Going on adventures in other countries should not be limited to only visiting historical sites or taking pictures in Instagram-worthy locations. It’s also the best time to take your palate on an adventure. One of the best parts about traveling is having the opportunity to experience new cuisines. Filipino food is no different!
While it may not be as famous as Thai cuisine and having no internationally recognized iconic dish like the Vietnamese Pho and Banh Mi, Filipino food is unique. From the staple dishes like sinigang, chicken/pork adobo, pork sisig, lechon, and exotic dishes like balut, tamilok, to your desserts: halo-halo, and chicharron—let us take your palate on a culinary adventure.
The Culture And Filipino Food
Along with the rich colonization history of the Philippines came the rich flavors infused in its cuisine as well. The Menudo dish, for example, sometimes has cheese mixed with soy sauce. Filipino food was “Asian-fusion” before it even became trendy.
With so many influences and more than 7000 islands, it can be pretty hard to give a definitive list of what dishes to try when visiting the Philippines. So when coming to the Pearl of the Orient, here are some suggestions on what Filipino food to feast upon. Let’s start with our main dishes, shall we?
Perhaps the most well-known dish internationally, Adobo is a staple in any Filipino home. It’s even considered the unofficial national dish of the Philippines. From the Spanish word for marinade “adobar,” the term “adobo” can refer to the dish or the cooking process.
Chicken/pork Adobo involves simmering meat, seafood, or vegetables in a marinade consisting of vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, garlic, and whole peppercorns. Chicken and pork are the most common types of meat used but basically, any meat can be cooked adobo style. While that is the basic formula, the recipe varies from person to person and family to family. Rest assured, however, that any chicken/pork adobo will give a tangy, salty, and garlicky treat in your mouth.
A cure for any sick Filipino, sinigang is a soup made from fish, prawns, pork or beef stewed in fruits like tamarind, kamias, or tomatoes. Sinigang is famous for its distinct sour flavor. When drinking this soup, you’ll definitely feel the warmth spreading all over your body.
Accompanied by vegetables and eaten with rice, sinigang is considered the number two or, depending on who you ask, number one in terms of being the national dish of the Philippines. Comforting and heart-warming, sinigang is definitely one dish to try.
While the concept of the roast pig is definitely not just found in Filipino cuisine, one could argue that the Philippines does it best. The recipe may vary, but lechon basically involves stuffing a pig with onions and/or herbs and roasting the whole pig over charcoal fed fire for hours on end.
The end result is juicy and fall-off-the-bone meat with the crispiest skin imaginable. If that is not enough to convince you to try Filipino lechon then consider this, the late food critic, chef, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain declared lechon “the best pig ever”.
Every country has bar food. From hot wings to mozzarella sticks, nachos to fish and chips, bar foods are a must-try in any country you visit. While it is not undisputed, in Filipino cuisine maybe nothing is, sisig is the number one bar chow in the country.
Sisig as we know it started in Pampanga in 1976. It started with discarded pig heads thrown out by Americans serving in the military bases there. One enterprising Filipina by the name of Lucia Cunanan, got the cheeks and jowls of the pig head and then added vinegar, calamansi juice, onions, and liver and sauteed it all together.
A eureka moment was one showing the attitude of Filipinos of “waste not, want not.” Now, no self-respecting bar would dare to leave sisig off its menu, and there is rarely a Filipino that hasn’t tried this show-stopping dish.
Yes, looking at dinuguan can be a surreal experience. Maybe it’s part of being human that when something is black, it is considered dirty, and of course, when something is dirty, you wouldn’t want it in your mouth.
After seeing it, you then learn about what’s in it and that can be a major turning point for someone trying dinuguan for the first time. It is, however, one of the most delicious dishes in the Philippines.
Made from meat and the innards of pigs stewed in pig’s blood, the dinuguan is a savory dish that screams Filipino. Not wasting any part of it, not even blood, Filipinos have made those “dirty bits” work into something truly tasty that is worth going back for.
A big thing about Filipinos is doubling names up. From names such as Rebreb or Tintin to kwek-kwek ( deep-fried quail eggs with orange breading), the kare-kare is no exception.
A stew made from oxtail, meat, and tripe cooked in a peanut stew, kare-kare is like peanut butter on a whole other level. Its signature peanut flavor is elevated with the addition of bagoong or fish paste. The mix between the peanut flavor and the taste of the ocean from the pungent bagoong just makes for a symphony of flavors in the mouth.
Much like sinigang, bulalo is a staple in for most Filipino. While sinigang has a sour taste, bulalo is beefy and distinctly savory. The flavors of the broth come from hours of boiling beef bones and meat. The end product is a soup with impossibly juicy meat and a very rich marrow that is delicate and almost liquid in texture. The Filipinos love this warm soup, and as a tourist, it is worth trying as well.
