Gisa, or "stir fry" in English, is a way of cooking meat, fish, or vegetables with a small amount of cooking oil, onions, and garlic. It comes from the Spanish word "guisar," and the dishes using this technique are called ginisa or guisado.
Stir frying is actually a Chinese cooking technique, and how it has become an influential force in Filipino cuisine should not be a surprise, as many aspects of Philippine culture have Chinese roots. The Asian style of stir-frying is similar to the Western technique of sautéing.
There are lots of food that can be cooked ginisa-style. It’s quick and easy to do, and immediately lends a distinctive flavor to the meal. One of these is the sinangag (or sangag), which refers to old cooked rice that is stir-friend and usually served during breakfast.
It is said that half of Filipino dishes are done ginisa-style, from simple tofu and ampalaya, to meals with lots of ingredients such as afritada, menudo, and pinakbet. For more complicated dishes, the gisa is one of the first steps in cooking.
Indicative of how Filipino culture places importance on this method of cooking is that the concept is frequently used in other contexts—right up into the halls of power. The word "gisa" is often encountered, especially in the media, in the context of investigations and hearings. It’s not foreign to Filipinos to hear the phrase, "Ginisa si ganito-ganyan sa hearing kanina."
But in the end, the ginisa dishes’ power lies not in those play of words. Instead, they’re found in how they captivate our noses with their distinctive scent, our eyes with the glistening promise of a great meal, our ears with the hissing and popping that excites our appetite, and, of course, our tastebuds that ceaselessly crave for these timeless recipes.
For dozens of Filipino, Asian, and International recipes that are cooked ginisa-style, check out this awesome database here.