Everything You Need to Know About Ginataan

IMAGE Majoy Siason

In tropical Philippines, coconut trees abound, and it stands to reason that some of the most beloved Filipino food should be made with its fruit. Or rather, the milk of its fruit. Gata, or coconut milk, is the creamy goodness you get from squeezing the grated pulp of mature coconuts. Add this to a savory dish and you've got an irresistibly creamy and flavorful ginataan dish.

What is Ginataan?

Ginataan can refer to a Filipino method of cooking that involves simmering various meat, seafood, or vegetables in gata. It can also allude to the actual dishes that have been cooked in coconut milk. Usually, it is followed by the main ingredient of the dish, as in ginataang gulay (vegetables in coconut milk) or ginataang manok (chicken in coconut milk). Another way of naming a ginataan dish is by adding the words "sa gata" at the end: for example, adobo sa gata features the popular Filipino food, adobo, cooked in coconut milk.

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By and large, when the featured ingredient is not specified, it usually refers to a savory viand. However, ginataan as a cooking method extends to desserts as well; for example, ginataang bilo-bilo is a beloved merienda or dessert dish made with glutinous rice balls, fruits, and other local ingredients.

Table of Contents

• History of Ginataan

• How to Cook Ginataan 

• How to Serve Ginataan

• Ginataan Recipes

• Tips to Cooking the Best Ginataan

• Ginataan Storage Tips

History of Ginataan

ginataang kalabasa in a white bowl
Sweet squash in coconut milk with a hint of spice? That's a dish you'll want seconds of.
Photo by Riell Santos
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Dubbed as the "Tree of Life" by Filipinos, the coconut tree is considered an important source of sustenance and essential materials; especially because each part can be used for something practical. The most obvious use of the coconut is its fruit, of course, and this is where the "gata" of ginataan dishes is extracted.

Coconut trees abound in the Philippines, and the preparation of food with coconut milk or cream is considered a traditional method. While there are no records of when exactly Filipinos began cooking in this way, we know that ginataan has existed even before the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. A version of ginataan that featured fish stewed in coconut milk was recorded to have been brought by galleon ships from Manila to Mexico's Guerrero coast, where they called it "guinatan". 

How to Cook Ginataan

ginataang labong or bamboo shoots in coconut milk in a gray bowl
Ginataang labong or bamboo shoots has a mild yet delicious flavor.
Photo by Majoy Siason
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Cooking ginataan dishes is a fairly straightforward process: usually, it begins with the sautéing of aromatics like garlic, onions, and ginger. Then, the preferred meat, seafood, or vegetables are added with water, and this mixture is simmered until the ingredients are tender. This is the best time to season the dish; some recipes require only salt and pepper, but others use fish sauce or patis to add an umami flavor. Finally, the coconut milk or gata is added, and after letting the stew simmer for a few minutes, the ginataan dish is ready to be served with rice!

It is important to pay attention to the order in which ingredients are added, especially when they have different cooking times. For example, a ginataang gulay recipe with different vegetables would require that the squash or kalabasa be added in first followed by the eggplant or talong and string beans or sitaw last. 

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Meanwhile, ginataan dishes that feature meat like chicken and pork usually take longer to cook and tenderize, so the meat is usually boiled in the gata-water liquid first to avoid overcooking the faster-cooking vegetables. For seafood ginataan dishes, the procedure is the same, though it might take a shorter time as seafood cooks faster than meat.

How to Serve Ginataan

ginataang tahong or mussels in coconut milk in a white dish
If there's a will, there's a way to make anything into a ginataan dish.
Photo by Majoy Siason
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Ginataan is a popular Filipino ulam dish and is usually served with warm rice. It is easy to cook in big batches. Regardless of the hero ingredient in the recipe, the cooking procedure for ginataan requires a lot of simmering together, so the coconut-milk-infused ginataan sauce becomes so flavorful. Hence, the rice! Ginataan is one of the dishes that Filipinos might say, "Sarsa palang, ulam na!" (It's so delicious that you can get full with just the sauce and rice!)

