The History of Filipino Dish ‘Kare-Kare’: Philippine Cuisine Explored at KainCon 2024

By Stylish Team

BGC, Philippines — In celebration of Filipino Food Month, the currently ongoing KainCon 2024 event is exploring the Philippine food culture, history and traditions. This year’s 3-day conference is themed “All Things Filipino Food: Community, Culture, and Economy” that runs from April 15 to 18, with Day 1 held at the Far Eastern University (FEU) in Manila.

“The Story of Kari-Kari” by Ruston Banal, an interdisciplinary artist and Filipino culinary history expert with art exhibits mounted in New York, Paris and the Philippines, explored the history of one of the favorite Filipino dishes: kare-kare.

“I am from Pampanga, and I’m sure alam niyo ang attitude of Kapampangan. Bina-bash namin ang naglalagay ng itlog sa sisig,” Ruston opened his presentation in jest.

Artist Ruston Banal’s shared his “The Story of Kari-Kari” presentation at KainCon 2024

“I was actually young when we started doing ‘kare-kare’ as our household dish,” he shared.

His interest in kare-kare started when a friend wrote about the dish ten years ago, stating that the viand originally came from Pampanga.

Photo of “Kare-Kare” from Taste Atlas

Ruston described kare-kare as “an extremely popular dish in the Philippines that is produced with an orange-brown sause as a result of the annatto oil, and this sauce is commonly made with ground rice and ground peanuts as the main ingredients.”

The protein added in kare-kare is traditionally portions of beef, oxtail or tripe, but modern versions may have pork, chicken, seafood and fried tofu. “Bagoong” or shrimp paste is used as a side dish and a complement to balance flavors.

Banal tried to dig in if “kare-kare” is indeed a Kapampangan invention.

Apparently, in some history and media anecdotes, it was stated that Kapampangan cooks were called “magkakari” or experts in “kariyan” or the term for places that cook and serve “kari” from way back, and the history claims that the Kapampangans brought their own “magkakari” or chefs in Intramuros, Manila and opened the first “carinderia.”

Kariyan, which was apparently written in the Spanish orthography as “carijan” later became “carinderias” which is the famous term for Filipino eatery that we know today. The root word of carinderia is Spanish word “kari” or “cari.”

Kapampangans apparently arrogantly called the Filipino (Tagalog) version of their dish kari-kari (curry-like), a poor copy of Kapampanga “kari.”

“I was never comfortable with this narrative because it has a little micro-aggression,” Banal said. “It is like dividing the (Filipino) communities between Tagalog and Kapampangan. Because of that discomfort, I started asking culinary history experts.”

His research led him to discovering “The Sepoys” or Indian recruits tagged along by the British army who tried to colonize the Philippines and fought Spain over our country in 1762. The complex history of “kari-kari” actually has its origin traced back to the British invasion of Manila from 1762 to 1764. The Brits eventually left the Philippines after a couple of years because of the Treaty of Paris, and the Sepoys got left behind and stayed in the country and sold “curry” in carinderias.

The term “kari” comes from Tamil, meaning “sauce,” and is associated with Indian curry dishes.

The evolution of kare-kare showcases the fusion of Indian and Filipino culinary traditions, adapting to local tastes and ingredients. One might say that the “kare-kare” we know today is a collection of multicultural influences, indigenous adaptations, and language change. In some Spanish books, “Kari” is described as a culinary preparation that is owed to “the Filipino Indios,” with a rich history that dates back to the 18th century and found in various regions of the Philippines, including Pampanga.

KainCon, an academic conference that delves into Philippine food culture and traditions, is aimed at unifying chefs, gastronomic experts and Filipino farmers in their mission to influence local food cultivation and establish preservation initiatives to revolutionize the Philippine eating landscape. The research conference is part of the celebration of FFM, which was established under Presidential Proclamation 469, signed on April 13, 2018.

Collaborating organizations during the KainCon 2024 include the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement, Slow Food Youth Network Philippines, and FEU Manila. KainCon’s first day at FEU Manila Auditorium highlighted Philippine Culinary Heritage Education.

The event also featured Felice Prudente Sta. Maria’s presentation, “Putting Food History to Work,” which mainly talked about Philippine food history, especially during the Spanish colonial era. The food historian put emphasis on the fact that the Battle of Mactan happened not only because of territorial, power, and political struggles. Food was also a major factor in the conflict between the troops of Lapu-lapu and Magellan.

KainCon 2024 panel speaker Erwan Heussaff talks about “The Impact of Social Media on Food Ways”

“The Impact of Social Media on Food Ways” by Erwan Heussaff is a sneak peek at FEATR’s creative process for making visual representations and documentaries of our indigenous and heirloom recipes. The celebrity chef empowered the youth to discover and know more about the country by exploring each region and its culinary treasures.

Meanwhile, the“Tara, Kape tayo” presentation is about “Brewing the Future with Philippine Coffee,” which highlighted the country’s coffee consumption exceeding production. Rallying the advocacy of planting local coffees instead of importing, Juan promoted GForest, a feature of GCash where you plant digital trees in the app, and the mobile payment service and its local partners will plant the actual trees for you. Ending on a positive note, Juan left an empowering insight: “One day, that coffee you plant may be the coffee in your cup.”

Mixed with humor and food experiences, “Cavite Cuisine: Bridging the Past to the Present” by Ige Ramos emphasized the importance of roadways and transport in exploring, food mapping, and preserving our culinary dishes and traditions. A DIY tour called “Sampalan ng Side Mirror sa CaviteX” on Facebook sparked the Viaje Feliz x Lasa ng Republika, a collaboration with Ige Ramos, cultural advocates, and CaviteX to explore the local gastronomic and cultural communities of Cavite via its main roadways. He also introduced the Ugnayan Center for Filipino Gastronomy, a learning center in Silang, Cavite, that aims to connect Filipino gastronomy to the country and globally.

You may watch the entire event from KainCon 2024 Day 1 here.