50 Filipino Foods that Define the Philippines
by Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo |
Filipino food may not be as famous as that of its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors. But with more than 7,000 islands and a colorful history, this archipelago has some delicious dishes of its own.
Blessed with an abundance of seafood, tropical fruits and creative cooks, there’s more to Filipino food than the mind-boggling balut (duck embryo).
You just have to know where to find them and how to eat them.
Adobo — common, but not ordinary Filipino food.
No list of Filipino food would be complete without adobo.
A ubiquitous dish in every household in the Philippines, it’s Mexican in origin, but Filipinos found that cooking meat (often chicken and pork) in vinegar, salt, garlic, pepper, soy sauce and other spices, was a practical way to preserve meat without refrigeration.
This cooking style can be applied to different meats or even seafood. Sample it in a Filipino home or the garlicky version of the lamb adobo at Abe.
Abe, Serendra Plaza, Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; +63 2 856 0526; www.ljcrestaurants.com.ph
Lechon — this little pig went to our stomachs.
The lechon is the most invited party guest in the Philippines. The entire pig is spit-roasted over coals, with the crisp, golden-brown skin served with liver sauce, the most coveted part.
In Cebu, the stomach of the pig is stuffed with star anise, pepper, spring onions, laurel leaves and lemongrass resulting in an extremely tasty lechon, which needs no sauce.
In Manila, get your piggy from Elar’s Lechon, while in Cebu, the best is CnT Lechon.
Elar’s Lechon, 151 Quezon Ave., corner Speaker Perez Street, Sta. Mesa Heights, Quezon City, Metro Manila; +632 731 7551. CnT Lechon, 1377 Rama Ave., Guadalupe, Cebu City; +63 3 2254 4249
Sisig — no pig parts ever go to waste.
Nothing goes to waste in Filipino food. In the culinary capital of Pampanga, they turn the pork’s cheeks, head and liver into a sizzling dish called Sisig.
The crunchy and chewy texture of this appetizer is a perfect match for an cold beer. Serve with hot sauce and Knorr seasoning to suit the preference of you and your buddies.
Credit goes to Aling Lucing who invented this dish at a humble stall along the train railways in Angeles City, Pampanga. While Sisig can be found in many restaurants, try the original version at Aling Lucing Sisig.
Aling Lucing Sisig, Valdez StcorAgapito Del Rosario Street, AngelesCity, Pampanga; +63 4 5888 2317
Crispy pata — crunchy, juicy, chewy; a tasty trinity of Filipino food.
4. Crispy pata
Not for the easily spooked, this pork knuckle is simmered, drained and deep fried until crisp. The meat is tender and juicy inside, with a crisp, crackling exterior.
Served with vinegar, soy sauce and chili. If you have a craving for this at any time, Aristocrat is open 24 hours.
Aristocrat, 432 San Andres St., corner Roxas Blvd., Malate Manila; + 63 2 524 7671; www.aristocrat.com.ph
Chicken inasal — you’ll never go back to Nando’s.
5. Chicken inasal
Yes, it’s grilled chicken. But in Bacolod, this is no ordinary grilled chicken.
The meat is marinated in lemongrass, calamansi, salt, pepper and garlic and brushed with achuete (annatto seeds) oil.
Every part of the chicken is grilled here from the paa (drumstick), pecho (breast), baticulon (gizzard), atay (liver), pakpak (wings) and corazon (heart). It must be eaten with a generous serving of garlic rice, with some of the orange oil used to marinade the chicken poured over the rice.
Go chicken crazy at Manukan Country where there is a row of authentic Inasal restaurants.
Manukan Country, Reclamation Area, Bacolod City
Taba ng talangka — crab fat; a rarity if ever there was one.
6. Taba ng talangka
The fat of a small variety of crabs are pressed and sautéed in garlic. This cholesterol-laden Filipino food is often used as a sauce for prawns or eaten with fried fish and rice.
The best taba ng talangka comes from the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac and Bulacan. Buy a bottle or two from the markets there, or pasalubong shops like Bulacan Sweets.
Bulacan Sweets, 155 N.S. Amoranto Ave., Quezon City, Metro Manila; +63 2 740 2171
7. Pancit Palabok
When Filipinos have guests, they don’t skimp. The pancit palabok served on most birthday parties is oozing with flavor and textures.
The noodle dish is layered with rice noodles, a rich orange sauce made from shrimp broth, pork, hard boiled eggs, shrimps, chicharon (pork rinds) and sometimes oysters and squid. Enjoy the rich sauce of Perfect Loaf Bakery and Café.
