It's odd that Filipino food still hides under the radar, given that some 400,000 people in Los Angeles are of Filipino origin, more than 800,000 reside in Southern California, and Filipino-Americans are the largest Asian group in the state.
Because Filipinos are sociable and like to entertain, the best food is in their homes. What restaurants and markets there are cater primarily to their own community.
If any cuisine is qualifed to go mainstream, though, it would be that of the Philippines, which has something for everyone. Years of colonization and trade have flavored it richly with Spanish, American, Malay, Chinese and Japanese influences, and local dishes draw on premium ingredients that are exported worldwide.
The Philippines is the largest producer of pineapple in the world, the second top producer of coconuts, and a major producer of bananas and mangoes. The United States is the country's second largest export market, especially for food, which means a lot of interesting products are here already.
These facts came out at a launch of Food Philippines, a branding program to promote the export of top quality food products from the Philippines. The meeting at Sofitel was organized by the Philippine Trade and Investment Center in Los Angeles, headed by Jose Ma. S. Dinsay, trade commissioner and director.
Sofitel chefs worked gamely to serve Filipino meals. The plate at the top shows what attendees had for breakfast, including chicken adobo, marinated sliced beef (tapa), longaniza sausages, fried rice and milkfish (bangus).
Ringed around the room were tables where food purveyors showed off their products, like tablets of pure unsweetened chocolate from Fedco, a federation of cooperatives in Mindanao (above). There, farmers are being taught to interplant cacao with coconut and thus increase their income.
Did you know that western style hot chocolate came to Mexico from the Philippines? Ireneo D. Dalayon of Fedco explained that Spaniards liked the chocolate so well they had it shipped to Mexico on the galleons that sailed from Manila to Acapulco.
Another display featured coconut products, including cooking sauces similar to teriyaki, spicy coconut vinegar and coconut cider vinegar. These should be an easy sell now that coconut has become "healthy."
Filipinos are known for their breads, cakes and pastries, including cassava cake. The following recipe is not the version from Sofitel but one from "The Coconut Cookbook" by Conrado A. Escudero, published by Mr. and Ms. Publishing Company in Metro Manila.
A leading figure in Filipino food and hospitality, Escudero was born on a coconut plantation not far from Manila. At the time the book was published in 1980, he was director of activities of the Association of Philippine Coconut Dessicators and dedicated to promoting the use of coconut.
The family estate is now the Villa Escudero Plantations and Resort, a popular tourist destination. The book is available on Etsy and eBay.
From "The Coconut Cookbook" by Conrado A. Escudero
1 cup margarine
3 cups sugar
2 cups grated young coconut
2 1/4 cups grated cassava
1 teaspoon vanilla.
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 egg yolks, beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2-quart glass baking dish.
Cream the margarine and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, coconut, cassava and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Turn into the prepared baking dish and bake about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Combine the condensed milk, sugar and flour in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Gradually stir a little of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks, then add the egg yolks to the pan and cook 2 minutes.
Spread the topping over the baked cake. Place under the broiler until the top is golden brown.