Living Abroad? These Are Substitutes You Can Use For Local Ingredients

No matter where you are, you can make Filipino dishes with these ingredient substitutions.

IMAGE Patrick Martires

There is only so much food one can eat before one longs for the flavors of home. Ingredients from the Philippines, however, are not always available in different countries. 

Ingredient substitutions are not always as easy as people think it is. Here are some easy swaps for local ingredients that you may need but can't find in your local Filipino or Asian market.

Limes, not lemons, make better substitutes for calamansi.
Photo by congerdesign from Pixabay

1 Calamansi: use lemon or lime

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Many people believe that the lemon is the substitute for calamansi. While this is an easy substitute, the better substitute is the lime, not the lemon. These can give you almost the same tang and zest our local calamansi gives. 

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Photo by Miguel Nacianceno

2 Soy sauce: use Chinese or Japanese soy sauce, liquid aminos, or Worcestershire sauce 

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The soy sauce we have on our shelves really do not taste the same as other soy sauces. For those times when you just can't get your hands on some of our local brands or run out, the Chinese and Japanese soy sauces work as a great substitute. If those aren't available at your local Asian market, look for liquid aminos or as a last resort, Worcestershire sauce. 

Photo by Patrick Martires

3 Coconut vinegar or Sukang Iloko: use cane vinegar, white vinegar, rice vinegar 

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When it comes to ingredients and condiments, vinegar may be the most essential in the Pinoy kitchen. From cooking with it in adobo and paksiw recipes to mixing it with garlic, pepper, and siling labuyo for a delicious dipping sauce, our local vinegar is a harsh, highly acidic liquid that other vinegars just don't have the same zing. However, make do with any of these vinegars instead. 

4 Patis: Other Asian fish sauce, dashi, or anchovy paste 

Patis might be as common as soy sauce and vinegar in Asian markets. Thai, Vietnamese, and even Taiwanese stores will probably offer some kind of fish sauce. If you're out of options, steep some dashi in water or mash anchovies into a paste for a DIY patis.

Photo by Fpalli from Wikimedia Commons

5 Atsuete: use turmeric + paprika 

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If you're in the Americas, drop by the Latin markets for annatto seeds. These are just as commonly used in their cuisine as in ours. If, however, these seeds, whether in seed, powder, or oil form, are still unavailable, mix some turmeric and paprika to mimic the color. However, just note that if annatto is not necessary to the recipe, it's best to just leave out as these spices, especially the paprika, can alter the flavor of your recipe. 

Photo by pxhere

6 Labanos (daikon radish): use radish 

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Look for the daikon radish in Asian markets, particularly the Japanese market since the Japanese use this radish often in their cuisine, too. The red radish, which may be more popular and plentiful in your area, will work in place for the daikon. When cooked, however, the red radish may lose some color from its pretty red ring. 

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7 Rice flour: use all-purpose flour, tapioca flour, or cornflour 

Rice flour should be available in your Asian markets. Tapioca flour and cornflour or cornstarch can work in place of rice flour if you're using it as a thickener but when it comes to baking, the best substitute will be all-purpose flour or even cake flour for a more finely textured baked good. 

8 Liquid seasoning: soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or liquid aminos 

There is nothing quite like liquid seasoning. Your sisig may not taste the same without it! However, desperate times, as they say, call for desperate measures and when this ingredient isn't available, even in your Asian grocery store, grab some soy sauce, liquid aminos, or Worcestershire for a quick fix.    

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9 Oyster sauce: soy sauce + sugar + cornstarch 

This is yet another ingredient that may be hard to source an alternative ingredient. However, if the flavor is that important, make do with a thickened soy sauce seasoned with a little sugar and thickened with cornstarch to mimic the same consistency of the unique sauce. 

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Photo by Bianca Laxamana

10 Bagoong: any shrimp paste, anchovies, or Asian fish sauce 

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Powerfully aromatic and packed with flavor, shrimp paste is indispensable as a condiment for kare-kare recipes. As you will discover, many other Asian countries also have their own version of the bagoong or shrimp paste. If you can only get the dried-up version, you'll just have to rehydrate the into a paste or add it in directly into your food as you would when making a binagoongan.  