Perfect Loaf Bakery and Café, Teresa Ave. corner St. Joseph Street, Nepo Mart Complex, Angeles City, Pampanga; +63 4 5888 6629
Bulalo — the more marrow the merrier.
Despite the perennial heat, Filipinos often enjoy sipping piping hot bulalo soup made with from freshly slaughtered Batangas beef.
The broth is rich with flavors seeped from the beef after boiling for hours. The bones are big, meaning more bone marrow to enjoy.
In Santo Tomas, Batangas, there’s a row of restaurants along the highway serving bulalo. But the best one stands out further away in nearby Tagaytay city, called Diner Café.
Diner Cafém Tagaytay-Batangas Highway, Tagaytay City; +63 4 6413 1845
Arroz caldo — cold cure, Pinoy style.
9. Arroz Caldo
While chicken soup soothes sick Westerners, Filipinos turn to arroz caldo, a thick chicken rice porridge.
Cooked with ginger and sometimes garnished with a hard-boiled egg, toasted garlic and green onions, this Filipino food is sold in street-side stalls.
If dining al fresco doesn’t suit you, try it at the Via Mare outlets around Manila.
10. Fish tinola
The freshness of Cebu’s rich marine life can be tasted in its fish tinola, a simple sour broth flavored with onions, tomatoes and sambag (tamarind) and cooked over coco-lumber firewood for hours.
Cebuanos know to go to A-One, a small hole in the wall known, cooking up to 200 kilos of fish daily.
A-One, Rd. North 6, North Reclamation, Cebu City
Kare-kare — the proof is in the texture.
This stew of oxtail has the most delicious sauce made from ground toasted rice and crushed peanuts. Banana blossom, eggplants and string beans add more interesting textures, to make it a complete meal on its own.
It’s eaten with steamed rice and bagoong (shrimp paste). While mom’s kare-kare is always best, the version at Café Juanita is authentic.
Café Juanita, 19 West Capitol Drive, Barrio Capitolyo; +63 2 632 0357
Kamaro — get over the appearance and a succulent bite awaits.
Serious gourmands know the best cooks come from Pampanga. So do kamaro, these mole crickets they cook into a delicious appetizer.
What makes this delicacy special? Well if catching these bugs is tough, so is cooking them. Legs and wings must be removed, then the body is boiled in vinegar and garlic. It’s then sautéed in oil, onion and chopped tomatoes until chocolate brown.
These bite-size appetizers are crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. Sample Kamaru at Everybody’s Café, an authentic Pampango dining institution for many decades now.
Everybody’s Café, Del Pilar, MacArthur Highway, San Fernando, Pampanga; +63 4 5860 1121
13. Ilocos empanada
Yes, its name reveals its Spanish origins. But its ingredients are all local.
Grated unripe papaya or bean sprouts, egg and loganiza (pork sausage) are stuffed in the empanada and deep fried, accompanied with a spicy vinegar sauce.
Get this staple Filipino food from stalls beside the cathedrals in Vigan and Laoag.
Sinigang — as tasty as it is cute.
Sinigang is a stew of fish, prawns, pork or beef soured by fruits like tamarind, kamias or tomatoes. Often accompanied by vegetables like kangkong, string beans and taro, this stew is eaten with rice.
A modern, but delicious spin on Sinigang is Sentro 1771’s version called Sinigang Corned Beef.
Sentro 1771’s, Greenbelt 3, Paseo de Roxas cor. Legaspi Street, Ayala Center Makati, Metro Manila; +63 2 757 3940
Tapa — an easy way to make rice interesting.
Filipinos are huge rice eaters, and breakfast is no exception.
A tap-si-log consists of thin slices of dried marinated beef served with fried egg and garlic rice.
While it is breakfast fare, it’s also a quick, satisfying meal you can eat anytime and available in most places. Making it accessible all the time and even available for deliveries, Tapa King serves it in the classic, sweetish and spicy versions.
Dinuguan at puto — the best pork innards ever looked.
16. Dinuguan at puto
While it may not look appetizing, this black dish of pork and pig innards stewed in fresh pig blood seasoned with garlic, onion and oregano and eaten with a white puto (rice cake) or steamed rice, is a comforting dish for many Filipinos.
Café Milky Way’s version tastes homemade and clean.
