The Philippines are an archipelago, a series of islands in a large body of water. Mirroring that geographic patchwork, the cuisine is also an amalgam of ingredients: pork, vinegar, soy- even purple yams and rice noodles. It may not have the cache of Japanese or Thai cooking yet, but one family on the Far North Side is hoping to change that.
The Philippines may be in the Asian Pacific, but their cuisine is not directly tied to neighboring countries. Ruled by the Spanish for many years, they also have a European influence. At the tiny Isla Pilipina - located in a Lincoln Square strip mall - they're quick to point out regional differences.
"From Thai, Thai foods spicy. A lot of Philippine is very mild, it's a balance of vinegars and soy sauces mostly..Japanese also, Japanese, the rice alone they use a sticky rice we use like a Jasmine rice," said owner Ray Espiritu.
One of the most common dishes is adobo. In this case, chicken adobo that contains not only garlic and onions, but also soy and vinegar, which provide salty and sour contrasts.
"Noodles are a huge staple in the Philippines. We use, the common one is the bihon which you have right there. Rice stick noodle, we also have canton and we also have a corn starch noodle," said Espiritu.
The pancit noodle dish is another common sight on Philippine menus. The thin rice strands are sauteed with chicken, soy, garlic and onions. Plus, there's added crunch from carrots and cabbage.
When it comes time for dessert, the only option is halo halo. A tasty assortment of red beans, ice cream and shaved ice.. the highlight is ube - a strangely delicious purple ice cream made from sweet yams.
"An excellent ice cream would be ube. Ube is like a purple yam. Purple yams look like sweet potatoes but purple on the inside. Really sweet, it's really good, really buttery. That usually we top on the halo halo," Espiritu said.
There are plenty of other good options for Filipino cuisine in the Chicago area from the North Side, all the way out to Niles.
2501 W. Lawrence Ave. Unit D
Cid's Ma Mon Luk
9182 Golf Rd., Niles
4416 N. Clark
9060 Golf, Niles
Tapsilog at Iba Pa
2739 W. Touhy
5845 N. Clark
Original Baker's Delight
5845 N. Clark