24 October 2016
Filipino cuisine can sometimes be bewildering to outsiders, says award-winning chef Margarita Forés. Image source:
Filipino cuisine can sometimes be bewildering to outsiders, says award-winning chef Margarita Forés. Image source:

Margarita Forés: A chef’s winning recipe

If you want to understand a foreign culture, check out their cuisine, or so the saying goes. Well, this approach might pose bit of a problem when it comes to the Philippines.

That is because one can get lost easily in the world of Filipino food as it is a melting pot cuisine that takes in elements of many cultures.

Thanks to geographical proximity, there is some historical influence from China and other places in Asia such as Malaysia. Later, a long period of Spanish colonization has had its own effect. And then, there was the occupation by the United States, bringing in an American influence.

Margarita Forés, a renowned chef and restaurateur in the Philippines, who was crowned Asia’s best female chef early this year, told CNN in an interview in May that the national dessert Halo-Halo offers the perfect example of what Filipino cuisine is really all about.

Meaning “mix mix” in Tagalog, Halo-Halo is a dessert made with a rich jumbled collection of ingredients, including shaved ice, sweet beans, fruit, tapioca and ube ice cream that is served in a tall glass or bowl.

Embedded with a lot of uniqueness and complexity, Filipino cuisine could be a difficult concept to understand for outsiders.

Now, people such as Forés and other enthusiastic chefs from the country are seeking to demystify the food.

Forés told CNN that Filipino chefs are forming a united front and trying to present their cuisine to the world so that people can understand the food better.

At Grace Park, a farm-to-table restaurant that Forés runs in Makati city in the Philippines, the award-winning chef tries to remind diners of how they should celebrate things they grew up with.

While educating the diners, she delivers yummy Filipino dishes prepared with organic produce sourced from local farmers.

The Philippines has many interesting ingredients, some of which are forgotten, Forés said, hoping that people can re-examine and make the best use of them.

Every region of the Philippines has its uniqueness. The Luzon region in the north is heavily influenced by Spanish culture, while Panay in the central region has abundant marine resources. Mindanao, meanwhile, is so fertile that it is rich in agriculture produce of many kinds.

Forés has been vocal in advocating the use of ingredients that are grown organically and in a sustainable manner, and those that are sourced directly from Filipino farmers all over the country.

As a woman working in commercial kitchens, Forés speaks highly of the advantages that female chefs have over their male counterparts.

Cooking makes for a good representation of her identity as a female, she says.

Many people regard their mother’s cooking as being the best. That’s because mother is the person who always fights for the best for her family, Forés noted, adding that this is exactly the same spirit that is needed in the catering business.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 16.

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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