Café Milky Way, 2/F 900 A. Arnaiz Ave. Cor Paseo de Roxas, Makati; +63 2 843 4124
The French may have turned frogs’ legs into a delicacy, but Filipinos take it to the next level. They get a frog, stuff it with minced pork and deep-fry it.
While betute isn’t for everyone, the adventurous can try it at Everybody’s Cafe, an authentic Pampango dining institution for many decades now.
Del Pilar, MacArthur Highway, San Fernando, Pampanga, +63 4 5 8601 121
Laing — yes it’s slop, but damn tasty slop.
This dish of taro leaves cooked in rich coconut milk is an everyday staple in Bicol. Morsels of meat and chili are added to give punch to the Laing.
It’s eaten with steamed rice. The authentic versions from kitchens in Naga and Albay are most delicious. In Manila, try it at Dencio’s.
Pinakbet — simple, cheap and healthy; no wonder it’s spread around the country.
Up north in Ilocos, the vegetable dish of okra, eggplant, bitter gourd, squash, tomatoes and bagoong (shrimp or fish paste) called pinakbet is a favorite.
And now, this healthy, cheap, and easy to cook dish has made its way around the archipelago. It is cooked in most households and local restaurants.
Try it at Max’s Fried Chicken, Manila.
Cooking with coconut milk is common in the province of Quezon, south of Manila. Freshwater tilapia fish is grilled then simmered in coconut milk and chili.
It’s definitely freshest when eaten close to the fishponds as they do in Kamayan Sa Palaisdaan.
Brgy. Dapdap Tayabas Quezon; +63 4 2793 3654
Bagnet — a crunchy, vinegary addiction beckons.
While the lechon kawali, the deep fried pork, is a popular Filipino food all over the country, bagnet, from the northern province of Ilocos, is coveted for its irresistible crunchy skin dipped in the sweet-sour vinegar sukang Iloko.
Buy it from the markets of Ilocos, or try it at Café Juanita.
Café Juanita, 19 West Capitol Drive, Barrio Capitolyo; +63 2 632 0357
Pancit habhab — fast-food for the Philippines.
22. Pancit habhab
Trust Filipino ingenuity to adapt noodles to their lifestyle. In Lucban, Quezon, pancit habhab is served on a banana leaf and slurped. Garnished with carrots, chayote, and a few pieces of meat, this cheap noodle dish is most often eaten by students and jeepney drivers on the go.
For an extra special version, try Old Center Panciteria who has been making the noodles since 1937. They add lechon, generous serving of vegetables, and even hand you a fork.
Old Center Panciteria, 85 San Luis St. Lucban, Quezon; +63 42 540 3068
23. Pork barbecue
In a country where almost everything is marinated, skewered and grilled in the street corners, everyone has their favorite barbecue meat. Pork is the most popular.
Cebu is known for barbecue stalls along Larsian Street just off Fuente Osmena Circle.
Manila residents are addicted to that from Ineng’s, which has many outlets in Metro Manila, for its big, chunky pieces of pork with a perfect, salty-sweet marinade.
Dela Rosa Car Park, Dela Rosa Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City, Metro Manila
Longaniza — bursting with flavors, sometimes literally.
Every province has their version of the pork sausage called longaniza. It varies from sweet to garlicky to spicy.
Usually eaten for breakfast with garlic rice, fried egg and a dipping sauce of vinegar.
Zoricho, 118 Silver City, Frontera Verde, Ugong, Pasig City, Metro Manila; +63 2 571 3269
Lumpiang ubod — spring rolls with a coconut-y twist.
25. Lumpiang ubod
The fruit, leaves and even the pith of the coconut tree is used in Filipino food. The pith makes a sweet and tender filling for the fresh lumpia, our version of the spring roll.
A delicate egg wrapper contains a savory filling of ubod (the pith of the coconut tree), shrimps, pork, onions and a garlicky sweet sauce.
Bacolod city is known for its petite version of this spring roll.
El Ideal Bakery, 118 Rizal St., Silay City, Negros Occidental; +63 34 495 4430 and Bailon Homemade Ilonggo Delicacies, 1115 Rodriguez Ave., Bangkal, Makati; +63 2 843 6673
Bicol express — uniting coconut and chili lovers.
26. Bicol express
A fitting tribute to people who love coconut and spicy food is bicol express, a fiery chili, pork and coconut milk stew. Try it at the hole-in-the-wall eatery called Top Haus in Makati.
