One of the first things I repeatedly heard from tourists in Manila is how much they dislike the food in The Philippines. After spending some time in the country I couldn’t have disagreed more. The food here is awesome!
If you’re ever in Manila and looking to sample some local eats here’s a list of 29 Filipino dishes that I was wise enough to take a photo of. Enjoy!
1. Fresh Lumpia
The fresh version of lumpia is a bit like a spring roll crossed with a burrito. It’s big and fat and filled with meat, lettuce, carrots, peanuts, I think there was even some coconut in there. On the side there’s a sweet sauce, or you can opt for vinegar. It’s pretty awesome. Don’t forget to try the deep fried version – even more awesome.
Get it at: The Legazpi Sunday market (corner of Legazpi St and Rufino St)
2. Chicken Sotanghon
It kind of feels like The Philippines version of Grandma’s chicken soup. It’s got your chicken, shitake mushrooms, carrots, green onions, vermicelli noodles, who knows what else. All I know is that it’s super tasty and you need to try it.
Get it at: Recipes at Greenbelt 3 (most other Filipino restaurants also serve it).
3. Beef Mechado
I can’t decide if I like this. It’s prepared by taking a decent cut of beef, stuffing it with pork fat and then slow cooking it in a tomato sauce. Some potatoes and carrots are chucked in too. Sounds awesome right? I think it was a little too tomatoey for my liking, but it’ll grow on me.
Get it at: Fely J’s in Greenbelt 5
4. Paksiyo Baboy Bisaya (Pork and Banana Claypot)
Shanks of pork simmered in a soy based sauce with bananas. It tastes as wild as it sounds. I freakin’ love it!
Get it at: Fely J’s in Greenbelt 5
5. Leche Flan
While eating this I was trying to figure out how it was any different to creme caramel, because to me it tasted exactly the same. After some Googling I learned that the custard in this is thicker because they use condensed milk and more egg yolks. I couldn’t really taste the difference, which I guess means I’m a few years away from being a judge on Top Chef. Anyway, I had to include this on the list; it’s one of the country’s favourite desserts!
Get it at: Any Filipino restaurant
Chicharon are like the Doritos of The Philippines. They snack on it like finger food and open a big bag of them while sitting down for a movie. Basically it’s deep fried pork skin, and aside from eating it on its own they also garnish various dishes with it. What’s it taste like? Well, kinda like a bag of very porky tasting Munchos, which I’m not really the biggest fan of. The locals however, absolutely love it.
Get it at: You will find it in most supermarkets and markets.
So, I used to think the Chinese made the best pork.
That is until I tasted lechon. Damn! Them Filipinos know how to cook a pig. This juicy, crispy masterpiece is something I won’t even try to describe. I had the privilege of attending a local baptism and they served up this freakin’ life changing roasted pig, I could’ve eaten the whole thing! Apparently the best lechon is from Cebu city, which is going to be my first stop on my next trip to The Phils.
Get it at: Sabroso Lechon, one of my favourites (corner of E Rodriguez Ave and Tomas Morato)
This is a type of cake made with coconut milk and baked in a banana leaf. I guess the idea is it’s supposed to end up tasting like coconut and banana, which it kinda does. You’re supposed to eat it hot, but not before lathering it with butter and coconut. The texture really reminded of a crumpet, especially with the melted butter seeping through it. I’m a fan.
Get it at: A franchise called Bibingkinitan, or various street stalls around the city
9. Kare Kare
This is a classic Filipino stew, consisting of oxtail, tripe, eggplant and Chinese veges. It has a strong peanut flavour and is served with shrimp paste on the side. It’s one of the flagship dishes here in The Philippines, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. An acquired taste, perhaps.
Get it at: Most Filipino restaurants
A classic dish from the Batangas area, this consists of flat egg noodles cooked in a very thick, eggy sauce. There’s also a whole bunch of other stuff in it depending on what variation you order (pork, seafood, chicken). It’s so thick that it’s almost like a cross between a noodle soup and a stew. On the side it’s complemented with a sauce of freshly diced onions, chili, calamansi and soy sauce. Put the two together and BAM! It’s seriously magic.
Get it at: Lomi King in Lipa, Batangas
After eating the Lomi I found out it had a little brother known as Chami. This is the dry version of the dish, and obviously I had to try it and see what it’s all about. It’s not really too different from a noodle stir fry, but it comes with a tasty dipping sauce/soup that I don’t remember the name of. Anyway, if we’re choosing between Lomi and Chami I’m taking Lomi any day of the week.
