Now widely considered the 5th basic taste by most scientists, umami or savoriness is tied to our enjoyment of such foods as cooked meats, ripe tomatoes, soy sauce, and cheeses. If you’ve always wondered what sort of dishes highlight this flavor best, then you’ve come to read the right article. Here are 5 umami-packed dishes worth trying next time you find yourself at a loss on what to have for lunch or dinner.
Pork Binagoongan from the Philippines
Pork binagoongan makes use of one of the Philippines’ most well-known condiments: bagoong. It’s made from small varieties of fish, shrimp, or krill that is then mixed with salt and allowed to ferment, creating an umami-rich paste or liquid that can be used for cooking or dipping. In binagoongan, the best kind of bagoong to use is called alamang or guisado, which is made from small shrimps.
The best pork binagoongan recipe incorporates sauteed diced tomatoes to add a touch of tart sweetness to the dish. This brings out more of the umami flavor from the bagoong, making it even more lip-smackingly savory. For best results, use thick-cut pork belly pieces. You can try boiling the pork in some salted water before deep-frying or air-frying it in the same way you would prepare lechon kawali. This locks in the juices from the pork while creating a beautifully golden, crunchy exterior that shatters at first bite.
Doenjang-Jjigae (Soybean Paste Stew) from South Korea
Doenjang is a fermented bean paste made with soybeans and brine. In addition to being a versatile condiment and seasoning, it is the primary flavoring of a traditional South Korean stew called doenjang jjigae. Considered one of the most iconic dishes in Korean cuisine, doenjang jjigae is a staple that is regularly enjoyed by Koreans throughout the year, regardless of the time of day.
Due to its widespread popularity, the variety of doenjang available for sale can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. In our local supermarkets, it usually comes in brown plastic containers, though glass bottles of doenjang are also sold at specialty Korean marts. Look for ones that contain a grainy brown paste if you can’t read hangul.
When making doenjang jjigae, the best thing to do is to dissolve the paste in a separate bowl with a bit of the broth. Doing so prevents the paste from sinking to the bottom of the pot in a clump and disperses the flavor evenly throughout the stew instead. Another tip is to use a traditional glazed Korean stone pot called a ttukbaegi when making doenjang jjigae. Stone is better at maintaining the natural umami flavors of fermented foods such as doenjang than metal.
Lasagna from Italy
Most Filipinos should already be familiar with lasagna. The dish is named after its primary ingredient, wide and flat pasta noodles that are topped with fillings and stacked on top of each other. Traditional lasagne al forno, the version we are most familiar with, is made with ragù, a meat-based tomato sauce, and Béchamel, a white sauce made out of roux and milk. Some cooks like to top theirs with a mixture of cheeses, with mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano being the most popular choices. All combined, this dish is a certified umami bomb that is layered, quite literally, with exciting flavors and textures.
For a truly umami-rich lasagna, go for canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, which are widely considered to be the gold standard. Another way to bring up the umami levels in the dish is to use good fish sauce, preferably Thai, to finish the ragù.
Ramen from Japan
Who could forget the ramen boom that happened in the Philippines in the early 2010s? Back then, it seemed like there was a new ramen restaurant chain from Japan opening here every week. This noodle soup dish has a special place in the hearts of many Filipinos as one of our go-to comfort foods. There’s nothing more satisfying than a warming bowl of tonkotsu, shio, shoyu, miso, or karē ramen on a rainy day..
Whatever your favorite type of ramen is, you can count on it to be a flavor explosion, thanks to the umami-rich ingredients used in making the different broths. Most of them are made using kombu, a kind of edible kelp that is one of the main ingredients of dashi, the basic Japanese soup stock.
Making ramen from scratch at home can seem like a challenge at first, but it is totally doable. For the most part, the biggest obstacle to overcome is making the broth, as it can take time depending on the type of ramen you’re making. If you do have the hours to invest, though, it can be a great kitchen experiment to do over a slow weekend.
Butter Chicken from India
Indian food really deserves more love and attention from the Filipino community. However, the sheer amount of dishes from the subcontinent can make the cuisine seem intimidating to a first-timer. Butter chicken or murgh makhani is an excellent gateway dish for those who have yet to familiarize themselves with this cuisine’s delightful flavors. This chicken curry dish is composed of boneless, skinless chicken thighs smothered in a rich tomato-based gravy. The addition of butter and cream brings a smoothness and creaminess to the dish that takes it to a truly sublime level.
You don’t need an expensive tandoor or traditional clay oven to make this amazing dish the way they do at a good restaurant. Simply making sure to sear the chicken thoroughly—even to the point of a light char—in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan will produce the same results. We also recommend using good-quality crushed tomatoes if you want to maximize the umami flavor of your butter chicken. Finally, don’t skimp on the spices, as they are the backbone of this dish.
Looking to add pure umami to whatever you’ve got going on the stove? Monosodium glutamate is pure umami, and a few shakes of it can amp up the flavor of any dish. Other sources of umami that you can easily add to an otherwise bland-tasting dish include soy sauce and fish sauce. Consider experimenting with these ingredients next time you cook!