Chicken Pastel / Pot Pie: Historically, We’re All the Same

I’ve been having to plan and prepare all my lunches at my new place of work, which isn’t much more effort than what I’ve accorded lunch-making in the past; as long as I stay on top of groceries (fresh fruit and yogurt, in particular) I can leave my emergency stash of instant cupped ramen tucked away in a drawer. 

On Saturday I made a large batch of Chicken Pastel, or what you may consider the Filipino take on Chicken Pot Pie – its structural difference being a pastry crust covering just the top of the pie (not encasing the bottom and sides of the filling), and flavour-wise having its cream-based sauce spiked with the zing of hot chorizo sausages. One pie for dinner, one for the freezer and lots left over to pack as a chunky stew for the week. Efficiency!

Sweet (savoury) pie! I’ll have to work on mine looking presentable as these. Photo by Dave 77459 / CC BY-NC-SA

Chicken Pastel is another dish certainly worthy of commanding a food lover/historian’s piqued interest. When did this unassuming dish, comprised of ingredients which can all be classified as ‘commonplace’ (in modern kitchens, at least) make its way into the repertoire of Filipino cooking?

I love delving into this stuff. Let’s take a quick analysis of the components of Chicken Pastel. Many recipes abound – setting aside the pastry, core ingredients include chicken thighs or breasts, heavy cream, carrots, potatoes and a green vegetable, often peas or sweet peppers. On the Internet today, most Chicken Pastel recipes come from the blogs of home cooks – of which ingredients such as Vienna sausages, canned cream of mushroom soup, evaporated milk and chopped hotdogs make the cut. 

Culinary traditionalists may look away at this point – discounting this type of Filipino recipe as ‘one of those’ that may not really count as ‘Filipino’, either because it is full of shortcuts that undermine the making of a proper stew-like filling with salt-laden canned goods (and bright-red hotdogs), or because, to venture down a historical perspective, mushrooms and cream and even the sausages characteristic to Pastel aren’t native ingredients of the Philippines to begin with. 

This branches off into more topics of interest that I have yet to research on, and I will certainly keep track of these ingredient-history questions specific to set timeframes in Philippine history. In this context, for instance, my guess is that the popularity of Chicken Pastel as a special occasion dish may have begun in the years of Spanish occupation, finding its way into the mainstream (and everyday budgets) of most Filipinos during American governance, coinciding with the availability and affordability of tinned sausages, milk and concentrated mushroom soup. In the 70s onwards – made popular and enjoyed by a generation of Filipinos whose diets are greatly influenced by supermarket prices, plus those now scattered across the globe, writing food blogs to counter a longing for home – Chicken Pastel became an everyday dish.

I eagerly await my copy of Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion to Food arriving at my doorstep. Easily a lot more to read and learn about!

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