Top Haus, 5994 J.D. Villena St., corner Mabini Street, Poblacion, Makati
27. Relyenong alimango
Filipino cooks are never fazed by fuzzy food preparations like relyenong alimango. The crab is delicately peeled then sautéed with onions, tomatoes, herbs and stuffed back into the crab shell, then deep fried.
Chicken or bangus (milkfish) are also cooked relyeno. Often cooked in homes for fiestas, but enterprising housewives sell them at the Sunday market in Quezon City (Centris Mall, Edsa, Quezon City) or the Saturday market in Makati (Salcedo Village, Makati)
Balut — just think of it as being overripe.
No trip to the Philippines would be complete without sampling its famous balut. Vendors peddling these eggs on the street chant “Baluuuuut!” to entice buyers.
This 17-day-old duck embryo is boiled, served with rock salt or spicy vinegar and is often consumed with beer.
29. Inihaw na panga ng tuna
General Santos and Davao City are known for their numerous ways with tuna. The panga or jaw is often grilled over coals and dipped in sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, chili and calamansi (local lemon).
Marina Tuna Seafood Market & Restaurant, Kilometer 8, National Highway, Bo. Pampanga, Sasa, Davao City; +63 8 2233 2666
Fish kinilaw — various forms, one great taste.
30. Fish kinilaw
The day’s fresh catch is dressed in palm coconut vinegar, ginger, chili and spices. Each province has its own way of preparing kinilaw.
Most wet markets will prepare this for you. Most popular in Cebu is to eat it in Su-tu-kil, the row of seafood eateries (Lapu-LapuCity, Mactan,Cebu).
Kuhol sa gata — what the French can do …
31. Kuhol sa gata
Fresh snails cooked in coconut milk and leafy vegetables. The snails are served in the shell and a tiny fork (or toothpick) is used to loosen the meat inside.
This is usually served as an appetizer or a snack, but it works well with hot rice.
Try it at Barrio Fiesta Greenhills
Sinanglay — when food looks this good it’s almost a shame to eat it.
Fresh tilapia stuffed with tomatoes and onions, then simmered in coconut milk and wrapped in pechay leaves (similar to bokchoy), which helps keep the fish together and adds a peppery taste. It’s a staple Filipino food.
Try it at Adarna Food and Culture
Inihaw na liempo — the delicious crunch-soft combo strikes again.
33. Inihaw na Liempo
A Filipino-style barbecue using a popular pork part: liempo (pork belly). Arguably, the best is Cebuano style — a slab of liempo stuffed with herbs and spices and roasted, resulting in juicy flavorsome meat inside and crackling skin outside.
34. Empanada de kaliskis
The literal translation of these words is scaly pie. A traditional meat pie from Malolos, it is a flaky, croissant-like pastry filled with chicken and deep fried.
Best freshly made, get it when in Malolos or from a reputable restaurant such as Adarna Food and Culture.
Tinolang tugac — hopping into your fave dish list.
35. Tinolang tugac
Frog isn’t common in Manila, but a few miles away in Pampanga you’ll see it stuffed or stewed.
Or simply taking the place of chicken, such as in the common tinola — a ginger-based soup usually cooked with chunks of green papaya and chili pepper leaves.
Camaro rebosado — juxtaposing flavor and texture.
36. Camaro rebosado
Shrimp coated in egg and flour batter and deep fried.
Served with a tomato-based sweet and sour sauce for dipping.
Bibingka — the smell of a Filipino Christmas.
For many Filipinos, Christmas is marked by the scent of bibingkas cooking at dawn. These rice cakes are made by soaking the rice overnight, grinding it with a mortar stone and mixing in coconut milk and sugar. Laborious.
The batter is poured into clay pots with banana leaves, with coals on top and below. It’s garnished with salted eggs, kesong puti (white cheese made from Carabao’s milk) and slathered with butter, sugar and grated coconut.
Best eaten hot from weekend markets. The best one is from Aling Linda at the Sidcor Sunday Market at Centris Mall, Edsa,Quezon City. For the rest of the week, try Via Mare or Ferino’s Bibingka with branches all over Metro Manila. www.viamare.com.ph
Suman at manga — can’t go wrong with sweet, juicy mango.
38. Suman at manga
Sold along the roadside, suman are sticky rice snacks steamed in banana or coconut leaves. There are many versions of suman, depending on the ingredients and leaves used.
These Filipino food snacks are often paired with sweet ripe mangoes. They’re cheap snacks, which travel well.
