The focus of Filipino cuisine is not so much on its simple cooking methods but rather on the ingredients used. Some of the most common ingredients found in the Filipino pantry are chili (sili), Chinese sausage (Longaniza; longganisa), coconut (niyog), cornflour, garlic (bawang), ginger (luya), mushrooms, pandan leaf (screwpine), tomato (kamatis) and lemon grass (tanglad).
The Filipino often use two basic types of chilies in their dishes: the small and extremely hot peppers called siling labuyo and the normal, long flat finger-length cooking pepper called siling mahaba. Siling labuyo are often cut and used in dipping sauces whereas the siling mahaba is used in boiling soups such as sinigang or paksiw. Hot chilies are applied sparingly to the Filipino dishes - the amount of heat increases as the size of the chili decreases.
Chinese Sausage (Longaniza; Longganisa)
Chinese sausages are actually long, thick and sweet pork sausages dappled with fat and paprika for the red color. This pork sausage is often used to dish up the popular breakfast plate called longsilog, referring to its ingredients of Longaniza; longganisa (pork sausage), sinangag (fried rice) and itlog (fried egg).
The coconut, a versatile ingredient, forms a sturdy foundation of the island menu. Buko or fresh young coconut produces a refreshing juice and sweet white flesh while a mature coconut (niyog) is grated and squeezed with water to make coconut milk (gata) - two different extracts for the use of cooking and finishing. Coconut milk is widely used in the Bicol region to create creamy-hot recipes.
Like in many Asian kitchens, cornflour or sometimes known as cornstarch, is widely used in the Filipino pantry. This fine white powder, mixed with an equal amount of water is useful for thickening sauces.
Garlic or bawang is popular basic ingredient for the flavoring and sautéing of Filipino cuisine. This ingredient is often pounded or pureed for the purpose of flavoring or for medical use.
Ginger, an easily found yellow root of a cultivated tropical plant is often used to add flavor to meats and fish. Luya or ginger is a very versatile ingredient as it can be used fresh with the skin scrapped, minced, crushed, grated, powdered or dry. This ingredient contains warming and medicinal properties and is often used to make salabat, a favorite Filipino tea.
There are several varieties of mushrooms used in creating Filipino dishes. Among others are the expensive dried black Chinese mushrooms (soaked in water before cooking) and the curly black wood-fungus mushrooms better known as tengang daga that can be found in clear noodle soups like sotanghon. Button mushrooms can also be found in abundance.
Pandan Leaf (Screwpine)
This long, fragrant leaf of a pandanus plant imparts a unique fragrance, making it great for steaming rice, enhancing flavors of meats, and making cakes and desserts. The pandan leaf (screwpine) also give cakes and desserts an attractive color of leafy green hue.
Tomatoes from the plum variety are usually used in the Filipino kitchen and are found most often in Spanish dishes. Tomatoes are commonly being utilized as a basic ingredient in the cooking method of sautéing or are used for mixing fresh salads and dipping sauces.
Lemon Grass (Tanglad)
Like its Thai counterpart, this wonderful lemon-scented grass with its bulbous stem and long layered stalk (only the lower eight cm is being used) often finds its way into the Filipino pantry. Grown for its fresh fragrant and earthy flavor, lemon grass is peeled, chopped and pounded before being infused into roasts or mixed into soups.