tips on navigating through piles of valu-pack hot dogs and cheese ice cream at the filipino grocery store + an exciting announcement!

by Paulina Farro

 Stocking your pantry with essential Filipino ingredients can be daunting if you don’t know where to start, and are faced with an entire grocery store full of unfamiliar ingredients.

Filipino food is heavily influenced by its history of colonization and is the reason you’ll find packs of hot dogs next to packs of fresh Pancit noodles, see shockingly purple Ube ice cream speckled with American cheese squiggles, and why a lot of dishes have Spanish names (i.e. adobo) . Despite my refusal to ever eat velveeta'd ice cream,  I like that we don’t take ourselves too seriously; it makes me feel like I can make nutella lumpia, or  any weird Filipino-Italian fusion ideas I come up with at 3am, and they would be easily accepted by my family with nothing more than a shrug as they popped ube cannolis into their mouth.

So, even though you’ll likely have to pass by bags of sad, pale chicken (don’t look at them! keep going!) to get to the delicious stuff, I promise it’s worth your while. Yelp your closest Filipino grocery store and start with these things:

MAE PLOY SWEET CHILLI SAUCE:  pretty much exactly what it's called, a sweet and slightly sour chili sauce that's not very spicy at all, this sauce is a must for dunking your lumpia into.

DATU PUTI VINEGAR: this vinegar is made with sugar cane, so it is less brash than regular white vinegar, and it's the key to authentic chicken or pork adobo that isn’t too overpowering.

SILVER SWAN SOY SAUCE: this soy sauce is more mild than its other asian soy sauce counterparts, and other important aspect of making chicken or pork adobo that isn’t too salty.

LONGANISA: longanisa is a bright red sweet sausage made with pork and usually fried up with eggs and rice for a typical filipino breakfast. The sugar in the sausage allows it to caramelize nicely and get charred and crunchy. I love to cook it until it’s right on the edge of being burnt.

BBQ SKEWERS: already marinated, and already skewered meat is how I convince people I’m good at cooking meat (I’m not). Past the bags of sad chicken and tubs of pigs blood you will find all varieties of marinated bbq protein; all you have to do is throw them in the oven or on the grill.

FROZEN LUMPIA: if you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to making my SHRIMP LUMPIA RECIPE, you can find packages of them already made in the freezer section. Though not as good as homemade, they are still delicious and addicting.

CHICHACORN: chichacorn are fried corn nuts  that aren’t as hard as the American variety and come in flavors like adobo or bbq. I’m all about the garlic because I’m pretty sure my blood is 75% garlic.

Self-serve blue crabs sold by the pound.

In the fish section, you can choose which one you want for your dinner, and they will season it and fry it up for you for free while you finish up shopping.

Head-on shrimp.

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Fresh pancit noodles are much tastier than the dried kind.

Bitter melon leaves can be used in place of spinach in any recipe; they are an acquired taste due to their bitterness as their name suggests. Ube, more commonly known as purple yam, is featured in many Filipino desserts. 

Sweet corn ice cream might sound weird at first, at least it did to me, until I realized that corn syrup is pretty much in everything we eat here in the US. Sweet corn ice cream tastes amazing with fresh blueberries or cherries mixed in. Steer clear of any ice cream involving cheese me on this one. 

I love the internet. I love that anyone can make a website about anything and express themselves and be seen and heard. What started as a fun side hobby of mine a few years ago, a distraction from licking my wounds after being unceremoniously ousted off MasterChef, has morphed and molded over the years into a way for me to share beautiful places, people, and food from around this world (and mostly so my Grandma can see what I'm up to). This blog has spread a little much-needed love for Filipino cooking, I hope; introduced me to people I never would have met otherwise, and I even landed an interview at my dream food magazine a few months ago with the help of this little space on the internet. And now, thanks to my readers and the editors over at Saveur, I've been selected out of over 30,000 blogs as a finalist for Saveur Magazine's 7th Annual  Blog Awards, in the Eat the World category!

Voting starts today, and continues through August 31st, and you can vote as many times as you want. Winners are selected by popular vote, so if you feel so inclined you can head over HERE to vote for me, and while you're over there also be sure to check out all of the other cool blogs as there are several other award categories other than the one I'm in. The part I'm most excited about is that I've  been invited to a celebratory event in New York City, where the winners will be announced. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to get to meet the super talented food bloggers that I've been following for years!