This authentic Filipino kinilaw recipe is easy to make and is so much better than ceviche or poke.
I hate to frown upon the poke craze, I loved eating it in Maui and shared a recipe to make poke in five minutes. But the poke craze went hog wild and now poke refers to anything and everything raw. I went to a poke restaurant in Toronto and it was such a crummy version that it was time to leave poke alone.
But I love raw fish and so when Chef Crush Sheldon Simeon explained Filipino kinilaw on Top Chef I knew I had to make it.
Filipino food has a special place in my heart. I lived in the Philippines in 1999 in Cebu for a program that helped recent graduates get international business experience overseas.
Remember that big Y2K scare? I fled for a beach because I thought if the world was going to crumble I wanted to be somewhere beautiful. As you can see there was nothing to worry about.
Filipino Kinilaw is not Poke but it Plays a Similar Role
In English, Kinilaw literally means “Eaten raw” and while it’s often called Filipino ceviche I think it’s simplifying it a bit. I have the same issue calling poke Hawaiian ceviche.
But like poke and ceviche it’s usually eaten before a meal as a snack or with beer – known as pulutan. Kinilaw also has a lot of the same properties you love about ceviche.
How is Filipino Kinilaw Different than Latin American Ceviche
If you look at this recipe for Mexican ceviche, Ecuadorian ceviche, Peruvian ceviche you’ll see one common thread – lime juice. The acid in citrus “cooks” the seafood. Except with Ecuadorian ceviche where you cook the seafood first and then in acid.
However, the key difference in Filipino kinilaw use a different acid – vinegar. Both salt and vinegar are in many traditional dishes as it was a way to preserve food before refrigeration. Tamarind and green mangos in a recipe create a sour flavour. Fresh ginger and chili peppers provide a bit of spiciness.
You can make Filipino kinilaw with any fish but it’s often made with what is available locally so it’s common to have Spanish mackerel, swordfish (warning: not always sustainable), yellowfin tuna, wahoo or anchovies.
Kinilaw isn’t just Seafood, Meet Kilawin
Generally kilawin is meat and cooked, whereas kinilaw is raw seafood. But the terms can be interchangeable depending on where you are eating it. Kilawin exists in the northern Philippines and prepared with meat.
Unlike tartare or carpaccio, which are completely raw meat dishes it’s often quickly blanched or grilled first and served medium rare. It’s common to have kilawin with goat, pork, beef or chicken.
But Vegetarians Can Eat Kinilaw Too!
Just like vegetarian ceviche there are also versions of kinilaw with fruits and vegetables. Kinilaw is derived from the bisaya word kilaw which means eaten fresh, kilaw is uncooked or unripe like green mango. Vegetarian kinilaw often has cucumber, sweet potato, banana flowers or bitter melon.
There is No One Traditional Filipino Kinilaw Recipe
The Philippines includes over 7000 islands with more than 170 languages. This means kinilaw is also known under many names including lataven and lawal. It includes so many regional recipes from using shrimp that are still alive to raw pig heart.
I love how the variances in recipes show the cultural and geographical differences in the islands. Where I lived in Cebu was much different than many of the islands I visited and food changed from island to island
That Said…A Traditional Filipino Kinilaw Recipe Usually Has…
Calamansi or calamondin juice which is a citrus native to the Philippines. Calamansi looks like a key lime with a sour almost bitter flavour. If you would like to make the traditional recipe you can buy calamansi juice online. However, lemon and lime juice are good substitutes.
Suka, aka vinegar in the Philippines. It’s most often coconut vinegar or cane vinegar, which is plentiful across the islands. It gives kinilaw a sweet sour flavour. If you don’t live somewhere with coconut vinegar you can mimic the flavour with white vinegar and coconut milk.
For this reason we have two options for the recipe: a traditional Filipino kinilaw recipe, and one that uses substitutions if you don’t have access to Filipino ingredients.