinations become truly weird only when they cross cultural barriers. In some primitive way, it likely responds to what nutrients our bodies are craving for at the moment and in another level probably works in the same way as our eyes and brain process colors, contrasting and combining them to jar and to please. Would not be surprised at all to hear of people experiencing synaesthesia with their taste buds.

  3. i just saw junior masterchef, you are correct MM, its a result of our being resourceful that brought about the pairings.. :D

  4. For me, i usually go for Adobong Baboy paired with spicy bagoong….unusual? ….but honestly…i eat that at least twice a week…specially with “humok” na kanin… :)

  5. Hi MM, i just saw you on Junior Master Chef awhile ago. I would love my champorado with salted fish or crispy fried fish, boiled banana or ripe bananas with ginamos/adobo, rice with paksiw na isda + fried daing with lots of tomatoes…

  6. unusual it may sound, but Pinoys have distinct taste when it comes to pairings…i recognized that blue collared shirt of you MM

  7. My mom and I LOVE dipping latundan bananas in pork adobo oil. Not the soy sauce, but the oil. (Ini-iga namin yung adobo)

    I also eat chili corned tuna with cheese. And I eat curry with chocolate.

  8. Long time reader, first time to post… couldn’t resist. My favorite pair? Chocolate cake with sunny side up fried egg.

    Also, adobo with guava jelly.

  9. When I lived in West Germany, I observed they eat french fries with mayonaise instead of catsup!

  10. Bacon and chocolate is quite a popular combination, so are donuts and burgers. Sweet paired with savory always surprises the palate.

  11. When I was a kid, I loved piping hot white rice and condensed milk. :)

    Wendy’s fries dipped in their chocolate frosty…

    A nice juicy hamburger with some potato chips (sandwiched between the patty and the top bun)…

    One of my titas used to love this combo (I thought it was disgusting): garlic fried rice and shredded pork adobo, all mixed together then drowned in black “kape barako” from Batangas.

  12. A common combination which is the bestest tuna sandwich…tuna salad on whole wheat bread topped with potato chips and dill pickle slices!

  13. how about suman and tablea ( cocoa tablets) and also any fried fish with guisadong monngo especially on a rainy day :-)

  14. Hot rice with fresh carabao’s milk and daing na hipon. Used to eat this a lot in my youth.

    My parents and my siblings think I am weird because I eat chinese lumpia with ketchup.

  15. Have you tried boiled peanuts soaked in vinegar and eaten with rice? I learned it from my mom when I was a kid. I still do this once in a while when I feel like it and my daughter is just perplexed! I got her to eat banana with pork and crab omelet mixed in the rice and she liked it! My mom would eat that mixed rice with ripe mangoes.

  16. My cousins used to eat green mango with the red powder coating of champoy. I didn’t like it, blech.
    My favourite food pairings are lakatan bananas with menudo, ripe mango with pork adobo and salty french fries with the fudge from McDo fudge sundae.

  17. Pregnancy does strange things to your tastebuds and when pregnant with my first child I ate chocolate cake with slices of Italian proscuitto ham. A classic sweet/salty pairing but definitely weird. I haven’t had it since. That child will be 30 years old this year.

  18. 1) Garrett Popcorn – Combo caramel and cheese
    2) Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar (applewood smoked bacon, alder wood smoked salt, and deep milk chocolate)
    3) Bibingka with salted duck egg and/or kesong puti topped by butter, and fresh coconut/sugar

  19. Latinos here put powdered chili on their fruits, like ripe mangoes, papayas, pineapples, etc. Tastes good. I like their candied dried mangoes covered with powdered chile. Spicey at first then when all the chili has melted in your mouth, you taste the tartness/sweetness of the dried mango. Pain before pleasure!

  20. two unusual pairings that I got from my lola: hot pandesal with butter, kesong puti and strawberry jam. newly cooked rice with carabao’s milk and rock salt. great food memories. the latest one I tried this week which I would love to do again: very salty jamon with caramel popcorn. yum!

  21. i do carabao’s milk (cream and all) with steamed rice or dunk some hot pandesal in the cream (with a bit of salt). also the adobo with ripe mango. actually, there are times when my meal would start with the dessert, still have the dessert with the main course until done. no dessert left after the meal, but that’s ok. i am sated by then.
    there’s whatever buro (hipon, isda, liempo) available, paired with whatever grilled or fried fish and some steamed vegetables. i also have buro with tocino, and longanisa. buro with pork nilaga.
    the burong talangka and the taba ng talangka, i can do without any pairing. likewise with fresh durian. people look at me in disgust, i just ignore them. it just means more of the stuff for me.

  22. Unusual food pairings in our house include fresh ripe mango and garlic fried rice, crispy bacon and tortang talong, and guinataang binignit spooned on top of hot white rice. Weird as it may sound but all are yummy! :)

  23. Here’s what betty Q might recognize from the southern Tagalog region.

    My memories bring me back to afternoon dismissal from elementary school anticipating merienda of unheated” bahaw na kanin with tutong” drowned in boiled barako coffee from breakfast, sweetened with brown sugar and paired with tulingan pinangat in dried kamias that was simmered slowly in a clay pot. ….got all the elements : the sweet, the sour, the salty, the bitterness of old coffee and the crunch of the tutong that would tickle one’s taste buds with gustatory pleasure. Yummm.

