The most important tip I can give you on Philippines local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Philippines, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Philippines
Filipino cuisine has developed from the different cultures that shaped its history. As such, it is a melange of Indian, Chinese, Malay, Spanish, European and American influences. Though its cuisine is not as renowned as many of its neighbours, such as that of Thailand and Vietnam, Filipino cooking is nonetheless distinct in that it is possibly the least spicy of all South East Asian cuisines. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Filipino food is bland, though. It is just that instead of spices, Filipino food depends more on garlic, onions and ginger to add flavor to dishes. Painstaking preparation and prolonged cooking time is also a characteristic of most Filipino dishes, and when done properly is often what brings out the flavor of the food as, opposed to a healthy dose of spices. Kamayan, literally means Eating with Hands.
Some Filipinos who were born and raised in rural provinces still eat with their hands, mostly at their homes during mealtimes. They would often say that Kamayan makes food taste better. Wash your hands clean before attempting this to avoid illnesses. Almost all Filipinos in the urban areas though use spoons, forks and knives. Eating with hands in public is not uncommon however if you’re eating in a mid-range and splurge restaurant this may be considered rude. To experience how the Filipinos eat in a budget way, Carenderias (food stalls) and Turo-turo (meaning Point-point, which actually means you point at the food you want to eat in the buffet table) are some of the options.
Mains cost less than $1. Carenderias serve food cooked earlier and it may not always be the safest of options. As with the rest of Southeast Asia, rice is the staple food of the Philippines. Some areas in the Visayas prefer corn but elsewhere Filipinos would generally have rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Uncooked rice usually comes in 50kg sacks but can be bought by the kilogram at the wet market or at neighborhood rice dealers. Single servings of rice are readily available at fastfood restaurants or eateries. Filipino diet The word diet is non-existent in the vocabulary of Filipinos or has never existed, as mentioned before they are laid back people, they love to eat as much as they can as if there is no tomorrow.
They spend most of their money on food, a Filipino teenager might at least enter a fastfood chain two or three times a week, during fiestas in a city, town, barangay, purok or subdivision Filipinos would have big parties and it would last from noon to midnight when some of the people would end up being drunk, you can ask if you can join a fiesta in a home and some might welcome you as this is a tradition. If you’re visiting the Philippines it is the best time to cut your so called diet and eat to your heart’s content. The Filipino diet is a lot more similar to the west than the east, with Filipinos eating less vegetables, more oil, meat and sugar than people in neighboring countries; most Filipinos aren’t health conscious. Cancer and heart-related diseases are the leading causes of death here.
However if you visit rural areas they use more vegetables and less meat and practice old Filipino medicine. Etiquette Some Filipinos use a rather strict interpretation of the serving spoon rule and believe that offering utensils or food that has come into contact with someone’s saliva is rude, disgusting, and will cause food to get stale quickly. Singing or having an argument while eating is considered rude, as they believe food is grasya/gracia or blessed in English; food won’t come to you if you keep disrespecting it. Singing while cooking is considered taboo because it will cause you to forever be a bachelor or spinster.
Conservative Filipinos share another belief with the Chinese that not finishing your food on your plate is taboo and rude; you’ll often see Filipino parents scolding their children to finish their food or not they’ll never achieve good academic performance. Usually, before a meal starts or before food is served, Filipinos say a prayer; wait until the host invites you to start eating. Also, it is rude to refuse food that the host has offered or to leave the dining table while someone is still eating. While eating in front of Chinese/Japanese/Korean -Filipinos, don’t stick your chopsticks vertically upright into a bowl of food.
Cuisine Filipinos usually serve at least one main course accompanied by rice for lunch and dinner. At times you would have two with a vegetable dish accompanying a meat dish. On special occasions such as fiestas, several main dishes would be served, a Filipino party or a Fiesta wouldn’t be complete without Spaghetti, Pasta, Fruit Salad, Ice Cream, Rice, spring rolls, cake or rice cakes and soda. Soups are also often the main course apart from being a starter. It is not uncommon for Filipinos to douse their rice with the soup and eat the meat that came with the soup alongside. Kanin at Kakanin Fresh Bibingkas Puto Kanin means Rice in Tagalog while Kakanin means Rice cakes.
