Authentic Filipino cuisine reflects the nation’s centuries of colonisation and foreign influences. Originally involving just boiling, grilling, roasting and steaming, it has since evolved to a cuisine predominantly Spanish-based but fused with Asian influences. Filipino culture and traditions revolve around food hence to truly experience life as a local, you must try out the following Filipino dishes and snacks the next time you visit the Philippines!
Adobo consists of meat (can be chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and vegetables marinated in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce before being cooked in oil. The dish is then simmered in the remaining marinade. Served with mountains of white rice, this is the hallmark a traditional Filipino dish. You’ll find it on every local restaurant menu, and in food courts and market stalls throughout the country. If you are seeking to sample one of the best adobo in the country, check out Sentro 1771 (Manila) for a flavoursome garlicky beef and pork version.
The Lechon is probably one of the tastiest pig dishes in the world. You have an entire pig stuffed with herbs and vegetables (each region has its own secret filling) and hand-turned on smoking coals until the skin gets amazingly crispy and the meat drips with flavour. A favourite dish for celebrations in The Philippines, lechon can be purchased at take-out counters throughout the islands or at local markets such as the Manila’s Saturday Salcedo Community Markets. If you are travelling alone or in small groups, there is no need to buy the whole pig. You can opt for just a few hundred grams. Many Filipinos would tell you that the best lechon comes from Cebu, an hour’s flight from Manila.
Pansit is rice noodles that is stir-fried with a mixture of meats and vegetables with generous lashings of soy and oyster sauce. This noodle dish is a staple at any Filipino celebration and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The noodles can come in varying thicknesses but locals will recommend pansit bihon aka the thin noodles for the best texture.
Served on a sizzling hot plate, Sisig is traditionally made by boiling a pig’s head before grilling or barbecuing it to add in a smoky flavour. The pig’s head is then chopped into tiny pieces for fry with onion, garlic and spices. This pork dish was made famous by late restaurateur Lucia Cunanan from Pampanga Province who has been credited with creating the modern Filipino version. Sisig is available around the country; many restaurants serve variations using chicken, tuna, squid or even tofu instead of pork or adding items such as raw egg or mayonnaise. If you’re in the area, stop by restaurant Aling Lucing (facebook.com/lucingcunanan) for a taste of the original.
Sinigang is a sour soup that’s made of a tamarind, tomato, garlic and onion broth. Local vegetables such as okra, eggplant and green finger chilli and meats (usually pork on the bone) are usually added to up the flavour. This dish is the epitome of Filipino comfort food and is served with a side of patis (fish sauce), chilli and white rice.
Made from minced meat (usually pork) that is cooked with onions, garlic and finely chopped vegetables, all bundled together in a wafer-thin wrapper, this delicious spring roll can be served fresh or deep-fried. Lumpia can be either a snack or starter dish and is often served with banana ketchup, a sweet-and-sour sauce made from mashed bananas, sugar, vinegar and spices, coloured red to resemble tomato ketchup.
This is a much-loved traditional afternoon snack in the Philippines and can be commonly found along the streets. However, you will need to have a strong stomach to join in the snacking. Balut may look like your regular boiled egg but when you crack one open, you’ll find an 18-day-old duck embryo. The locals eat it by cracking the shell at one end and peeling off the top, drinking the soup and then giving the leftovers a good shake of salt before finishing them off.
Another local delight that is not for the faint-hearted. Field crickets are cooked in soy sauce, salt and vinegar. Camaro-eating contests are a local attraction in Pampanga, where the dish is traditionally served. The crickets, which emerge seasonally, are crunchy and slightly sweet.
Literally a heart attack in a bowl, chicharon is deep-fried pork skin that is usually flavoured with salt and garlic. You are free to add a few varieties, such as chilli for some additional kick to the crunch. It is great with an ice cold beer on hand but you will probably have to stop yourself from overindulging. This tasty snack is easily found at 7-Elevens, market stalls and anywhere beverages are sold throughout the Philippines.
10. Crispy Pata
Very much similar to German pork knuckles, this pork knuckle is simmered, drained and deep fried until crisp. The pork is tender and juicy inside with a crisp, crackling exterior. Served with vinegar, soy sauce and chilli.
11. Fish Tinola
Fish tinola is the tasty proof of Cebu’s seafood freshness. The simple sour broth is flavoured with onions, tomatoes and sambag (tamarind) and cooked over coco-lumber firewood for hours to achieve the perfect taste.
Kare Kare is a traditional Filipino ox tail stew that is served together with a thick savory peanut sauce. Besides ox tail, tripe, and pork leg and on some occasions goat and chicken meat are also used. Other than the signature peanuts, shrimp paste is another essential flavouring that is placed on the side to complete the dish. Traditionally, the “palayok” (clay cooking pot) is used to cook this dish and is served straight to the dining table.
13. Chicken inasal
Chicken inasal, commonly known as Inasal, is a famous Visayan chicken barbecue that originated from Bacolod City in the Philippines. The chicken to be roasted is marinated in a mixture of lime, pepper, vinegar and annato then grilled over hot charcoal to juicy perfection. Served with rice, vinegar and soy sauce, you will see vendors selling chicken barbeque in almost every corner of the street of Bacolod City.
14. Taba Ng Talangka
Taba ng talangka (shore crab or river crab roe/fat) can be considered one of the most sought after delicacies from Pampanga in fact taba ng talangka can be said to be the caviar of Filipinos. To make it, hundreds of mini crabs have to be painstakingly de-shelled to collect the crab fats. Typically one huge sack of talangka can make only make one small bottle of taba ng talangka. It is rare to find pure taba ng talangka nowadays, most are mixed with starch and if you’re lucky, talangka meat.
Bulalô is one of the favourite local beef dish of the Filipinos. It is a light colored soup that is made by cooking beef shanks and marrow bones until the collagen and fat has melted into the clear broth. Bulalo is native to the Southern Luzon region of the Philippines.
16. Arroz Caldo
Arroz caldo is the Filipino’s interpretation of the Chinese congee. In this rice soup, chicken and rice are boiled in a ginger-based broth until the grains have disintegrated into porridge. Fried garlic bits, chopped green onions and calamansi juice are then added for additional layers of flavour.
17. Ilocos empanada
The name of this delicous deepfried street snack reveals its Spanish origins but filipinos have it prepared using all local ingredients. Grated unripe papaya or bean sprouts, egg and loganiza (pork sausage) are stuffed in the empanada and fried in piping hot oil before being served with a spicy vinegar sauce. Get this staple Filipino food from stalls beside the cathedrals in Vigan and Laoag.
18. Dinuguan At Puto
A savory Filipino stew of diced pork meat and offal, cooked in vinegar and pork blood, and garnished with green chili. Best served with Classic Puto. A Filipino classic!
Bibingka is a type of rice cake from the Philippines usually eaten during the Christmas season. It is traditionally cooked in clay pots lined with banana leaves.
20. Leche flan
Leche Flan (also known as crème caramel and caramel custard) is a dessert made-up of eggs and milk with a soft caramel on top. Leche Flan is commonly served at Fiestas and other special occasions.
Halo-halo literally means ‘mixed together’ in Tagalog and that is exactly what it is – you get a load of sweet stuff all mixed together to create an amazing taste sensation. The dessert consists of a plethora of ingredients from sago to corn to boiled beans layered over a base of shaved ice and condensed milk in a tall glass before finishing off with purple yam ice cream, leche flan and sprinkles of sugar and fruits.
We hope you enjoyed our selection of the must-have filipino cuisines when visiting The Philippines. If you know of other worthy delicacies do share with us in the comments section below.