On the other hand, sweet ginataan like ginataang bilo-bilo are usually served as a merienda or snack or as a dessert. It can be served hot or cold and is usually a popular snack to have during Holy Week. Religious observers of this Catholic tradition usually abstain from meat, and ginataang bilo-bilo or binignit, as it is called in the Visayas region, is a meatless yet filling dish that is perfect for those who are abstaining.

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Ginataan Recipes

Ginataang Gulay Recipes (Vegetables in Coconut Milk Recipes)

Ginataang gulat or vegetables in coconut milk on a blue-gray plate
Gata or coconut milk makes this ginataang gulay recipe so creamy and delicious!
Photo by Aldwin Aspillera

Among the many things you can cook in gata or coconut milk, vegetables are the easiest to use. Not only are they full of nutrients; their natural flavor and sweetness go perfectly well with coconut milk. Even the pickiest eaters won't be able to resist having a bite (or two) of these ginataang gulay recipes!

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Here's a classic Ginataang Gulay Recipe you can't go wrong with serving!

 Ginataang Labong Recipe (Bamboo Shoot in Coconut Milk Stew Recipe)

 Ginataang Puso ng Saging Recipe (Banana Heart in Coconut Milk Stew Recipe)

 Ginataang Kalabasa with Malunggay Recipe (Squash in Coconut Milk Stew with Moringa Recipe)

 Ginataang Langka Recipe (Young Jackfruit in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginataang Sigarilyas Recipe

 Ginataang Upo with Fried Fish Recipe

 Ginataang Monggo Recipe

 Ginataang Monggo with Langka Recipe

 Ginataang Monggo with Shrimp and Dilis Recipe

Ginataang Manok Recipes (Chicken in Coconut Milk Recipes)

Ginataang manok with green papaya and bok choy on a red plate
This ginataang manok recipe has green papaya, but you can always switch it out with a different veggie!
Photo by Majoy Siason
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If you're looking for a quick meaty ginataan recipe, these ginataang manok or chicken in coconut milk recipes are for you. Not only do you cut cooking time because chicken doesn't need so long to become tender; it tastes amazing with gata!

 Ginataang Manok Recipe (Chicken in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginataang Manok at Sayote Recipe (Chicken and Sayote in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginataang Manok at Kalabasa Recipe (Chicken and Squash in Coconut Milk Recipe)

• Ginataang Manok with Luyang Dilaw Recipe (Chicken in Coconut Milk with Turmeric Recipe)

Ginataang Isda Recipes (Fish in Coconut Milk Recipes)

ginataang galunggong with finger chillies in coconut milk on a teal plate
Galunggong tastes wonderful when it's stewed in coconut milk.
Photo by Majoy Siason
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Here's a quick tip for when you're craving a creamy ginataang isda meal: grill the fish before simmering in the coconut milk! It's an extra step, but it adds a smoky flavor to your stew. If you prefer a fresher flavor though, simmering your favorite fresh fish in coconut milk is the way to go.

 Ginataang Galunggong Recipe

 Ginataang Tilapia Recipe

 Ginataang Tanigue Recipe (Spanish Mackerel in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginataang Pampano Recipe

 Ginataang Tulingan Recipe

• Ginataang Langka with Tinapa Recipe

Ginataang Seafood Recipes (Seafood in Coconut Milk Recipes)

ginataang alimasag or crabs in coconut milk stew with squash and string beans in a white bowl.
The coconut milk brings out the crabs' natural sweetness in this ginataang alimasag recipe.
Photo by Majoy Siason
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Fish isn't the only seafood that goes well in a savory coconut-based sauce! Crabs, shrimp, and shellfish impart a wonderful seafood taste to the gata and make for hearty and filling meals that cook in minutes. And speaking of shells, did you know that local apple snails called kuhol taste great in gata?

 Ginataang Alimasag Recipee (Crab in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginataang Hipon Recipe (Shrimp in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginatang Hipon, Sitaw, at Kalabasa Recipe (Shrimp, String Beans, and Squash in Coconut Milk Recipe)

• Ginataang Hipon at Malunggay Recipe (Shrimp with Malunggay in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Prawns with Coconut Milk and Santol Recipe

 Ginataang Pusit Recipe (Squid in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginataang Tahong Recipe (Mussels in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginataang Tahong at Halaan Recipe (Mussels and Manila Clams in Coconut Milk Recipe)

• Halaan at Tahong sa Gata Recipe (Mussels and Manila Clams in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginatataang Kuhol Recipe (Snails in Coconut Milk Recipe)

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Ginataang Baboy Recipes (Pork in Coconut Milk Recipes)

Here's a trick to cooking ginataang baboy in no time: use ground pork or pork luncheon meat! They don't need time to simmer in order to get soft, and yet are still as delicious as if you used bigger pork chunks!