Sinangag is fried garlic rice, often mixed with vegetables, dried shrimps, dried fish strips, hotdogs or Chorizos. Bibingka – rice cake with cheese and salted egg, it originates from Indian cuisine. Puto – Soft white rice muffins. Other kinds include Biko, Cuchinta, Pichi-Pichi, Sapin-Sapin, etc. The towns of Calasiao in Pangasinan and Binan, Laguna are famous for their puto Pansit/Pancit Pancit Canton Pancit/Pancit or Noodles, an influence from Chinese cuisine and believed to give long life because of its length, often eaten in celebrations such as Birthdays and New Year. Below listed are some popular Filipino noodle dishes Pancit Batchoy/La Paz Batchoy is a noodle soup usually made from pork organs, crushed crunchy fried pork rind, shrimp, vegetable, chicken stock, chicken, beef and especially noodles.
Pancit Bihon, sautéed noodles along with vegetables, pork and shrimp. Pancit Molo is a Filipino wanton soup however it doesn’t have noodles in it. Pancit Palabok’ noodles boiled then topped with atchuete also known as annatto seeds, shrimp, crushed crunchy fried pork. Pancit Hab-hab’ Stir fried Rice noodles, served in a banana leaf. Eaten without utensils by placing directly to the mouth. The signature noodle dish of Lucban Quezon. Silog and pankaplog Usually eaten at breakfast, this is the Filipino version of a typical American breakfast of egg, bacon and pancakes. Silog is an contraction of the words Sinangag(fried rice) and Itlog(egg).
They are not only sold in Filipino eateries and stalls but also in restaurants and fastfood chains such as McDonald’s. Adosilog has Adobo Longsilog has longganisa or local pork sausage Tapsilog has tapa or cured beef Tocilog has tocino or cured pork Pankaplog A slang term for a breakfast that mainly consists of Pande Sal(bread), kape(coffee) and itlog Ulam Pork Adobo Kare-kare Ulam means Mains in Tagalog. Adobo – chicken, pork or both served in a garlicky stew with vinegar and soy sauce as a base. It is arguably the national dish of the Philippines. Bopis – pork innards, usually served spicy. Burong Talangka – Filipino caviar, it is taken from Talangkas or Crabs. Calamares – fried shrimp/squid wrapped in breading.
Camaron Rebusado – the Filipino version of tempura. Chicken Curry – A lot different from other curries because it isn’t spicy unlike other curries. Aside from chicken, Crab curry and other varieties are also available. Dinuguan – a dark stew of pig’s blood mixed with its innards. Usually served with a big green chili and best eaten with puto. Daing na bangus – fried dried milkfish, usually served for breakfast with garlic fried rice and fried egg. Kare-kare – peanuty stew of vegetables and meat simmered for hours on end, usually beef with tripe and tail and eaten with a side of shrimp paste (bagoong). There is also a seafood version of kare-kare with crabs, squid and shrimp instead of beef. Lechon de leche – slow-roasted baby pork, usually served during larger occasions.
The crispy skin is delicious and is often the first part that is consumed. Lengua – roasted beef tongue marinated in savory sauce. Nilaga – literally means “boiled”, can be beef which in certain places is served with its marrow (bulalo), pork or chicken. Pakbet – a traditional meal of mixed vegetables usually containing cut tomatoes, minced pork, lady finger, eggplant, etc. Paksiw – fish or vegetables cooked with vinegar, ginger, garlic and chilli picante. Sinigang – soup soured usually with tamarind (but can also be by guavas or kamias), can be served with pork, beef, chicken, fish or shrimp. Tinola – chicken in ginger soup.
Western cuisine Spanish, Portuguese, Mexicans, Americans and other European and Mediterranean people introduced their cuisine to the locals and just like they did to the Chinese, they embraced it. While the Spanish occupied the Philippines, connections of the Mexicans and the Aztecs with the Filipinos started in the Manila-Acapulco trade, the people introduced to each other their native cuisine. American influence came during the American colonization. Arroz Caldo – Rice porridge, topped with egg, chicken liver and grind chicharon. Arroz de Valenciana – Paella; Filipino style. Biscocho – Sweet biscuit. Caldereta – Pork or Beef tomato soup with sausages and vegetables.
Champorado – Introduced by the Mexicans but eventually in years the recipe changed by adding rice, sweet chocolate rice porridge. It is kind of like hot chocolate but with rice on it. Empanada – Stuffed pastry. Ensaymada – Sweet bread topped with cheese and butter. Leche Flan – Creme brulee (Custard Pudding). Menudo – Pork Stew. Spaghetti – Possibly brought to the Philippines by the American-Italians during the American colonization, this is a must try for pasta lovers not because they love it, but because it is so different from the Italian spaghetti. Unlike the Italian version, Filipino spaghetti is sweet, its ingredients include sugar and condensed milk.
