6 Hearty Italian-Inspired Dishes Filipinos Love

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

     It’s no secret that Filipinos have a deep appreciation for Italian food. Pasta dishes are not just a fixture at our parties and fiestas, they’re also part of the regular menu at our most popular fast-food restaurants—and we tend to look for it whenever we crave an alternative to rice or noodles. We also know that there are few better ways to feed a crowd and make sure that everyone comes away with full bellies than with pizza. You can also find Italian restaurants everywhere in the country, even in the most far-flung of regions.

     We love this cuisine so much, in fact, that we’ve put our own unique spin on some of its most iconic dishes to better suit our palates. This phenomenon, called “cultural morphing”, has been the catalyst to many of the Italian-inspired dishes that we enjoy regularly today. Here are 6 of them:

6 Hearty Italian-Inspired Dishes Filipinos Love
Photo by Angele J from Pexels

Chicken Parmigiana

     Chicken parmigiana, also known as chicken parmesan, appeals to Filipinos because the ingredients used in the dish are easy to procure, and it is also relatively simple to prepare. The average chicken parmigiana recipe is ready in an hour and a half, and requires little more than 20 minutes of prep time, making it a great quick dinner option. It consists of chicken breast fillets that have been pounded out, breaded, then fried to a golden crisp before being smothered in tomato sauce and topped with cheese. The “parmigiana” in the name refers to Parmesan cheese, which is the kind most often used in the dish, though it can also be topped with other cheeses such as mozzarella or provolone. While it can be served as is, some households prefer to have it with pasta on the side.


     Known in Italy as calamari, calamares in the Philippines refers to tender squid rings and pieces that have been dipped in a thick batter before being fried to a crisp in oil. It is popular here as a drinking snack or pulutan, though many families also enjoy having it with rice as ulam. In the Mediterranean, calamari is served plain, with lemon and salt on the side for the diner to add according to their preference. In Spain, the dish is referred to as calamares a la romana or Roman-style calamari, and it is served with lemon juice, mayonnaise, or garlic mayonnaise. Here in the Philippines, we usually have calamares with a dip made of equal parts mayonnaise and ketchup on the side.


     It’s impossible to say when pizza was introduced in the country, but we know exactly where and when we made it our own. 3M Pizza was founded in 1969 by Merle Hemedes and her 2 sisters, Minerva and Milagros. A balikbayan from New York, Merle decided to open a pizza kiosk in the then-named Araneta Arcade in Quezon City, inspired by the pizzerias she loved back in the States. Instead of mozzarella, she used quick melt cheese in her recipe, and substituted pepperoni with sweet ham. She also developed a sweeter-tasting tomato sauce topping that she felt was more suited to the Filipino palate. Needless to say, 3M Pizza was a hit, not just for its taste, but also because it was offered at a price that the average Juan could afford. This style of pizza has endured to this day, and it is still a favorite after-school snack among students on a budget.

Filipino-Style Spaghetti

     Spaghetti—specifically, spaghetti Bolognese—is considered one of Italy’s greatest culinary exports. Here in the Philippines, though, we make it a little differently. The building blocks of the dish are the same: it consists of boiled spaghetti noodles doused in a tomato-based meat sauce. However, our sauce blend veers decisively, almost defiantly sweeter from the original. Some people use sugar to achieve this unique taste, while others add banana ketchup. We also add red hotdog slices to the sauce along with the ground meat. The entire affair is then topped with grated processed cheese. This is the version that is served at almost all of the quick-service restaurants that Filipinos patronize, and is a living testament to our resourcefulness and ingenuity. Back in the day, hotdogs and banana ketchup helped extend the sauce, as tomato sauce and ground meat used to be quite expensive. By adding these unorthodox ingredients to the mix, everyone was able to enjoy a plate of spaghetti.

Pasta Carbonara/Alfredo

     Filipinos tend to use carbonara and Alfredo interchangeably to describe a white sauce used to top pastas. This sauce is made with a base of cream and milk, and usually also contains butter, bacon, garlic, onion, and mushroom—which makes it neither a true carbonara nor Alfredo. We love cream-based pasta dishes regardless, and people who dislike red sauce often order or make this instead of Pinoy-style spaghetti.


     Our love for sweet-and-savory flavors transcends Pinoy-style spaghetti: we also use the same techniques to achieve that distinctive taste when cooking other types of pasta dishes, such as lasagna. Just like in our spaghetti, we make the ragu sauce for our lasagna sweeter. Cooks on a budget also substitute quick-melting cheese products for the mozzarella traditionally used in the original.

     Our unique takes on these Italian dishes are not just the result of us adapting them to our tastes. In many ways, they are living reflections of our qualities and values as a nation. Which one of these Italian-inspired dishes is your personal favorite?

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