As a food lover, you may have noticed some similarities between Mexican and Filipino cuisine. With their shared history of Spanish influence, these two vibrant culinary traditions have more in common than you might expect.
In this post, we’ll explore the cross-cultural connections between Mexican and Filipino food. You’ll discover the historical and cultural factors that shaped their cuisines, shared ingredients and dishes, and the fusion of Latin American and Asian flavors.
Whether you’re a curious foodie or a culture enthusiast, read on to uncover the influences behind these delicious cuisines. By the end, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for Mexican and Filipino food traditions.
Spanish Colonial Influence Shaped Both Cuisines
The most significant factor behind the food similarities is the Spanish colonial rule in Mexico and the Philippines. Let’s take a quick look at how Spain left its mark:
Introduced New Ingredients and Cooking Methods
When the Spanish colonized Mexico and the Philippines starting in the 16th century, they brought European and Latin American ingredients and cooking techniques. Tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, spices, and more transformed traditional dishes.
The Spanish taught locals sautéing, baking, and making sauces—techniques still used today. Their cattle and dairy animals also expanded the Filipino and Mexican diets.
Impacted Popular Dishes
Many staples in both cuisines originated under Spanish rule. Tamales, flan, adobo, and empanadas all have Spanish roots. Locals incorporated Spanish elements into their existing food traditions.
Inspired a Love of Sweets
Spaniards brought their sweet tooth to the colonies. Baked goods like Mexican churros and Filipino pandesal became mainstay treats. Sweetened drinks, like Mexican horchata and Filipino sago’t gulaman, also emerged.
Clearly, Spain left an enduring mark on Mexican and Filipino food that strengthened their connection. But each cuisine retained its uniqueness through local crops, cooking styles, and culture.
Similar Dishes with Distinct Flavors
Mexican and Filipino cuisine share several dish names, though the ingredients and preparation differ. Here are some classic examples of this:
While both cuisines have a menudo stew, they vary greatly:
- Mexican menudo contains beef tripe and red chili sauce. It has a unique rich, soft texture.
- Filipino menudo, known as caldereta, uses pork liver, carrots, and potatoes in a tomato sauce. It offers a tangy, savory flavor.
Tamales are a tasty treat in both countries. But the recipes create unique results:
- Mexican tamales use corn dough stuffed with meats, cheese, or veggies, wrapped in corn husks.
- Filipino tamales are made of rice, sometimes stuffed with meat, wrapped in banana leaves.
Adobo is a popular flavoring technique, but again, with different approaches:
- Mexican adobo is a tangy marinade of chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, and spices.
- Filipino adobo is a cooking process of braising meat in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and black peppercorns.
With a shared name, you might expect the same dish. Instead, local customs shaped unique renditions that reflect each culture.
Hearty, Slow-Cooked Stew Dishes
Pozole vs Sinigang
- Mexican pozole features meat, hominy, and aromatic spices stewed into a hearty soup.
- Filipino sinigang stews meat or seafood in a sour broth with vegetables like kangkong and eggplant.
Birria vs Adobo
- Mexican birria is a spiced goat or beef stew, sometimes served in tacos.
- Filipino adobo stews chicken or pork in vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, and soy sauce.
Though recipes differ, slow cooking meats to tender, fall-off-the-bone perfection is the core of these warming dishes. Both cuisines balance sweet and savory for comfort food at its finest.
Rice: A Versatile and Cherished Staple
Rice holds a central role in Mexican and Filipino food as an everyday base for meals. Both cultures display rice’s versatility through iconic dishes:
Everyday Meals and Sides
- In the Philippines, rice is served with every meal. Dishes like sinangag (garlic fried rice) and arroz caldo (chicken rice porridge) highlight its importance.
- In Mexico, rice is an accompaniment. It’s found in flavorful recipes like Mexican red rice simmered with tomatoes and onions.
Snacks and Desserts
- Rice flour gives a delicate texture to Filipino snacks like puto steamed rice cakes.
- Mexican rice adds sweetness to drinks like horchata, mingling with cinnamony flavors.
Rice’s ability to absorb flavors and pair with different meats makes it a cherished staple. Its prominence in everyday meals and special treats reflects rice’s cultural significance.
Shared Love of Tropical Fruits
Thanks to their tropical climates, Mexican and Filipino cuisine embrace fresh, ripe fruits that add sweet, tangy, and creamy flavors.
- Mexico boasts an avocado obsession, eaten raw, in guacamole, even in ice cream.
- In the Philippines, avocados are sliced into desserts like halo-halo or used to thicken and add richness to drinks.
- Mexico uses the mango’s tartness for salsas, margaritas, and agua frescas.
- The Philippines’ national fruit shines in sticky rice desserts, crispy turon, and refreshing shakes.
- In the Philippines, calamansi adds a distinct zesty, fruity juice to marinades and dipping sauces.
- Mexico’s limón real offers the same bright taste to drinks, ceviches, and fruit nibbles dusted with chili powder.
These countries treasure fruits that flourish in tropical heat, using them to add tart, nutty, and creamy layers to both sweet and savory dishes.
Fusion of Asian and Latin Flavors
With influences from Spanish, Chinese, and native traditions, Filipino food is often seen as a fusion of Asian and Latin cuisine. This convergence mirrors elements of Mexican cooking as well.
- Coconut is infused into Filipino desserts like buko pie and drinks like ginataang halo-halo.
- In Mexico, coconut features in regional dishes like shrimps simmered in coconut milk.
Vinegar and Soy Sauce
- Soy sauce adds umami depth to Filipino adobo, while vinegar provides a tangy burst.
- Mexican moles balance the sweetness of dried fruits and nuts with a splash of vinegar.
- Fiery siling labuyo gives Filipino sisig its heat.
- Mexico’s salsas get their kick from jalapeños, habaneros, and more.
By blending Asian and Latin ingredients, both cuisines strike the perfect balance of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy in iconic dishes.
Cultural Connection Through Food
Despite the distance between Mexico and the Philippines, their shared Spanish colonial history contributed to notable food similarities. But both retained unique aspects that make their cuisines special.
Trying authentic dishes from each culture can help deepen your understanding and appreciation. As Anthony Bourdain said: “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region.”
Next time you crave tamales or adobo, look for restaurants that celebrate tradition through food. Let the familiar tastes transport you, igniting your curiosity about distant cultures now a little less far away.