    And of course cicharon is always good when downed with refreshing ice cold coke!

  24. My favorite combos that draw “eeeewwwww”s from friends are:

    1) Vanilla ice cream (or a McD sundae) + mustard
    2) Chips + spicy salsa + shaved milk chocolate
    3) Kiamoy powder in Coke Zero

  25. Growing up, my favorite afternoon snack was, ginataang halo halo with left over cooked rice, yummy.

  26. Apples with bagoong- born out of a craving for green mangoes with bagoong. Tart green apples like granny smith work best. Sweet apples like red delicious don’t work as well.

  27. funny you mentioned fresh cow/carabao milk on steaming hot rice and a dash of rock salt. I thought only my mom do that :) . I also use to eat banana (Lakatan) with patis and rice :).

    My brother also mentioned to me when they are small that our lola used to feed them a snack of rice ball dipped in bagoong monamon. That I thought is weird but then again I do like rice with a drizzle of bagoong with a bit of oil drippings from longganisa or tocino :) . I guess we all have weird food growing up :)

  28. My take on food pairings…. saging na latundan with ginisang bagoong alamang, pritong galunggong with pandesal and butter, menudo or mechado and sliced cucumber in vinegar with salt, sugar and paminta.

  29. Hot french fries and vanilla ice cream in the dead of winter. Ginisang munggo and paksiw na bangos. Patis on pasta. My sister likes to add cold rice to the caramelized gunk at the bottom of the pan where tocino or longganisa was fried. My brother on the other hand, does this to the pot where adobo was cooked.

  30. I have been reading your blog for a long time but can’t resist to comment for the first time…Here’s mine: Dipping pear in soy sauce!

  31. It has got to be my current preferred meal before I die:
    A thick juicy US Prime Ribeye, paired with fries in asiago cheese, and a bottle of Dom Perignon :D

  32. in Rizal we consume lotsa weird food pairs ~ fresh carabao’s milk with rice (with tapa or sardines or panutsa), nilagang mani with rice and bagoong, kamias and salt/patis, champorado and tuyo, green apple and salt, dinuguan and puto — all of them so good! sarap!

  33. paksiw na bangus (with talong and ampalaya) and chicharon.pancit malabon with camachile cookies. Adobo with ripe mangoes. And I still don’t get how my lola always paired kare-kare with adobo. And most unusual of all, but a common pairinh among Davao natives-durian and rice.

  34. french fries with cold chocolate milk and butter cake or pound cake with pepperoni or salami ….

  35. Cat Zosa:

    We do the fresh carabao’s rice with milk also in Bulacan :) Then a little sprinkle of salt if the viand is sweet like tocino or longganisa, but if it is already tuyo, then no need for salt :P

  36. well….? I grow up with champorado (made with Lola’s home made tableya)a bit on the bitter side, drizzled in circles w/condensada milk and garlicky marinated fried bangus or adobo or any fried bulad!

    Here in australia-dont have time to make these things so, I improvise w/ oatmeal porridge at work (we have them everyday for the age care residents),
    and I have my own condensada at the back of our staff fridge….ask the cook to save me some baked-caramelized BACON (tuskig gyud) if not anchovies quickly fried. I put a few squares of dark chocolate on top of the piping hot oatmeal porridge, or milo…and top w/drizzles of condensada and the tuskig bacon or fried anchovies, bingo! i have my PRN for the day……with my kind of work….I have to think of some “reward” while doing all my ‘showers” for the morning, we start as early as 5am…..awwwww.

  37. MM, One thing; note that taste is associated with the nose as much as it is with the mouth (tongue). Ever notice how food doesn’t taste as good or flavorful when you have a cold?

  38. My wife (and now my daughter, too) loves this: hot chocolate poured on rice, eaten with daing na bisugo.

  39. I think catsup paired with fried egg (or machang, or rice, or mostly anything) is such a Pinoy quirk. I didn’t realize it until my friend mentioned that foreigners always comment on this “unusual pairing”.

    My personal favorite unusual pairings: Stirfried ampalaya and salted egg, mmm! Just had that for lunch in a taiwanese resto, ampalaya is briefly stir fried so it’s got bite and not soggy. Arugula+tomato+ cheese is super yummy! Royce potato chips dipped in Chocolate is a-ma-zing! I also love banana and pinoy style runny peanut butter but not sure if it’s an unusual pairing. My husband loves potato chips and banana alternately eaten.

    In China, mixing JW or Chivas with bottled green tea is a standard KTV drink. I actually like it better than drinking whiskey straight. Wine is also usually mixed with soda, but that ruins the taste for me.

    Hmmm.. if people think bacon and chocolate taste great together… perhaps chicharon dipped in dark chocolate would be great too! Marketman, why don’t you try it? Chocochicharon!

  40. Market Man,
    Some unusual food pairings:
    sour dill pickles and bagoong,steam rice with roya true orange or pepsi,anchovy bagoong sandwiched in pandesal,beer as chaser for scotch,champorado and pandesal, sliced apple wrapped in prosciutto

  41. have you tried durian ice cream scoop by Lay’s Cheddar and Sour Cream potato chips?

  42. when i was a kid i loved lakatan bananas dipped in patis while my mom loved sorbetes sandwiched in monay. nothing unusual with the latter but I think foreigners find it amusing (at least andrew zimmern did).

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