Your Essential Shopping List for Cooking Filipinx Food at Home

updated Feb 5, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Neal Santos

Shopping for Filipinx ingredients in the U.S. has always been a bit of an adventure. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, partially growing up in rural Washington state, the nearest Filipino market was about an hour from our house. Once or twice a month we would make our way to Bremerton to pick up our basic staples: the good rice with the elephants on it, thin rice noodles for pancit, Silver Swan soy sauce (“never Kikkoman!” my parents would say), tocino for the freezer. I never passed up an opportunity to join the ride because surely there would be some sort of Asian treat (Pocky sticks, rice candy, suman!) for me to take home.

A couple times a year, for our big grocery trip, we’d go to Seattle’s Uwajimaya — one of my all-time favorite Asian markets. We’d pack ourselves into the car and drive three hours around the peninsula to shop at the two-story mega Asian market in Seattle’s Chinatown, then we’d take the ferry home. It was big back then, but it’s even bigger now since they’ve moved locations. I shopped there until I left Seattle in 2014. Back then, if it weren’t for those markets, we would have never been able to source the correct ingredients.

Flash forward to present day and I’m happy to say it isn’t nearly as difficult to find the ingredients I need. In NYC, I love to shop at Johnny Air Mart on Ave A and there is Phil-Am Mart in Woodside, Queens, although I don’t make it there as often as I’d like. Nowadays, you can also get whatever ingredient you need from the safety and comfort of your own home with just a click of a button — a luxury that didn’t exist for my family when I was growing up. If online shopping is the only way to get the groceries you need, then go for it — but if possible, I highly recommend supporting small businesses and browsing the aisles of the mom-and-pop shops. 

I could truly go on and on about all the different Filipinx ingredients I would love for you to try, but for the sake of brevity, this grocery list is limited to the things you need to make the specific recipes in this package.

Credit: Neal Santos

1. Bagoong

I have to say, being able to write about bagoong in American food media is a bit of a dream come true. Bagoong is a popular condiment of fermented shrimp paste (although it can also be made with fish like anchovies and herring). It’s salty, stinky, and funky in all the best ways. When I lived in the Philippines as a young child, one of the most popular snacks I ate was green sour mango bagoong, and now I specifically seek it out when I travel there. It always lives up to my food memories: sweet-tart with a salty finish. I have yet to meet someone who has tried it and didn’t love it. 

Other ways bagoong is used in the Philippines is as a condiment served with steamed kangkong or water spinach. I recommend using it similarly with mature spinach, broccoli rabe, or other greens. In this series I use it in the Gising-Gising. In that dish it’s cooked with aromatics and used as an umami booster. I would not hesitate from using it as an anchovy substitute since they are similar in flavor profile. All forms of dried and fermented fish are really celebrated in the Philippines. If you walk the markets you will find stalls upon stalls selling dried fish. We use them as toppings to everything from vegetables to even desserts. I’ve also found it’s cheaper to purchase the bagoong in a shop than online.

Credit: Neal Santos

2. Coconut Milk

My earliest childhood memories were of our gardener shimmying up the coconut tree in our front yard and chopping down the coconut. When he got back to the ground he would whack them open with a machete and we would sip fresh juice right on our front yard. My mother recently told me a story about cooking with her grandmother — she said that in order to put coconut milk in their cooking, they would have to start with a whole coconut. My grandmother would cut the coconut in half with a machete, drain the milk, then shred the meat with a coconut grater stool. They would place the shredded coconut meat in a canvas bag and squeeze out the milk into their food. That is how fresh the milk was. Filipinos take their coconuts seriously, so when I say get the good coconut milk, this is why. In this package, you’ll use it in the Chicken Adobo with Coconut Milk and Gising-Gising.