The Filipinos are meat lovers who obsessively add meat to their spaghetti, including hotdog, Spam (this is what ham is called in the Philippines as Spam is so popular) and corned beef/pork or minced beef/pork. Fastfood chains America’s influence is palpable in the Philippines, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a mall without the requisite McDonalds,KFC, Pizza Hut, and even Taco Bell. Filipino fastfood chains that capture the essence of Filipino food compete strongly for Filipino tastebuds however, and they may be a safe place for the tourist to try the local fare. The following are a list of fastfood chains that have branches all around the Metro, and in many cases around the country. Jollibee, .
Jollibee is McDonald’s rival in fastfood in the country, it has 300 stores around the world. Yum Burger, Chicken Joy, Spaghetti, and Palabok. $1-$2 per serving. edit Greenwich Pizza, . The second of Jollibee corps’ trifecta of fastfood chains, Greenwich Pizzas are your typical fare, but once again with the slightly sweeter than usual tomato sauce. Some seasonal offerings may be on offer though, like the sisig pizza, so check the menu. $2-$3 per serving. edit Chowking, . The Filipino version of Chinese food, also owned by Jollibee. For good sampling of their food, try the Lauriats, which feature a viand (beef, pork, chicken), rice, pancit (fried noodles with meat and veggies), siomai (dumplings), and buchi (a sweet rice ball covered with a sesame based coating. $2-$3 per serving. edit Tapa King, .
Tapaking is where you get the ubiquitous tapsilog (fried beef strips, fried garlic rice, and egg), along with other local delicacies. $2-$3 per serving. edit GotoKing, . This where you go to get the localized version of congee called goto and lugaw, with different kinds of toppings like chicken, roasted garlic, egg, etc. edit Goldilocks, . The place to go for your baked treats and sweets like mamon (a spongy round cake), polvoron (a tighly packed powdery treat) ensaymada (bread baked with cheese and sugar), and host of other delicacies for those with a sweet tooth. edit Mang Inasal, .
A relative newcomer, Mang Inasal actually brings a variety of barbecue called “inasal” into Metro Manila from the city of Iloilo. They offer other grilled meats, as well as soups like sinigang (a sour, tamarind based soup). ?45-140 per serving. edit Filipino-Chinese cuisine Siomai with Calamansi The Filipinos and Chinese traded with each other in the early times, then the Chinese finally began settling in the Philippines and introduced their cuisine and culture, the Filipinos embraced the Chinese heritage and started adapting it in their lives including food.
Most of the dishes found below are served in Chinatown and Filipino-Chinese fast food chains and eateries. Pansit Bihon’ (??) – Stir Fried noodles with either prawns or pork in it. Hopia (??) – Mooncake; a sweet pastry dough with a filling inside it either yam, mung beans etc. Kiampong (??) – Fried Rice. Tikoy (??/??) – Sticky rice cake, often eaten in New Year’s eve, believed that it would keep family ties strong. Lumpia (??) – Spring Rolls. Taho (??) – Fresh tofu with brown sugar and vanilla syrup and pearl sago (pearl tapioca) Siomai (??) – Dim Sum. Siopao (??) – Steamed buns with meat filling inside it. Mami (??) – Noodle Soup. Lugaw (?) – Congee made from Coconut milk and glutinous rice.
Street food Fishball and Kikiam Chicken Inasal Arguably Filipino streetfood is one of the best however it may not be as clean as the ones you find in Singapore. Streetfood vendors have been criticized because of their unhygienic practices as well as unhealthy options but praised by many especially the youth because of its affordability and taste, nowadays streetfood is also found in malls but the traditional way of street vending still hasn’t died out. Items are sold for as low as P5. Street food is usually enjoyed with beer or soda, usually eaten during the afternoon till night. Adidas – More edible than the popular shoe, Adidas is actually a slang used by the locals to refer to barbecued chicken feet. It is called Adidas as feet is associated with shoes.