Get it at: Lomi King in Lipa, Batangas
12. Kilawin Na Tanigue
Kilawin is a dish where raw fish is marinaded in vinegar and lemon/lime juice. The high level of acidity cooks the fish and it’s flavoured with a bunch of other stuff like chili, capsicum, spring onion and tomato. You’re probably thinking it sounds very similar to ceviche or the Fijian kokoda, but the taste is rather different. I found ceviche to be very fishy, kokoda to be very spicy and kinilaw to be very sour. All catered for local tastebuds I guess.
Get it at: Most Filipino restaurants
13. Pancit Bihon Guisado
Bihon Guisado is a perfect example of great tasting, unpretentious Filipino food – some scallions, cabbage, celery, carrots, chicken and vermicelli tossed in soy sauce and topped with calamansi juice. Fast, cheap and awesome. Love it.
Get it at: Most Filipino restaurants
14. Crispy Pata
One thing you’ll notice when eating around The Philippines is that they’re completely obsessed with their pork, which is probably why they cook it so well. Enter the crispy pata – a pork leg/knuckle deep fried to perfection and then sided with chili, calamansi and a variety of dipping sauces. I ate it a couple of times, one homemade one and one from a restaurant. Needless to say the homemade one was mouth watering but the restaurant cooked one wasn’t too bad either. If you’re a pork man it might just change your life.
Get it at: Most Filipino restaurants. The crispy pata in the picture is from Kabila Museum Cafe at Ayala Museum, but I think it’s a little expensive for what you get.
If you’re a fan of sour soups like Thailand’s tom yum or Hong Kong’s hot and sour soup then sinigang is totally going to rock your world. I had one of these for breakfast almost every day during my month on Boracay. It’s a tamarind based soup with a whole bunch of other goodies in it, most commonly tomatoes, green beans, spinach, green mango and various other possibilities. I tried quite a few variations (pork and shrimp are the most popular), but I’d say the classic pork is probably my favourite. I can’t believe it’s taken me 27 years to try it.
Get it at: Most Filipino kitchens. If you’re a fan go and try the Corned Beef Sinigang at Sentro in Greenbelt 3.
I’m always a sucker for hearty meaty stews so when I met my first Kaldereta we really got along. It’s a basic dish made by stewing cuts of meat in a tomato/liver sauce until tender, with a few carrots, potatoes and capsicums thrown in too. I’ve seen it with most meats but the lamb was easily my favourite.
Get it at: Most Filipino kitchens. Try the lamb kaldereta at Sentro in Greenbelt 3.
Another Filipino classic, I saw this dish on pretty much every Filipino menu I set eyes on. It’s a basic meat dish which is simmered in a marinade of oil, soy sauce, vinegar and garlic, and sometimes later pan fried to give it a crispy surface. Like most dishes here they might often add a variation of other veges (onions, potatoes, capsicum). If you’re a budget traveler, this dish is always a tummy pleaser and usually very easy on the wallet.
Get it at: Any Filipino kitchen or jolly jeep.
18. Ginataang Papaya
Tried this bad boy at a jolly jeep and was so pleasantly surprised. Green papaya shaved into thin slices and cooked in coconut milk and pork bits. Who knew it could taste so good?
Get it at: You’ll have to look around the jolly jeeps and Filipino restaurants, I’m really not sure how popular it is!
19. Bacolod Chicken
Due to my fast increasing age and waistline I’ve been trying to eat grilled chicken wherever possible and turn a blind eye to KFC and Chicken McNuggets. My solidarity to this goal can waver rather easily but this wasn’t a problem in the Philippines thanks to the amazing bacolod chicken. I have no idea how they cook it, but from peeking into the kitchen I can tell you they employ a charcoal grill and probably brush some special sauce onto it, who knows. All I know is it tastes amazing. Don’t forget the soy sauce/calamansi/chili combo sauce on the side either.
Get it at: My favourite is Bacolod Express, but there’s various chains around the city.
After hearing about the infamous Balut over and over again I just had to try it. For those who have never heard of it, balut is a street food delicacy in the Philippines; a fertilised duck egg, boiled and eaten once the embryo is half developed. From Wikipedia:
“In the Philippines, the ideal balut is 17 days old, at which point it is said to be ‘balut sa puti’ (“wrapped in white”). The chick inside is not old enough to show its beak, feathers or claws, and the bones are undeveloped.”
When the guy handed it to me I nearly dropped it, it was scorching hot! After cracking the shell I saw a small amount of juice which you’re supposed to drink, so I did, which tasted very eggy. After that I just peeled it like a normal boiled egg and ate it. There were a few funny textures but nothing overly weird; in all honesty, it just tasted like a boiled egg. Talk about an anti climax. If you’re ever in The Philippines you should definitely try it, it doesn’t taste bad at all.
Get it at: At night you will hear the sellers riding around the streets on bikes screaming “Baluuuuuut!”
