Food experts speak out on the standardization of Filipino dishes

Renowned chefs, cookbook authors, food columnists, and vloggers share their thoughts on the hot food issue

Aiming to develop Philippine National Standards (PNS) on the well-known Filipino dishes like adobo, sinigang, sisig, lechon, among others, the Department of Trade and Industry – Bureau of Philippine Standards (DTI-BPS) has established a technical committee BPS/TC 92 to manage the standardization. And two months ago, they started developing a PNS for Philippine adobo with “Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine.”

The said guidebook serves as their main reference in creating a comprehensive guide in preparing and cooking our favorite viand. They believe that benchmarking its cooking technique will help preserve the country’s cultural identity despite variations of certain dishes.

According to BPS Director Neil Catajay, it will pave the way toward a more distinguished Filipino food culture while establishing the common ground for the food business.

This initiative has made a buzz on social media and received mixed reactions and comments from netizens. But, we wonder what some of our food experts think about this move by DTI. And so we asked for their opinions.

Adobo, one of the Filipino's all-time favorite dishes.

“Who gives them the authority to make that standard? Adobo is such a delicate dish. Each home has its own recipe of adobo. And each home usually claims to have the best version. That comes with memories with the family, your crush, lolas, reunion. I cannot see who assigns who to give that authority to standardize it. Extremely malabo (unclear). Maybe a better term would be suggested ingredients to an adobo recipe,” Chef Sandy Daza of Casa Daza.

There is some merit in the idea if its intention is to determine the parameters to naming or defining a dish for the purpose of easy reference across a multicultural audience. But regulating or inhibiting people from cooking these dishes in their own styles can be detrimental to the development of Philippine cuisine. Personally, it should be a matter taken up by NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) and not DTI,” Chef Myke Tatung Sarthou of Simpol.

It's given that there are standard ingredients in every dish. The twist is based on the culture of the place or region or individual preference. Another factor is the availability of ingredients. Possibly what DTI wanted to achieve is to provide a generic traditional basic ingredient when you prepare a certain Filipino dish. Like the inadobo dish it has basic components or ingredients which are the toyo, suka, bay leaf, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. And as I have said, the add ons are basically based on the culture of the region and or preference on how one likes to prepare his adobo (marinade). I am confident that the team tasked to take on this project has all the understanding and who are respected culinary experts in the field of Philippine dishes,” Chef Rafael Jr. Jardeleza of Rafael’s La Cocina Del Sur.

“A writer writes. A painter paints. A chef cooks. Legislating recipes would stifle a cook's freedom of expression,” Sol Vanzi, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle Food columnist.

“Standardization is used by restaurants to create consistency, but to impose it on dishes, well, isn’t ideal because “Authentic” is poison. You doom a cuisine to its death. You imply there is a singular way of doing things. And you disregard millions of opinions. Filipino dishes are named for procedures, not ingredients (adobo, sinigang, inihaw, etc). It provides leeway for ingredient subs because we’re historically an agricultural nation dependent on weather and seasons. No pork but you have squid? You can still make adobo. If the government wants to help, let’s do feature stories on the thousands of our cooks who make and sell heritage dishes especially outside NCR. Heck, I’ll do it for half of my usual talent fee. We need more stories, not more restrictions,” Chef Sharwin L. Tee, author of The Gospel of Food.

Some of the most popular Filipino foods: sinigang, adobo, pancit, lumpia, menudo and halo-halo.

“Is Standardization based on the contents of a particular recipe? or is Standardization based on the look of a dish? The look of our National dishes should go first so that visitors and future generations will expect a visual imprint of what they have seen in identifying a dish. As for standardization... we need specific regional names per dish or regional titles for our dishes. A sinigang from one province may differ from a sinigang from another and that is not counting the seasons. We have 7640 + islands and each one has differences in its interpretations of a certain method. Personally, whatever work accomplished by the assigned committee will be massive and whatever outcome that will be riddled with controversy will be welcome data as a starting point for future work on Philippine Cuisine. My fantasy or wish on visionary work like this is for our LGUs to contribute to an almanac of their interpretations of our dishes and their unique recipes in their municipalities or cities,” Chef Gene Gonzalez of Cafe Ysabel.

"I believe Filipino food needs to evolve to be able to shine on the world stage. I agree the traditional way of cooking should be memorialized, but we should also welcome the new style and techniques of cooking adobo, sinigang, lechon etc. I believe Filipino food needs to evolve to be accepted on the world stage," Chef Dedet de la Fuente of Pepita's Kitchen.

“We need to agree on the basic cooking method for national Filipino dishes common across the archipelago to preserve our Filipino culture as told by the cooking methods of our national cuisines. This is actually important to get a standard definition of what makes adobo, especially across the diaspora so that the soul of the dish is not lost with fusion and reinterpretation. Thanks to DTI for initiating this worthwhile project taking off from the Kulinarya project and building on collective efforts of the Filipino Food community and stakeholders,” Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet.

“Every Filipino family has its own recipe, cooking methods, and “secrets” on recreating these classic Filipino dishes. Karamihan ay minana pa sa mga ancestors. “Pride” ito ng angkan. At naging tradisyon na. (Most of them were heirloom recipes from their ancestors. They are the family's “pride.” And it's already a tradition). Moreover, Filipino cuisine is “Regional”. Flavors and techniques change depending on the availability of ingredients. E.g. for sinigang, the souring agent varies from region to region,” Chef RV Manabat of Chef RV Cafe.

"Would be happy to help," Chef Margarita Forés of Cibo di Marghi Signature Caterer.

"I think that is way long overdue! Standardization of our classic and traditional dishes should have done from way back," Chef Jessie Sincioco of Chef Jessie Restaurant.

"We should always come and take things from a position of positivity and how the world is really bigger than our grandma’s kitchen, our province, our country. I do understand the end goal. That is to define the dish so it’s easier to understand and promote. We just need to understand the process. And maybe like the dish the process (inadobo) is what it’s really all about," Chef Rolando "Lau" Laudico of Guevarra's Restaurant and Chef Laudico OK Cafe.