Adobong Mani – Salted roasted peanuts, usually sold in small paperbags by vendors. Betamax – Again people don’t cook betamax and eat them– it’s another slang for pigs blood that has been barbecued. It is called betamax because its shape is cube-like and resembles a betamax player. Barbecue – Either pork or chicken, barbecue remains one of the favorites. It isn’t only eaten as street food, but sometimes with rice as a main during dinner. Balut – is a fertilized duck egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. Popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack, baluts are mostly sold by street vendors at night in the regions where they are available. Boiled and usually eaten with a sprinkle of salt and vinegar.
Banana cue – a popular street food made of saba (Plantain) bananas fried in very hot oil with caramelized sugar coating. The saba bananas can also be boiled instead of fried. Chickenballs – Chicken version of fishballs. Fishball – Something smells fishy? As the name suggests it is the fish version of meatballs, just like meatballs it is also deepfried. Ice Candy – Ice candy is like a popsicle stick, it comes in different flavours such as mango which is actually the most common and popular. Sold in tiangge (small convenient stores in barangays) as well as in the streets. It is the common refreshment for locals during the summer. Inasal – The best Inasal would be found in Bacolod, it is usually like grilled chicken but the sweet juicy version. Isaw – Chicken intestines barbecue.
Kikiam – Originally from the Chinese, it is pork meat with vegetables which is wrapped in bean curd sheets. Kwek-Kwek – Quail eggs and chicken that had been battered in egg then fried, it is orange in colour. Penoy – same as balut, but without the embryo, just the yolk. Squidballs – Squid version of fishballs. Sorbetes – The Pinoy version of sorbet/ice Cream. Sold in different flavours notably; ube, vanilla, chocolate, mango, coconut, cheese and sometimes durian. Filipinos like to play with their food– you’ll see people dipping french fries in ice cream floats or people eating ice cream with bread. Don’t leave the Philippines without trying some of the more unusual flavors.
They are kind of exotic and perhaps weird, but tasty. Tenga – Tenga is Filipino for ear, it is pig’s ear that has been barbecued. Snack and baked goods Pan de Sal – Spanish for “salt bread”, they are small buns usually made fresh in the morning, an alternative to rice for breakfast. They are usually eaten with a cup of coffee. Some people prefer to dip their pandesal in coffee. Chicharon – crunchy snacks made from deep-fried pig skin. If you don’t eat pork or have dietary restrictions there is chicken chicharon and sometimes fish chicharon. Fruits & desserts Mangoes and Bananas Buko Pie anyone? Tropical fruits abound in the Philippines.
Most of the countryside produce finds its way to the metro areas and can be easily bought in supermarkets, such as: Fruits Coconut – Although it’s familiar, you should try the coconut of the Philippines, the country is the largest exporter of coconuts in the world. Durian – smells like hell but supposedly tastes of heaven, most common in Davao but can usually also be bought in some supermarkets in Manila. Green Mangoes, Ripe Mangoes, Dried Mangoes – Don’t leave Philippines without trying Green Indian mangoes with Bagoong(shrimp paste), tasting ripe mangoes and buying Dried mangoes as a Pasalubong. Sweet treats Banana chips – Unlike the ones eaten in India, the Filipino version is a lot thicker and sweeter, try dipping it in ice cream. Buko Pie – Pie with scraped coconut as filling.
Cassava Cake Egg Pie – Pie with sweet, flan like filling Halo-Halo – Halo-Halo means mix-mix in Filipino, is another refreshing dessert which is a mix of sweetened beans and fruits, such as sweetened bananas, red and white beans, sago, crushed ice and milk and topped off with leche flan and ube jam and/or ice cream. Ice scramble – Crushed ice with condensed milk. Mais con Hielo/Yelo – A dessert of fresh sweet corn served in a glass mixed with crushed ice and milk. Sampaloc candy – salted and sweetened tamarind fruit. Turon’ – Saba(Plantain) bananas in wrappers and fried and then topped with condensed milk or sugar.
Turron – Originally from Europe, a bar of cashew nuts with a white wafer. Condiments and salads Achara – Pickled Papaya salad, it actually originates from South Indian cuisine. Banana Ketchup – During World War II, stocks of tomato ketchup ran out and people started complaining and demands for ketchup were high, due to the high production of bananas; Filipinos thought of using banana instead of tomato. Don’t worry it doesn’t taste like banana at all, it is kind of like sweet and sour ketchup. Try it with chicken, pork chop as well as spaghetti. Bagoong (shrimp paste) – Shrimp paste is popular throughout Southeast Asia.
