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From simple carbohydrates to exotic meat dishes, there’s so much diversity in Filipino food. This unique cuisine has evolved over many centuries.
Indonesian, Chinese, Spanish, and American influence are all present in Filipino cooking. Across the thousands of Filipino islands, many variations and fusions exist.
Prepare yourself for vibrant colors and mind-blowing flavors as we take a closer look at 18 fascinating foods to try in the Philippines, under the expert guidance of Mary, a Filipino food expert and writer.
1. Tokwa’t baboy – Tofu and pork
Tokwa’t baboy is an ever-famous Filipino appetizer that can be a perfect match either for cold beer or soda.
“Tokwa” directly translates as “tofu” and “baboy” as “pork”. Thus, tofu and pork.
The dish is usually prepared by dipping boiled or fried pork cuts and tofu cubes into a tangy, sweet and sour blend of soy sauce with calamansi (Philippine lime) or vinegar, onion, and chili pepper.
The sauce is a major defining factor in how the dish would taste, and since Filipinos have very diverse culinary traditions, tokwa’t baboy varies from region to region.
2. Dynamite lumpia – Green chili pepper spring roll
The official Filipino name of this appetizer speaks for how it would taste and feel in one’s mouth, spicy and hot.
As much as it is an appetizer, it’s also greatly considered as a “pulutan” (snacks you eat with alcoholic beverages).
This type of spring roll consists of a seeded green chili pepper stuffed with ground pork and sometimes with cheese.
Dynamite is easy to prepare as it just needs good deep-frying until it looks golden brown, crispy, and crunchy enough.
This finger food is often enjoyed with a dipping mixture of mayo and banana ketchup.
3. Chicharon bulaklak – Deep-fried ruffled pork fat
Chicharon bulaklak or its English namesake of “ruffled fat” isn’t necessarily fat or intestines (as how results on the internet would often suggest).
This flower crackling is pig mesentery, a kind of tissue that connects a pig’s internal organs to its body.
Cooking this appetizer is very simple although it takes some time. The ruffled fat needs to be boiled and simmered in water seasoned with peppercorn, salt, and bay leaves for an hour. When done, it needs to be deep-fried until it’s color darkens.
This appetizer is best paired with “Sinamak” (spiced vinegar). The vinegar’s sourness balances the saltiness and unique taste of the crackling in such a delicious way!
4. Okoy – Deep-fried shrimp fritters
Okoy (or Ukoy) is a Filipino version of shrimp fritters. It’s a very tasty dish made from deep-fried battered small to medium-sized shrimp and best served with spiced vinegar.
During preparation, the shrimp are left shelled because it helps in making Okoy crispy and flavorful.
The shrimps are coated in a batter mixture made of cornstarch, flour, baking powder, egg, water, salt, and ground black pepper.
Shredded vegetables or root crops may also be added as ingredients. The most common to be added in an okoy batter are green papaya, cabbage, and/or carrots. The batter, then, is deep-fried and served with Sinamak.
5. Halo-halo – Shaved ice sundae
Halo-halo is a famous cold Filipino dessert often enjoyed during summertime (because of the heat).
“Halo”, when translated to English, means “mix”. Halo-halo, then, means “mix-mix”. Literally, to enjoy this dessert, you need to mix ingredients.
It is mainly a layered concoction of shaved ice drizzled with evaporated milk combined with a variety of mix-in ingredients.
Such ingredients will vary from the country’s regions but may include sweetened beans, fruits, ube, coconut strips, sago, gelatin, rice crispies, leche flan, and sometimes ice cream.
6. Sapin-sapin – Layered rice and coconut
Sapin-sapin directly translates to “layers”. Each layer — typically, this dessert comes with three — has different colors with different flavors.
The white-colored layer is for coconut. The purple-colored layer is for ube (purple yam or taro). The yellow-colored layer is for jackfruit.
Sapin-sapin is prepared by mixing glutinous rice flour, coconut milk, condensed milk, and sugar into a smooth batter.
The batter is then divided into three portions (depending on the number of flavors) and flavorings and food color are added.
The first layer is steamed for about 30 minutes. The second layer is then added on top and will be steamed again for another 30 minutes. A similar process goes with the third or until all layers have set.
