The gold standard: There is nothing like canned Pinoy corned beef | Inquirer Opinion

The gold standard: There is nothing like canned Pinoy corned beef

/ 05:08 AM August 19, 2022

“Do you have any food items you wish to declare?” the American immigration officer asked with a half-engaged tone that signaled to me that he had a long way to go before his shift ended. So, with nothing to hide, I told him confidently (even proudly) that I was only bringing in six cans of corned beef in my checked luggage.

Originally uninterested, the man’s eyes immediately lit up, as though I had just confessed to being on the FBI most wanted list. “I really wish you hadn’t said that. Now I’m gonna have to ask you to wait in that room over there until we can bring your suitcase out… We have corned beef in the States, man!” My first reaction was not panic in missing my connecting flight but defensiveness. “You don’t have corned beef like this!”


Normally, I wouldn’t mind the inspection of my luggage, but my connecting flight was within the hour and there was no telling how long this would take. I sat there biting my lip and telepathically communicated my displeasure to my sister on her requested Delimondo corned beef. Unable to make that connection with her, I instead stewed and kept my anxiety at bay by thinking of the one thing that has never ceased to make me smile about our country.

There is nothing like canned Filipino corned beef. It is everything everyone in the world says beef should be: moist. It oozes fat and natural juices fresh out of the can. And yet outside the Philippines, no one has really taken notice of our vastly superior product. Instead, the world recognizes South American canned corned beef as the gold standard, though it is as dry as a dessert and shredded into the texture of dog food. Ours is either in thin or chunky strands but never pulverized bits. Nevertheless, I have nothing against beef from South America. On a previous trip to Argentina and Uruguay, I found their beef to be very tender and flavorful, but the canned version of one of their major exports is, painfully, a waste of good meat.


Filipinos all grow up eating corned beef either as pandesal filling or as main course with fried eggs and garlic rice. The best way to eat this is by breaking the yolk on the corned beef and not on the rice. It makes a colossal difference in your mouth, trust me on this.

I ate Purefoods corned beef once a week in grade school, so spooning the coagulated fat out of the can is second nature to me. The soupy contents poured out before being sautéed with onions is crucial in highlighting how moist the beef is. A lot of us enjoy spooning the liquefied beef fat over our rice to spread the love further, so to speak. I have discovered, however, that we can take our corned beef to another level of culinary delight through the simple act of reduction, cooking it long enough until the liquid evaporates, centralizing the flavor within the juices into the corned beef strands themselves.

This cannot be achieved with non-Filipino corned beef because that beef has practically no fat drippings to begin with. It would result in further drying an already dried up lump of meat. If you think about it, the original soupy version we are most used to may be gross to the uninitiated. It is also wasteful when it comes to flavor, and is like carving a newly cooked steak without first allowing it to rest to allow the juices to be reabsorbed in the meat.

I have also discovered that dissolving a tablespoon of mustard (preferably Dijon) and frying our corned beef until half of it becomes crispy elevates the dish from mere “canned good” to divinity. The result is corned beef that is more refined, flavorful, and moist without it being drenched in fat. This method of cooking achieves a crispy texture, with a subtle flavor kick from the mustard, and may create a meal both novel and familiar, mustard being loved in Europe and the United States.

While our local raw beef cannot compete with the marbling and tenderness of those found in the Americas and Japan, our canned corned beef can potentially dominate this product line. With Filipino cuisine on the rise even before the pandemic and given a marketing push in the right direction, our corned beef can become a well-recognized and respected addition to groceries abroad instead of being confined only to specialty Filipino stores.

My suitcase is unzipped and the customs agent squints at the white cans that she begins to study. “What does this taste like?” she asks.

Rafael Lorenzo G. Conejos,

Makati City

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