Some people get allergies from shrimp paste, but they still consume it despite the itchy skin problems it causes. Fish is used instead sometimes. Patis – Fish sauce. Radish salad – Salad based on radish, onion and sugar, enjoyed with fish. Dietary restrictions Muslims will find it hard to find Halal food outside predominantly Muslim areas in the Philippines even though the country is one of the fastest emerging markets in exporting certified halal products. Ask if there is pork in the dish before eating it. Seventh Day Adventists would possibly find some vegetarian restaurants in the Philippines, mostly lurking in the commercial, financial and provincial capitals, and most of them use tofu instead of meat, Sanitarium products may be found in Seventh Day Adventists or Sanitarium hospitals.
Hindus will find Indian restaurants which serve some vegetarian options around Metro Manila. Vegetarians and vegans will find it difficult to find a Filipino dish which is wholly vegetarian as most of the Filipinos love to add meat in every single dish they eat. Jews will also find it hard to find Kosher meals. However rabbis in the Philippines suggest some stores which sell Kosher food, visit Kosher Philippines for advice.
What to Drink in Philippines
Non-alcoholic drinks Tropical fruit drinks made from dalandan (green mandarin), suha (pomelo), pinya (pineapple), calamansi (small lime), buko (young coconut), durian, guyabano (soursop) mango, banana, watermelon, strawberry and many more are available at stands along streets, as well as at commercial establishments such as food carts inside malls. They are often served chilled with ice. Sago’t Gulaman a sweet drink made of molasses, sago pearls and seaweed gelatin, and taho, a sweet, warm snack made from sago pearls, soft tofu and carmelized syrup, are worth trying.
They are affordable and sold in stalls along streets or by vendors around the a common area as well as in malls. Zagu is a shake with flavors such as strawberry and chocolate, with sago pearls. Another famous drink is ‘buko juice, the juice is consumed via an inserted straw on the top of the buko or young coconut. Tea, coffee and chocolate Salabat, sometimes called ginger tea, is an iced or hot tea made from lemon grass and pandan leaves or brewed from ginger root. Kapeng barako is a famous kind of tea in the Philippines, found in Batangas, made from coffee beans found in the cool mountains.
Try the Filipino hot chocolate drink, tsokolate, made from chocolate tablets called tableas, a tradition that dates back the Spanish colonial times. Champorado isn’t considered a drink by Filipinos, but it is another version of tsokolate with the difference of added rice. Records say that chocolate was introduced by the Aztecs to the Filipinos during the Manila-Acapulco trade. Alcoholic drinks Metro Manila is home to many bars, watering holes, and karaoke sites. Popular places include Makati (particularly the Glorietta and Greenbelt areas), Ortigas Metrowalk, and Eastwood in Libis. Other big cities such as Cebu City and Davao also have areas where the nightlife is centered. Establishments serve the usual hard and soft drinks typical of bars elsewhere. Note that Filipinos rarely consume alcohol by itself.
They would normally have what is called as “pulutan” or bar chow alongside their drinks which is like the equivalent of tapas. At the least, this would consist of mixed nuts but selections of grilled meats and seafood are not uncommon food alongside the customary drinks. When having a party, Filipinos enjoy drinking round-robin style using a common glass. One is supposed to drink bottoms-up before passing the glass to the next person. This custom is known as “tagayan” and one person usually volunteers to pour the drink. Beer is perhaps the most common form of alcohol consumed in bars. San Miguel Beer is the dominant local brand with several variants such as Light, Dry, Strong Ice and their flagship variant Pale Pilsen.
Budweiser, Heineken and Corona can also be found in upscale bars. Rum and ginebra which is the local form of gin are commonly available forms of hard liquor. Indigenous forms of liquor are lambanog and tuba which are both derived from coconut sap. Tuba is fermented from the coconut sap and though tuba itself can be drunk, it is also distilled to take the form of lambanog. Lambanog is now being marketed widely both locally and internationally in its base form as well as in several flavored variants such as mango, bubble gum and blueberry. Alcohol is extremely cheap in the Philippines (and one of the cheapest in the whole of Asia).
For a bottle of San Miguel bought at a 7-11 or Mini-Stop, a bottle would costs about ?20-?30 (about US$0.50). Regular bars will offer it for ?40-50, and even in top-end bars and clubs, a bottle would cost about ?100-200. A bottle of 750ml Absolut Vodka at the supermarket will cost about ?750, and a popular local rum (especially amongst knowledgeable expats) tanduay costs just below ?70 at a 24 hour convenience store in Makati (The Financial District).
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.