This Filipino steamed dessert is best served cold with Latik, a yummy toasted coconut curd topping.
7. Banana Cue – Skewered plantain banana
Banana cue is short for banana barbecue. This dessert is widely known in the country and is served by street vendors and even offered in restaurants.
Some may also consider banana cue to be a merienda (an afternoon snack).
About 6 to 8 pieces of saging na saba (plantain bananas) are deep-fried and coated in caramelized brown sugar.
When done, 2 or 3 pieces of banana cue (depending on the size) may be placed on a bamboo stick for easier consumption.
Banana cue may be enjoyed while it’s hot as it is. Others also like it topped with ice cream or drizzled with condensed milk.
8. Taho – Sweet tofu with tapioca pearls
Taho is popularly known as a sweet morning treat served hot that can be served as a light breakfast.
In the morning, a magtataho (taho vendor) always comes announced with its distinctive call-out to the customers in the neighborhood: “Tahooooo!”
A typical taho vendor in the Philippines carries two large aluminum buckets that hang from each end of a carrying pole through its shoulder.
The large bucket contains silken tofu while the smaller one contains arnibal (simple syrup) and sago (tapioca pearls).
Although considered street food, it may also be enjoyed as a cold dessert. In the last few years, restaurants and convenience stores have started picking up on offering it as an after-meal treat.
Filipino Main Dishes
9. Tinolang manok – Gingered chicken soup
Tinolang manok or chicken tinola is a widely popular chicken soup dish in the Philippines, almost enough for it to be considered a home staple. Filipinos particularly like to prepare the dish during cold weather.
It is sometimes served as an appetizer but most of the time, it is served as a main dish with white rice.
Tinolang manok consists of chicken cuts in a flavorful broth with green papaya, chili pepper leaves, and malunggay leaves.
The broth is traditionally seasoned with garlic, onion, ginger, black pepper, and fish sauce.
Not only does it taste good, but it’s also very nutritious given its amount of vegetable ingredients.
10. Embutido – Filipino meatloaf
Embutido was introduced to Filipino culture by the colonization of the Spaniards in the Philippines way back. Over the years, Filipinos enhanced and improved the recipe to their taste.
It is basically a local meatloaf made from ground pork with onions, carrots, bell pepper, raisin, relish, egg, and sausage fillings wrapped and steamed in aluminum foil.
Embutido is particularly popular during the Christmas holidays, often served as cold cuts (although other people prefer it hot) perfectly paired with banana catsup and white rice.
11. Ginisang munggo – Sauteed mung bean soup
Ginisang munggo is a savory sauteed mung bean soup loved by pretty much every Filipino family, specifically when talking about the thick and creamy version of the soup.
The main ingredient in this dish is mung bean. It’s complemented with other flavors such as chicharon (pork rind cracklings), shrimp, and vegetables such as ampalaya, tomatoes, celery, and malunggay.
This dish is very easy to prepare. It starts with rinsing the beans, and removing those that are discolored or shriveled.
Then, what’s left of the beans are boiled in water for about 30-40 minutes, adding all other ingredients at the right time.
12. Dinuguan – Pork and blood stew
Dinuguan came from the root word “dugo,” which means “blood”. It is also known as “chocolate meat”, a Philippine version of blood stew.
The dish consists of pig’s blood and belly simmered in a rich mixture of vinegar. It is best served hot with puto (steamed rice cake) and more often, with white rice.
As good as it tastes, not all Filipinos welcome this dish into their homes. There are religious groups within the country that prohibit the consumption of pig blood.
Filipino Street Foods
13. Balut – Boiled fertilized duck egg
Balut is a hard-boiled duck egg. What makes it fascinating (or terrifying) is that the egg is fertilized, and the embryo is 16-20 days developed.
This means, if you crack one open, the embryo has already become a duck with eyes, beak, feathers, and complete body parts.
To eat this street-semi-exotic food, the shell must be cracked open, and the eggs are typically served with a dash of salt or a drizzle of spiced vinegar.
Much like taho vendors, balut vendors always come announced in the late afternoon before dusk.
Sometimes on a bicycle, sometimes on foot, you will hear the vendor shouting “Baluuuut!” in the neighborhood street.