Credit: Neal Santos

3. Datu Puti Cane Vinegar

Vinegar is one of the most significant ingredients in Filipinx cooking. It has been around since before Spanish colonization and was often used to preserve foods in the tropical climate. Original iterations of adobo were made with vinegar only, and are now called white adobo. When you purchase food from vendors in the Philippines, depending on what you order, the vendor will often add a little baggie of vinegar to the side of your dish. Vinegar (often infused with garlic and chilies) is also a condiment that will be on your dinner table, next to patis and black pepper. Cane vinegar is made from sugar cane and has a flavor profile similar to white vinegar — not sweet, but sharp. This is one of the most traditional vinegars used in adobo and in the Philippines. (Other traditional vinegars are made from coconut and palm.)

Credit: Neal Santos

4. Silver Swan Soy Sauce

When shopping with my parents at the Asian food market, we were there for very specific items. My parents rarely, if ever, purchased mainstream soy sauce brands. Growing up, I was always instructed to look for the red label with the swan. To this day, I cannot buy mainstream brands because the phrase “never Kikkoman” is ingrained in my psyche. If you can’t find Silver Swan, though, you can use whatever soy sauce you like.

Credit: Neal Santos

5. Rufina Patis Fish Sauce

When I returned to the U.S. after living in the Philippines as a young child, the one thing I missed was tabletop patis. Patis is fish sauce that’s a little saltier than some other brands like Squid. Patis is to the Filipinx dinner table what salt is to the American. As a child who used to sneak all the condiments, I remember sneaking swigs behind my mother’s back. If you can’t find a patis-specific fish sauce, use a Thai brand like Squid or Red Boat. Just keep in mind they differ in salinity.

Credit: Neal Santos

6. Calamansi

Calamansi is a small citrus fruit found all over southeast Asia with a flavor profile similar to a lime and orange combined. They are about the size of a kumquat and are big in tart and sour flavor. In the Philippines, they have calamansi soda and use it in cocktail making, a technique I’ve adopted since returning. Growing up, I never had real calamansi because it wasn’t available, but now I can easily find bottled and frozen extract in Asian markets and online. In this package, I use it in two recipes: Lugaw and Bistek. As much as I’m happy to provide a substitution, they do not quite capture that exact zesty flavor profile that calamansi is famous for. 

Credit: Neal Santos

7. Sinigang Sa Sampalok Tamarind Seasoning Mix 

Growing up, I never ate sinigang made from fresh tamarind. Instead, it was always made from a seasoning packet. There are two really popular brands: Knorr and Mamasita’s. These packets make it possible to easily eat sinigang on a weeknight.

Credit: Neal Santos

8. Garlic

We love garlic in the Philippines. It’s used in most dishes (that I know of) and we even fry up garlic to use as a topping. You can buy large vats of crispy garlic at the Filipino market if you don’t want to make it. Just watch out for those garlic burps. 

Credit: Neal Santos

9. Black Pepper

I find Filipino cuisine to be very heavy in black pepper. It’s a flavor profile that helps bring balance to the sour and salty. 

Credit: Neal Santos

10. Bay Leaves

Bay leaves have a slightly bitter aroma, which make them very complementary to our salty-and-sour flavor profiles. They are used heavily in the dishes I’m familiar with.

Credit: Neal Santos

11. Rice

I think it’s safe to say that rice is the world’s grain. Across almost every culture you will find a dish that revolves around this dearly beloved grain. For so many, rice equates to comfort, and it’s no different in Filipinx culture. When I was growing up, we ate jasmine rice with every meal, whether we were eating Filipino food or not. We ate so much rice that we had a large rice cooker, and most Filipino families I knew owned a rice dispenser to store their rice. At my mom’s house, our dispenser was stored in the coat closet of our house, and it would perfectly dispense the correct amount of rice with the push of a button. Growing up, my dad and stepmom were pretty particular about the kind of rice we purchased. We would always buy a large bag of the rice with the elephants on it. Glutinous rice is another rice often used in Filipino cooking. Some versions of lugaw use glutinous rice, and there are a plethora of delicious Filipinx desserts made from it.

Credit: Kitchn