One of the great advantages of the Philippines having over 7,000 islands is the diversity you can find across the country. From Luzon in the north to Mindanao in the south, not only are there over 180 different languages spoken in different islands or regions; you’ll find that local cultures can vary greatly as well.
With the difference in culture, geography, and environment comes a wonderful diversity in cuisine: there are dishes that are unique to a region, and dishes you can find all over the Philippines with variations in different regions. Occasionally, you’ll also find that different regions or islands have the same dish, but they call it by different names.
Here are some Filipino ulam dishes that go by different names depending on the region:
Chicharon Bulaklak and Ginabot
Chicharon bulaklak, as it is known in Luzon, is a Filipino appetizer that is usually served as pulutan or a bar snack. It is made with deep-fried pork ruffle fat, a part of the pork intestines. The ruffle fat or pork intestines look like flowers, especially when fried, which is why it’s called bulaklak (flower) in Tagalog. In Visayas, chicharon bulaklak is more commonly known as ginabot, and just like its Luzon counterpart, ginabot is best served right after frying with a spiced vinegar dip and is usually the perfect companion for ice-cold beer.
Bulalo and Pochero
Bulalo in Luzon and pochero in Cebu are both beloved comfort food, and no wonder: they are made with beef shanks stewed in a light but flavorful broth, along with greens like cabbage or bok choy, and corn. One of its biggest features is the marrow in the beef shank. Because the broth is simmered over a longer period of time, the marrow softened, becomes creamy, and is full of umami.
It is important to note that while bulalo in Luzon is pochero in Visayas, there is a dish in Luzon that is also called pochero, but is very different from bulalo or Visayan pochero. In Luzon, pochero is a pork stew made with tomato sauce, saba, and beans.
Bicol Express and Sinilihan
Contrary to popular belief, Bicol express is not a Bicolano creation! This spicy pork dish made creamy with coconut milk and cream was created by Cely Kalaw, who was inspired by her years growing up in the Bicol region. While the name Bicol Express has caught on even in Bicol, it is also known locally as sinilihan or gulay na lada. Gulay na lada means vegetables with chili, which is said to have been Cely Kalaw’s inspiration for Bicol Express.
Lechon Kawali and Bagnet
Lechon kawali gets its name from the way it’s cooked: by deep-frying pork belly slabs in a deep kawali or pan. While lechon kawali is the more commonly used name in the rest of the Philippines, it is known as bagnet in the Ilocos region. The key to preparing lechon kawali or bagnet is by boiling the pork belly in a broth with salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves first: this step tenderizes the meat while infusing it with flavor. This step is what gives the lechon kawali or bagnet its irresistible texture: soft, juicy meat and crunchy skin!
Dinuguan and Tinumis
Even though we’re mentioning tinumis here, dinuguan actually has more than just one name! Dinuguan’s name comes from dugo, which means blood in Filipino, because it is usually made with pig’s blood, giving it its signature black hue. Tinumis, which is what dinuguan is called in Nueva Ecija, also has cubed pork slices and is usually made tangy due to a souring agent. Vinegar is used for dinuguan while tinumis uses either vinegar or sampalok (tamarind).
Binignit and Bilo-bilo
We are ending this list on a sweet note: binignit! Binignit is the more popular name in Cebu, but in Luzon, it’s also known as bilo-bilo or ginataang halo-halo. Binignit and bilo-bilo are prepared largely in the same way: tubers like kamote and kamoteng kahoy, saba banana, and glutinous rice or glutinous rice balls are stewed in coconut milk and cream. This dessert soup can be served hot or cold, and in Visayas, it is more popularly prepared during the Lenten season, in observance of religious practices.