11 Pancit canton: fresh egg noodles, noodles for chow mein, or ramen noodles 

One of the great things about Asian markets are the many kinds of noodles you will encounter. Scour these markets for pancit canton, egg noodles, or the noodles normally used for chow mein. These may come in fresh or dried form and either will work with your favorite pancit canton recipe. When you can't even find these noodles, a packet of ramen noodles will work wonders for satisfying your canton craving.   

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12 Pancit Bihon: use thin rice noodles 

Bihon is really just really thin rice noodles. Drop by your Thai or Vietnamese grocery store if the Asian market doesn't carry these noodles.  

13 Pancit sotanghon: Glass noodles, cellophane noodles, or mung bean noodles 

The Thai and Vietnamese have many kinds of noodles but only the Korean have glass noodles. These are thicker however than even our sotanghon noodles but make a great substitute for our chicken sotanghon recipe with its slippery texture. 

Photo by Miguel Nacianceno

14 Kangkong: use baby spinach 

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Kangkong means water spinach, so the best substitute for this is really the spinach. For best results, use baby spinach in place of the older, hardier spinach leaves for a softer, tender bite and less bitterness. 

15 Pandan: use vanilla extract 

The pandan or screwpine leaf may be common in Asian markets but that doesn't mean it can be rare. If you can't find the actual leaf in markets or specialized Asian groceries, ask for the extract. If even that isn't available, your next bet is to add some vanilla extract or just leave it out completely if the recipe will not suffer from its absence. 

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This stir fry is made wit ampalaya, scrambled eggs, and ginisa trio: onion, garlic, and tomatoes.
Photo by Majoy Siason

16 Ampalaya: use winter melon 

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It's the bitterness of ampalaya that make it a unique vegetable. However, this bitter gourd may not be popular even in your Asian markets. Look for instead the winter melon. It may deliver the same texture and a bit of the flavor you're looking for but without the bitterness. 

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17 Bok choy: use Swiss chard, collard greens, or kale 

Bok choy is common in Chinese markets. It may be smaller, but the shape should be familiar. If you're not in a country that has access to Asian produce, use Swiss chard, collard greens, or even kale instead. Just remember to remove the tough center stem. 

18 Muscovado sugar or panocha (panutsa): use dark brown sugar, sugar + molasses, or palm sugar 

Whether it's for your morning coffee or your Food for the Gods recipemuscovado is the dark brown sugar of the Western world. Use the darkest brown sugar you can find or add more molasses into your dish. Panocha, meanwhile, is closest to palm sugar so if you can find that in Asian markets, this is the perfect sugar substitute you can find for either of these brown sugars. 

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Photo by Dan Eric Rivera

20 Coconut milk and cream: use heavy cream or all-purpose cream + coconut oil or extract  

Coconut has become more popular in recent years so coconut milk and cream should be more readily available than before. If, however, you're still finding it hard to source, keep a bottle of coconut oil or extract on hand and use it with heavy cream to mimic the taste and texture of gata.

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Photo by Patrick Martires

23 Pili nuts: use Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, or peeled walnuts 

Not all cravings are for specific recipes. Sometimes it's just the taste of a nut like the pili nut that makes you miss home. The best substitute for pili nuts are Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts. Both have that white flesh that when eaten, is a little oily yet familiar. Peeled walnuts make a good substitute, too, but make sure the walnuts are peeled so its bitterness won't affect the taste.   

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24 Water chestnuts: use Jicama (singkamas) 

Sometimes there are ingredients that may be harder to source than others. Your best bet for water chestnuts for chicken pastel and your empanada recipe are canned water chestnuts. If even this pantry staple is rare, grab some jicama or singkamas as we know it locally for the same watery crunch you want. 

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May 22, 2015

These banana leaves are nature's plate.
Photo by Pixabay

25 Banana leaves: use corn husks, parchment paper, or aluminum foil 

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Corn husks make great wrappers! When banana leaves are not available, frozen or fresh, at your Asian market, use corn husks instead. If even that isn't available, use parchment or aluminum foil as your last resort. 

if you're still on the lookout for more ingredients that may not be available in your area, sometimes it's better to leave it out than to look for an alternative. However, when you do find an alternative, remember to note that as with all substitutes, the flavor may differ from the original. If you're curious to learn more about Asian ingredients, check out these articles: 

 

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