Here are essential ingredients you'll find in the Filipino kitchen, along with a few key substitutions in a pinch.
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Filipino food is flavorful. Every bite offers thrilling combinations of salty, sweet, tangy and bitter, sour, spicy, and funky. As an island nation, fresh seafood and fermented fish sauce are staples. Tamarind, guava, pineapple, jackfruit, and calamansi, the unique Philippine lime, are just some of the tropical fruits that help develop sweet and tangy flavors in Filipino cooking. Vinegars are essential, too, having played a part in Filipino cuisine even before colonial times. For more, don't miss An Intro to Filipino Food and Culture With Yana Gilbuena.

Here are just a few of the essential ingredients you'll find in the Filipino kitchen, along with some key substitutions if you're in a pinch.

kamayan filipino feast
Chicken Adobo with Coconut Milk (Adobo sa Gata)
| Credit: Carson Downing

Key Filipino Ingredients

Filipino soy sauce (toyo) is distinct from Japanese or Chinese soy sauce. There's no light or dark—just toyo. I like Datu Puti brand.

Filipino vinegars (suka) are many and varied. My favorite is sinamak, a spiced cane vinegar with chiles, garlic, and onions. There's also the spiced coconut vinegar tuba, the palm vinegar paombong, and the cane wine vinegar sukang iloko. I like Datu Puti and Mama Sita's brands. You can use white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or rice vinegar as a substitute for cane vinegars. And Whole Foods carries a coconut vinegar called Coconut Secret. But dude: Go to the Asian market!

Fish sauce (patis) is the ultimate umami sauce and the reason I rarely use salt. I always look for ones with just three ingredients: anchovies, sugar, and water. I really like Megachef brand.

Ube yam spread or jam (ube halaya), a sweet paste made from purple yams and sweetened condensed milk, is common at Asian markets (I like Sun Tropics brand). Feel like making your own? Try this recipe for Purple Yam Jam.

purple yam jam
Purple Yam Jam
| Credit: Buckwheat Queen

Philippine limes (calamansi) have a juice that's unparalleled. They taste like a cross between mandarin orange, lemon, and yuzu. At the Asian market, look for Sun Tropics brand bottled unsweetened juice on the shelf—or Manila Gold juice packets, often frozen and sold near the banana leaves. In a pinch, substitute a half-and-half mixture of lemon and lime juice and a dash of sugar.

Preserved young coconut strings (macapuno) are sold in 24- to 32-oz. jars, near other preserved fruits at Asian markets. I like Sun Tropics or Kapuso brands. In a pinch, you could use sweetened shredded coconut instead.

Banana leaves (dahon ng saging) serve as wrappers, pan liners, and compostable table coverings. Look for them folded and frozen at Asian markets. Thaw them a day ahead in the fridge or run them under hot water, then unfold, rinse well, and wipe dry.

Check out our entire collection of Filipino Recipes.


Portions of this article originally appeared in the February/March 2020 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.