In spite how the cliché goes, food indeed is one thing that brings people together, especially the people and their Filipino Eating Habits. We Filipinos are known to be hospitable and friendly at all costs, using only one topic in mind for small talk; food. Foreign visitors, travelers, tourists and expats enjoy Filipino people’s company when eating because not only do we have quite the appetite, but we also have the most unusual eating habits.
When dining with locals or experiencing an authentic Filipino cuisine, it’s hard not to notice how different the setup of dining tables are, as well as the small quirks Pinoys tend to have. It’s not that we do these peculiar habits on purpose, it’s just the way we were raised and the culture the Philippines consistently thrives in up to this day.
Quite a few times, I tend to be unaware of how automatic my eating habits are and how distinct they are compared to my foreign friends and relatives who I dine with. When my friend Sara Manni, an intern I also worked with during my internship at a local NGO, called me to have dinner out and show her a good place to experience Filipino food, I brought her to Dampa.
Dampa sa Libis in Quezon City is a wet market and eatery where diners themselves will have to choose their own food fresh from the wet market. You then hand it to the cooks to have it cooked with specific notes which will be served to you in your table in the eatery right beside the wet market. As Sara and I paid for our catch, she noticed how many people were eating with spoons with forks, instead of knives and forks. I politely laughed and proceeded to explain to her the culture and eating habits of most Filipinos, thus the comprehensive list of ways Filipinos eat that may be quite weird for foreigners to witness.
1. Eating together and not letting the food wait
I would say that this practice is one that I have grown accustomed to as a child and up to this day. My dad would constantly call my sister and I down to the kitchen so that we, as a family, could have dinner together. Sharing a meal with family is always sacred in the Filipino home. The Philippines is a predominantly Christian country that holds strict religious views and practices. Thus, it is always stressed by elders never to let food sit in the cold because it does not only make the food less appetizing to eat, but it also shows disrespect towards the blessings graced upon the family by God.
2. Using spoons instead of knives
Another common practice among we Filipinos, is the use of spoons with forks when eating, instead of knives. It is probably odd for foreign tourists and travelers to see Pinoys eating with spoons when eating pork chop, chicken, or beef, when it’s actually meant to be sliced with a knife. Filipinos are accustomed to using spoons because of the rice we often consume. Using spoons to scoop rice is much more practical than struggling with a knife and fork. Thus, the peculiarity Filipinos feel when dining in restaurants and having only forks and knives on the table.
This has actually happened to my family and I a couple of times when eating lunch out on Sundays. It has become an automatic habit to ask for extra spoons since more often than not, we don’t even touch the knives on the table. This may be strange for foreign visitors and tourists to witness, but it is definitely a norm that many locals grew up with and are accustomed to up to present day.
3. Eating with hands (certified Filipino Eating Habits)
You think eating with spoons is weird, what more with our hands? The cultural norm of eating with hands stems from the fiesta traditions of the native Filipinos who used banana leaves as plates and hands as utensils. This is also practiced during boodle fights which is when a long table is laid with banana leaves and placed with food for everyone to take from. It may sound or even look kind of disgusting to some tourists and travelers, but actually symbolizes a greater sense of camaraderie among the feasters; the Pinoy way of doing mundane things, as we say.
Eating with hands is not just a Filipino custom preserved up to date, but is also a significant practice that promotes togetherness during fiestas and grand food festivals. This practice is still commonly used in the rural areas or the provinces, where many Filipinos live a simple life away from the city, sticking to what they know and keeping things practical. I guess that means no need for utensils any time soon then?
4. Condiments in every dining table
It is automatic that every Filipino household, has a set of condiments that will always be present in the kitchen or dining table. It is a must that Datu Puti (vinegar), Mang Tomas (Liver sauce), and patis (fish sauce) are used in at least one meal a Filipino cooks. Aside from these, other condiments like bagoong alamang (shrimp paste) and atsara (pickled vegetables) are also common condiments used by Filipinos to give their meal more flavor and more spice at the same time.
5. Rice with anything and in everything
Rice is the staple food that many Filipinos thrive in. We Pinoys eat rice with anything, from meat to fish and even our deserts are made of rice (rice cakes), like champorado, palitaw, puto, and sapin-sapin to name a few. Steamed hot white rice is cheap and popular in the Philippines and is present in every Filipino home. It is best eaten with local dishes like our national pride, adobo, which has sauce that tastes delectable on rice.
Local eating establishments and restaurants like Mang Inasal is popular among locals for their “unli-rice” meal promos. Unlimited juxtaposed with the rice is one word many Filipino diners get excited about, since it will not only get us our money’s worth, but also a satisfied appetite at that. So every time you dine with Filipinos who get more than a cup of rice for one sitting, be sure not to pass any judgements, it’s just muscle-memory for us at this point.
Whether you are in for a “chibugan” (feast) or just out with some locals trying new exotic Filipino food, be sure not to be wary of the unusual eating habits most Filipinos practice. It is a way of life that many locals have grown accustomed to and continue to celebrate for it is what makes Filipinos who they are and quite a distinct culture from other countries.