 Ground Pork and Baguio Beans in Spicy Coconut Sauce Recipe

• Ginataang Kalabasa with Pork Luncheon Meat Recipe

Sweet Ginataan Recipes

ginataang bilo-bilo in a red and white bowl
This sweet ginataang bilo-bilo dish is the perfect snack on hot afternoons.
Photo by Patrick Martires
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Ginataan doesn't only refer to savory dishes cooked in coconut milk. Gata can also be used in merienda or dessert dishes that are filling, creamy, and just the right smidge of sweet!

• Ginataang Mais Recipe (Corn in Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Ginataang Saging at Sago Recipe

 Ginataang Bilo-bilo Recipe (Ginataang Bilo-bilo Recipe in Filipino)

 Ginataang Halo-halo Recipe (Ginataang Halo-halo Recipe in Filipino)

• Ginataang Halo-halo with Ube Recipe

 Binignit Recipe

Filipino Ulam Dishes with Gata Recipes

tinolang manok sa gata in a blue bowl
Ever put gata in tinolang manok? It's delicious!
Photo by Dairy Darilag
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As if ginataan as a cooking method doesn't already yield amazingly delicious recipes, adding gata to other classic Filipino food adds a new and interesting flavor to your favorite ulam!

 Tinolang Manok sa Gata Recipe (Chicken Tinola with Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Adobong Manok sa Gata Recipe (Chicken Adobo with Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Pork Binagoongan sa Gata Recipe

 Adobong Pusit sa Gata Recipe (Squid Adobo with Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Tokwang Adobo sa Gata Recipe (Tofu Adobo with Coconut Milk Recipe)

 Beef Ribs Adobo sa Gata Recipe

 Dinuguan Recipe with Gata

 Kaldereta Recipe with Gata

 Adobong Manok at Patatas sa Gata at Pinya Recipe (Chicken and Potatoes in Coconut Milk and Pineapple Recipe)

Tips For Making the Best Ginataan

ginataang pusit or squid in coconut milk in a blue bowl
You can cook squid in gata, but be careful not to overcook it!
Photo by Jeffrey G. Tan
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1 Pay attention to when you add ingredients.

If you are making ginataang gulay or vegetable ginataan, make sure to add the vegetables in order! A good rule of thumb is to add the toughest ones first as these will take longer to cook and add quicker-cooking veggies last.

2 You can use canned coconut milk or make it fresh yourself.

No time? No problem! You can use canned coconut milk or even powdered ones when making ginataan. Simply follow the instructions on the packaging when rehydrating powdered coconut milk! On the other hand, if you have access to fresh coconut, you can also try extracting the coconut milk at home. A nice bonus here is that you'll also get to extract the thicker, richer coconut cream or kakang gata as well!

How to Store Ginataan

ginataang manok or chicken in coconut mik with sayote in a white bowl
Good ginataan will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. Great ginataan will be consumed in one sitting.
Photo by Majoy Siason
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1 Store leftover ginataan in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Ginataan has a coconut-milk-based sauce, which means it doesn't have a very long shelf life compared to Filipino ulam dishes that have soy- or vinegar-based sauces. It can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, and this is lessened for ginataang gulay as vegetables tend to go bad faster than meat.

2 For longer storage, you can also freeze it.

A better way to store big amounts of ginataan is by freezing it. Note that this only applies to the savory kind; the sweet ginataan dishes do not freeze well as they contain glutinous rice balls, whose texture will change as it thaws.

3 Always check for spoilage before reheating.

It is particularly important to do this when the ginataan has been in the refrigerator for several days. You can tell that ginataan has spoiled when it develops a sour smell or begins to bubble around the sides.

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Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!

Got your own version of the classic dishes? Pa-share naman! Get your recipe published on Yummy.ph by submitting your recipe here.


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