21. Tablea Tsokolate
As the story goes, the Spanish colonists began this tradition of growing cocoa in The Philippines as the tropical weather was perfect for it. This tradition has continued until today with growers harvesting, drying, roasting and then grinding fresh cocoa beans into tablea or ‘tablets’. This is used in various Filipino delicacies, including tablea tsokolate – a local style hot chocolate.
The tablea is supposed to have a few minor differences to regular cocoa, which I did manage to find out but I’ve since forgotten. If you know, please share!
Get it at: I got one roll at SM department store and another at the bus stop in Lipa.
I fell in love with Bulalo the moment it touched my lips. To cook this they get a nice, fat beef shank, let it boil in a broth until all the bone marrow and fat has melted into the soup and then throw some veges in to top it all of (usually cabbage and corn). The soup is so beefy and flavoursome, probably because they leave it simmering in those massive pots all day (see pic). My mouth is actually watering furiously as I type this. It is seriously delicious.
Get it at: Al Goto King Special Bulalo in Batangas City. It’s not as common in Manila but quite a few Filipino kitchens will have it.
23. Buko Pie
If you travel anywhere by bus in The Philippines you will surely experience the street vendors jumping on board screaming “Buko pie Buko pie!!” After seeing a number of people buy these I came to the conclusion that this Buko pie thing must be a pretty big deal so I had to try one. This blog post on Our Awesome Planet laid out the best brands and eventually I got my hands on a Colette’s pie.
It’s awesome, for real. I did not expect it to be that good. The texture reminded me of a really good apple pie, it had a nice firm pastry with a lovely crust, and it had that ‘freshly baked’ smell, the kind that weakens your knees as you walk past a bakery in the morning. Partner it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’ll probably end up packing a suitcase of them to take home with you.
So, what exactly is a buko pie? Just a well baked pie packed with young slivers of fresh coconut and condensed milk. How they make it taste so good, I have no idea.
Get it at: I think it’s easiest to find the famous brands at their stores in Laguna, but you can find them at bus stops and markets too.
Get it at: I bought mine at a bus stop in Lipa. Also got served to me at a resort in Quezon.
25. Ilocos Empanada
This is a snack native to the Ilocos region, hence the name, but I seemed to keep running into it in the various Manila markets. The reason it kept catching my eye was the orange dough; it’s almost a neon orange before it’s cooked. However that’s not the only difference to standard empanadas. Inside it’s packed with sausage meat, green papaya and a whole egg, and you’ll notice from the photos that the shell is unusually thin. Once it’s deep fried and ready to eat you need to do what you do with everything else in The Philippines – splash it with vinegar!
Longanisa is a type of sausage that they often eat for breakfast here. Every region of The Philippines has their own specialty, so depending on which one you choose you might get sweet, sour, garlicky, fish, chicken, beef etc. Although almost every time I ate it in Manila it was sweet and garlicky.
Get it at: Any supermarket, food market or Filipino restaurant during breakfast.
27. Banana Ketchup
Not your regular ketchup. It’s made from mashed bananas and you’ll definitely taste the subtle difference (less tang, more sweet). During WW2 there was a shortage of tomatoes and the ketchup makers decided bananas were the next best thing. Judging by it’s popularity today it seems the tomato never really made a comeback.
Get it at: Any supermarket. Restaurants will likely have it if you ask for it.
Another popular street food in The Philippines, this is a grilled skewer of chicken or pig intestines. Splash some vinegar over it and away you go. I’m a fan of the flavour but the texture, not so much (it’s a bit powdery). It’s so popular here that you have to try it at least once.
Bangus (milkfish) is the country’s national fish and quite often they fry it up for breakfast with a side of garlic rice and egg. Before trying it I wasn’t sold on the idea of fried fish for breakfast (I’m more of a fresh fruits kinda guy), but after the first time it quickly became my breakfast of choice. With the trademark drizzle of vinegar it’s quite the kickstart to your day.
Get it at: Any Filipino restaurant during breakfast.
Heading to Manila? a few tips:
- For affordable accommodation in Manila, I highly recommend using Airbnb. There are many condo and apartment buildings in the city that are vacant and you can find lots of good offers that will be cheaper and more comfortable than hotels and hostels. You can get $25 of free Airbnb credit using this link.
- I highly recommend purchasing travel insurance for the Philippines. Travel in the Philippines is not dangerous but many aspects can be unreliable and you should expect the unexpected. For an introduction to what travel insurance is, why you need and where to buy it, check out my post Travel Insurance 101: Everything You Need To Know.
- For getting around the city I recommend using Uber! If you don’t speak Tagalog it can be difficult to communicate with some taxi drivers. Uber is far safer and more reliable. You can get your first ride on Uber for free by using this link.Have fun!