14. Isaw – Grilled pork or chicken intestines
Isaw is a traditional offal-based dish found throughout the country. Typically skewered on a bamboo stick, it consists of marinated, boiled, and grilled chicken and/or pork intestines.
The main difference between chicken and pork is that the latter is a little chewier and often larger in size.
The intestines are cleaned inside and out several times before preparing them. The marinade is typically made of soy sauce, ketchup, garlic, and seasonings.
Isaw is best served right after it is grilled. It can go well with spiced vinegar, specifically vinegar with onions and chili peppers.
15. Betamax – Congealed and grilled blood
Nope, this isn’t a cassette tape released in the ’70s! Betamax in the Philippines is a type of street food.
It consists of congealed and grilled pork or chicken blood cubes skewered on a bamboo stick.
The process of congealing blood is relatively straightforward. Blood in itself coagulates — meaning when left in an open container for a time, it cools down and its texture will become gelatinous and then scalded.
When blood solidifies, that’s when we can start forming the Betamax-like cubes. Betamax (the food) doesn’t really have a particularly strong taste. What gives it flavor is the sauce people pair it with.
It goes well with sweetened vinegar or spiced vinegar, just like any other Filipino street food.
16. Adidas – Barbecued chicken feet
Adidas in the Philippines means two things: the fancy sneaker brand and the not-so-fancy grilled chicken feet out on the streets.
Wondering why it’s named after Adidas? If it wasn’t obvious yet, a chicken’s feet have three toes, almost similar to the footwear’s three-stripe logo. Filipinos are witty like that!
Eating Adidas is similar to eating your typical chicken — skin and meat alike. However, the street food is made up of more skin rather than meat.
It may go well with sweetened or spiced vinegar and basting sauce. While at it, you just let your teeth and tongue distinguish which part of the chicken feet is edible and which part of it you need to discard.
17. Kinilaw na Tamilok – Raw woodworm dipped in vinegar
More prominent in the Palawan islands, Tamilok is regarded as woodworm or a shipworm that feeds on rotting mangrove trees.
In addition, it’s not exactly a worm. It’s much more of a shell-less saltwater clam. It tastes like a clam, too — but better.
A footlong Tamilok (sometimes even longer) may be eaten raw as it is or as kinilaw, raw Tamilok meat soaked in spiced vinegar with onions, chili pepper, and calamansi.
As much as it is healthy, it’s also typically consumed in the Philippines as an aphrodisiac for men, or as a meal for those on a diet because a single serving only has about 110 kilocalories.
18. Sinangag na Uok – Stir-fried beetle larvae in garlic
Uok are protein-rich coconut worms or beetle larvae commonly found in dead coconut trees in the Philippines.
Uoks may also be found in soil where crops are planted especially during the rainy season as they also feed on crop roots.
Farmers generally consider this beetle larva as a pest, which is why instead of discarding them, farmers created a way to benefit from them.
Sinangag na uok is just one of the many ways to eat these insects. Sinangag is the process of stir-frying ingredients in garlic and oil.
This being said, preparing uok is very straightforward. The uok just needs to be cleaned, inedible parts discarded, and stir-fried in garlic and oil until it looks crunchy and crispy enough.
Sinangag na uok may be served as a finger-food with spiced vinegar or banana ketchup or may be served with white rice.
Read more: Best Filipino Desserts You Need to Try
Filipino Foods Summary
There’s no doubt that Filipino food is full of fascinating fusions, exotic flavors, and some unique ingredients.
Filipino cuisine often fuses sweet, sour, and salty together, across a diverse range of dishes.
Across the thousands of Filipino islands, you will find so many different variations and fusions of classic dishes.
That’s because Filipino people love their food. In Filipino culture, food is an integral part of family life. It brings everyone together.
It’s uncommon to eat the foods of the Philippines as courses. Often, all the foods cooked are served at the same time.
These foods are placed on the dining table. From there, large families can gather and eat together, often with their hands.
If you do get the opportunity to dine with a local family, take it up. It’s a magical experience. If not, be sure to eat from as many food vendors as you can.
When a culture prepares food with such passion and love, you know your stomach is going to be in for a great time!
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Author: Mary Gem Guinto is a creative writer from the Philippines. Hailing from Santo Tomas, Mary is passionate about Filipino food and sharing the Philippines’ unique culture with the rest of the world.