Traveling to the Philippines, it’s hard not to notice places that serve all kinds of “Silog.” Silog is short for sinangag and itlog, which are garlic rice and egg. The prefix refers to the meat in the dish. Tapsilog refers to tapa (beef strips marinated in soy sauce and vinegar) with the silog.
The go-to breakfast for Filipinos, it is simple and filling and perfect for a nation crazy about rice.
Now we’ve laid out the must-try main dishes, we’ll head on to the exotic Filipino foods the country has to offer.
*Note that this is not for the faint-hearted!
The poster child of Filipino exotic dishes—the balut has been a staple in travel shows and vlogs of tourists visiting the Philippines, and for good reason—it is a very exotic dish. The balut is simply steamed fertilized duck egg.
After opening the egg, you will sip its juices. After peeling a few more bits and pieces of the shell, there it is – the embryo or the baby duck. Its features are distinguishable, but it truly is a very tasty delicacy once you get past the fear of eating it.
The tamilok or “woodworm” is most commonly found in two of the most beautiful places in the Philippines: Aklan and Palawan. They are gray and slimy and are basically mollusks that feed on dead wood. But, as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover or in this case, don’t be afraid to eat something because it looks ugly.
The process of preparing the tamilok is simple, cut off both ends of the long woodworm and squeeze out all that is inside. After that, you can put it in water with hot peppers. Some people say that it tastes like ceviche. Are you brave enough to try?
Pampanga is the unofficial culinary capital of the Philippines and butete tugak is one of their delicacies. While the French has their own version of this, the Kapampangans have their own stuffed frogs.
Made from frogs caught in the rice fields, these are then stuffed with minced pork or frog meat and other finely chopped vegetables and then deep-fried until cooked. Born out of ingenuity and making the most of limited resources, the butete tugak is an ode to the resilience of Filipinos. And hey, they say it tastes just like chicken. And who doesn’t like chicken?
Eating insects is slowly but surely becoming a trend all over the world. From cockroaches to crickets and every edible creepy-crawly available, the world is coming to terms with the fact that insects are a viable food resource for human beings.
The Philippines, being a developing country, has long had a tradition of eating insects. One such dish is the adobong uok from the Rizal province. Beetle larvae cooked adobo style, this dish was even featured on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern where the host called the taste “glutinous and earthy.”
A meal in the Philippines will not be complete without desserts! So here’s some of the most famous must-try for the category:
Chicharon is one of the more positive sides of over 300 years of Spanish colonization. Every country that has been under Spanish rule has its own version of chicharon and the Philippines is no different. The classic chicharon is made from pork rind or skin that has been deep-fried until it puffs up. Served with vinegar, this is a go-to appetizer or snack for Filipinos.
Other variants of chicharon the Philippines have are chicharon manok, made from chicken skin and chicharon bulaklak, made from the lining of the stomach and other organs.
Unhealthy but delicious, you can have chicharon in small amounts at a time. Easier said than done though since it’s so good.
It’s no surprise that a country in the tropics loves halo-halo. Halo-Halo is an iconic dish primarily made with shaved ice. The name literally translates to “mix-mix” in English and that should give some idea on what it is.
Made from shaved ice, coconut milk, and monggo beans, the halo-halo is also pretty open to other ingredients such as sago, pinipig, nata de coco, macapuno, leche flan, etc. While you may not know these ingredients, trust that every bite of halo-halo is different yet tastes refreshing—perfect for those hot, tropical days.
Filipinos love rice so much we put it in a dessert. While there are many rice desserts in the Philippines, suman is one of the must-try desserts. The rice is cooked in coconut milk and then wrapped in banana leaves. After, it’s steamed to further cook the rice, leaving it sticky and yummy. Depending on your preferences, Suman can be served with a side of sugar or with latik, which are toasted coconut milk crumbs.
It’s More Fun In The Philippines
The Philippine has lots to offer, from the bustling city like Manila to stunning Philippine beaches everything in between. A truly beautiful place to live in and to visit. Others may say the country’s cuisine lags behind other South-East Asian countries, there is no denying that when it comes to fusing the East and the West, the Philippines has a solid claim to be number one.
Next time you visit the Philippines, or any other country for that matter, always try their food. It is the perfect way to strike a conversation and bond with the locals thus helping you learn about the place they live in, in this case, the Philippines and Filipino food.
Remember this quote from Anthony Bourdain, “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk-in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
Have you tried any of these dishes and delicacies? Let us know in the comment down below!