Buy them from roadside stalls, or enterprising vendors peddling them on buses.
Champorado — essentially a bowl of hot, soggy Coco Pops.
When the rains start pouring and classes are suspended, children love this comforting breakfast — a chocolate rice porridge. It’s hot, rich and filling.
To offset the sweetness it’s often served with dried fish.
This breakfast of champs can be eaten in roadside carinderias or try the triple chocolate version at Max’s Fried Chicken in various cities.
Halo-halo — the tastiest way to ward off the heat.
Many people joke that the Philippines has two seasons: hot and hotter. Cool off with some halo-halo.
In Manila, Milky Way Café offers the best halo-halo with finely shaved ice and a generous serving of leche flan, gulaman, ube, banana, kaong, beans and garbanzos, milk and a scoop of ube ice cream.
Milky Way Café, 2/F, 900 A. Arnaiz Ave., corner Paseo de Roxas, Makati; +63 2 843 4124
Buco pie — another way to eat the king of coastal fruits.
41. Buco pie
Go loco over coconut. In the province of Laguna, buco pie (young coconut pie) wars are hot. Each claims to be the best.
Orient D’ Original may have a tacky name but this pie shop has been a favorite for 45 years.
They serve the pie hot, with a delicious filling with generous layers of tender coconut meat.
Orient D’ Original, National Highway, Los Banos, Laguna, +63 4 9536 3783
42. Ensaymada at tsokolate
Ensaymada is a handmade cheesebread topped with sugar and cheese, and best served with thick Filipino hot chocolate.
Mary Grace cafe serves this unbeatable combination popular for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
Pastillas de leche — light, sugary and perfect with a cup of tea.
43. Pastillas de leche
Made from fresh carabao milk and sugar, this sweet confection is stirred until thick and melts in the mouth. Each piece is double wrapped in paper.
Traditionally, in the province of Bulacan, they hand cut ornate designs for the wrapper. A consistent source of all things pastillas is Bulacan Sweets with more than 40 years experience in making these sweets.
Bulacan Sweets, 155 N.S. Amoranto Ave., Quezon City, Metro Manila; +63 2 740 2171
Puto bumbong — one of the world’s few purple foods.
44. Puto bumbong
These may look like miniature chimneys along the roadside stalls, but that’s what gives the chewy purple snacks their name.
Traditionally, purple mountain rice was used to make these, steamed in bamboo tubes, then served with butter, panocha (brown concentrated sugar) and grated coconut.
The Via Mare chain has been consistently producing chewy snack for years.
Turon — if you thought bananas shouldn’t crunch, think again.
This fried banana with langka (jackfruit) all sealed in a lumpia wrapper is our version of a sweet spring roll.
It is peddled around the cities and towns for the perfect merienda (mid-morning or afternoon snack).
Pan de sal — simple breakfasts are sometimes all you need.
46. Pan de sal
Pan de sal are small oval buns often eaten by Filipinos for breakfast. A brownish crust conceals a soft and fluffy inside. The best pan de sal is baked in an oven using firewood, naturally infusing the wood flavor into the bread.
Everyone has their favorite bakery, but Pan de Manila with outlets all over Metro Manila is consistently delicious.
Taho — the sweetest mush you’ll ever eat.
Brown sugar syrup is stirred into warm soybean custard and topped with sago pearls.
Traditionally sold by vendors walking the streets calling out to those at home, but can also be sourced from supermarkets and restaurants.
Tablea tsokolate — hot chocolate, but not as you know it.
48. Tablea tsokolate
A customary hot chocolate drink that stems from Spanish colonial times, tablea tsokolate is made from tablea de cacao — bittersweet, thick flat chocolate disks.
The traditional version is available at Adarna Food and Culture.
Halayang ube — two purple foods in one list? World’s going crazy.
49. Halayang ube
The ube or purple yam is a popular ingredient used for desserts and here it’s made into a sweet halayang ube (ube jam).
For decades the nuns of the Good Shepherd Convent in Tagaytay have been producing this jam. Their product is smooth and creamy, and helps provide a livelihood to the single mothers who make them.
Good Shepherd Convent, Good Shepherd Bahay Pastulan, Maryridge, Iruhin West, Tagaytay City, Cavite; +63 46 483 3590; www.goodshepherdsisters.org.ph
50. Leche Flan
This is a popular dessert among locals — an egg and milk-based custard capped off with glistening caramelized sugar.
Leche flan — the dessert of connoisseurs.