Text and images by Chin Hui Wen @ Makansutra
Picnicking Filipinos are a common sight at open spaces in Singapore–like the Botanic Gardens, East Coast Park and Orchard Road–especially around the festive season. Public holidays like New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Christmas and even non-traditional dates are marked with outdoor feasts. “The last picnic I had was on Hari Raya Haji because that was when all my friends had the day off,” says Jocelyn Jimenez, a Filipino.
While gatherings take place on most weekends, picnics get bigger and more elaborate around the holidays. Jocelyn, who volunteers at Aidha (a school for migrant workers) says, “Holiday picnics give me a chance to interact with the community at the school. We have big groups of at least 15 people.”
Picnic celebrations always involve a colorful spread of potluck dishes. The cuisine of the Philippines is multifaceted, influenced by Spanish, American and Chinese culture. So in addition to well-known Filipino dishes such as Adobo and Lumpia, picnic food often includes international fare like lasagne, sandwiches and baked goods like brownies. The array of food on offer is sure to make onlookers curious.
We highlight six signature Pinoy picnic dishes.
Filipino Spaghetti is sweeter than your usual pasta.
Filipino Spaghetti is served with a tomato and meat sauce, which is sweeter than traditional Italian-style ragus. The defining ingredients in Filipino Spaghetti sauce are banana ketchup and sliced hotdogs. The dish is also topped with cheddar instead of Parmesan cheese. It is often made in large quantities for big parties.
Adobo is a staple in every Pinoy picnic.
Filipino Adobo is one of the nation’s best known specialties. It involves chicken, pork or a combination of both, in a vinegar-based sauce. The meat is pan seared in oil, then simmered in the marinade. The delicacy is a picnic signature dish as the vinegar is thought to preserve the meat and prevent it from going bad.
Paksiw is another signature Pinoy picnic dish.
Paksiw is another vinegar-based recipe often served at picnics. To make the dish, fish, usually milkfish (bangus), is simmered with vinegar, ginger and chili. If not cooked in Paksiw, milkfish also appears in dried and salted form at picnics. Sometimes, it is simply marinated with soy sauce, calamansi lime and garlic, then fried.
Banana Lumpia is a great snack to have.
Lumpia are Filipino spring rolls. Numerous different kinds of Lumpia are served at picnics. From savory versions like Lumpia Shanghai (filled with minced meat) to sweet banana-stuffed Lumpia (also known as turon, it is a Philippine snack made of thinly sliced bananas and a slice of jackfruit, dusted with brown sugar, rolled in spring roll wrapper and fried.). This fried snack is a must-have at celebrations.
Macaroni salad is a favorite potluck dessert. A Pinoy variation on American salads of the 1950s, the pasta dish is dressed with condensed milk, cream and copious amounts of mayonnaise. Canned fruit cocktail is also stirred into the mix, while grated cheese and raisins are optional add-ins. “Macaroni salad is a must at all festive occasions, especially Christmas and New Year’s Day. Ingredients like Nestle cream and cheese are expensive so it is a special treat,” says Sharon Cajandig, a Filipino who has been living in Singapore for the last seven years.
Cassava Cake is a sweet treat.
Kueh-like desserts like cassava cake are a staple at picnics. As the gatherings are often day-long affairs, different foods are prepared for each meal. For breakfast or tea, Filipino sweets like glutinous rice with brown sugar (biko), sweet buns (ensaimadas) and cassava cake are eaten. Like Nonya Kueh Bingka, Pinoy cassava cake comprises of coconut cream and grated tapioca, which is baked into a dense golden confection. Unlike the local treat, Filipino versions sometimes include shredded cheese and condensed milk.