I’ve travelled to the Philippines more than to any other country in the last few years, and despite all the positivity, the beautiful islands and diversity of the culture, I always hear fellow travellers saying time and time again that the Philippines food and Filipino cuisine has nothing on the rest of Asia.
On my first trip to the Philippines, I might have agreed with this, but I rarely strayed from a few fast food joints and poor attempts at imitating western food in the tourist hotspots. My second and third trips, I’ve been much more adventurous, and I’ve come to respect the incredible uniqueness of Philippines food and the huge difference in ingredients and preparation that’s found from island to island. It’s truly underrated, but I know that as more and more travellers visit the Philippines, their cuisine will begin to earn the respect it does deserve.
Filipino food is an incredible mix of flavours from across the world. It’s a mix that really highlights the intense history of the nation, as you find a blend of Chinese, Southeast Asian, Spanish and American influences all fusing with local traditions and cooking techniques.
I don’t usually write too much about food on this blog, but this year, I’m going to be branching out, because let’s face it, I spend fifty per cent of my time abroad eating. I’m kick starting my foray into the world of food writing with this article on underrated Philippines food. Here are my favourite Filipino dishes to eat!
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Philippines Food: My Favourite Filipino Cuisine
Philippines food can vary massively from region to region and island to island but there are some impressive stalwarts that are found ubiquitously across the 7000 islands that make up the nation. You can find simple eateries serving up home cooked, local fare for low, low prices anywhere, while many of the cities have an increasing array of higher end, gourmet restaurants that are developing Filipino cuisine for the modern tastes. It’s not all fast food and Jollibee, although Jollibee, and their infamous Jolly Spaghetti, is a must try for anyone visiting the Philippines!
Here is the best food in the Philippines to try for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Philippines Food: The Best Breakfasts
Breakfast in the Philippines is a hearty affair, and there is some excellent Filipino food to try when you rise in the morning that will set you up for an adventurous day exploring islands. Breakfast generally consists of rice, and if you’re lucky, Siningag, a delicious type of garlic infused rice.
Alongside the rice, you can expect a healthy serving of sunny side up eggs and some delicious meat dishes to go with it. Much of the breakfast food from the Philippines ends with the term -silog which is a combination of the words for garlic rice and egg. You’ll see below, as you read through my favourite Filipino breakfasts!
Tapsilog is a hearty breakfast dish that’s prepared with a combination of Beef Tapa, garlic rice (Siningag), and fried egg (Itlog). It’s a great way to start the day, and Tapa, a sort of dried, Filipino beef is absolutely delicious. Tapsilog is the original silog style breakfast but by no means the only one.
Strangely, my favourite of all the many silogs is perhaps what many would consider the most bizarre. Cornsilog is prepared with rice, egg and corned beef, and I absolutely loved it.
Corned beef is a strange staple of the Philippines, as it was introduced by the USA during their occupation in the first half of the 20th century, before becoming a long-lasting, tinned favourite that could be served up easily and stored for years if needed. You can even get a similar Spamsilog variant in some breakfast haunts.
Longsilog is perhaps my second favourite
Add in the egg and the rice and you’ve got your breakfast. If you swapped the rice for baked beans, it wouldn’t be so different from the Full English!
Longsilog, CC by Arnold Gatilao
Tosilog uses the wonderful Tocino as its primary ingredient, alongside, of course, rice and eggs. Tocino is actually a Spanish word, meaning bacon, and this is one of the best legacies the Spanish colonisers left on Philippines food.
Here, pork belly is prepared with sugar and other ingredients to create sticky, sugar-coated pork that can be slightly addictive.
Tosilog, CC by Obsidian Soul
If you have a sweet tooth then you’ll quickly fall for a steaming hot bowl of Champorado. This delicious dish could be a breakfast or a desert, and it can be served in a few varieties.
It’s essentially a bowl of hot rice pudding, infused with chocolate or other flavourings such as Purple Yam – the yams give it a strange purple colour too. It’s loaded with sugar and guaranteed to set up you up for the day.
Philippines Food: Main Dishes You Have To Try!
Now to the main course, and the Philippines has a lot of great dishes to try for lunch and dinner, with every island having its own regional specialities or variations of nationwide favourites.
The opportunities for gorging are endless and the below selections are just a few of the best Filipino food creations that I’ve tried during my travels across the country.
Lechon is my all time favourite food of the Philippines. It’s a simple concept but a dish which takes years of practice by Lechon masters to actually perfect. A suckling pig is taken and slow roasted over a fire until the meat is soft and tender, but the skin is crispy and crackling. Serve with rice and vinegar to dip.
Cebu is famed for its Lechon, but it was actually in Northern Mindanao, in Iligan City, that I personally found the best.
Sisig has to be my second choice when it comes to Filipino food, and on the outset, a description of this sizzling dish doesn’t exactly sound appetizing. The dish was popularized in Pampanga, and although it started life as a simple salad prepared by Catholic priests, today it is completely unrecognisable.
Modern Sisig makes use of all the ‘worst’ parts of the animal, usually a pig, taking the offal, ears and snouts etc and frying them all up with herbs and spices. It’s unbelievably delicious and addictive, and it’s best served up spicy and with a fried egg on top, but everyone has their own favourite method of preparation.
Adobo is a dish that you will find being served up across the Philippines, although in many variations. Adobo is today associated primarily with Philippines food, but actually, it’s a Spanish term meaning to marinade. Many consider this to be the Filipino national dish, and it’s the one dish you are unlikely to avoid when visiting the country.
Adobo was traditionally created as a way to prevent food from spoiling, as the long cooking process prepares meat such as pork or chicken in a soy sauce and vinegar sauce that lasts incredibly well in the heat of the Philippines.
Being English, I love a good curry, and whenever I visit a country I’m always on the lookout for the local equivalent. In the Philippines, Kare-Kare is my curry of choice, but it’s quite far removed from a vindaloo or a masala!
Kare-Kare is a slow-cooked masterpiece that is perhaps more of a stew than a curry, taking the leftover parts of an animal and mixing them with a delicious peanut sauce. You’ll find oxtail, cheeks, offal and tripe in Kare-Kare, but don’t worry, it’s a beautiful creation.
Chicken Inasal is a simple dish. It’s just barbecued chicken, but the chicken is expertly marinaded in a mixture of spices and vinegar before being skewered and grilled over hot coals.
It’s simple, but it’s a great dish that you can never really go wrong with.
Sinigang is a slow-cooked Filipino speciality that will warm your soul – not that it’s ever cold in the Philippines!
This traditional soup is generally prepared with pork, and it’s known for its unique blend of sweet and sour flavours.
The main base is tamarind, while the soup is complemented with an array of local vegetables and of course, a hefty portion of rice on the side.
Another warming soup is the ever popular Bulalo. This traditional dish is served piping hot, using beef and vegetables as the main ingredient.
It’s a simple soup that uses beef marrow and leftovers to create a delicious beef stock as the base.
Pancit are Filipino noodles, and they can be served and cooked in many a variety across the country. Noodles were brought into Filipino foods by the arrival of Chinese immigrants over the centuries but are now a firm staple of local cuisine.
Keeping with Chinese traditions, Pancit is often eaten on a person’s birthday, as long noodles represent long life. They are often prepared too for Christmas and on holidays, as they hold a special place in local traditions.
There are a huge number of different noodle dishes in the Philippines, but the most common varieties that are served in many local restaurants are Pancit Bihon and Pancit Canton. Bihon noodles are thin noodles, and they are cooked up with vegetables and meats. Canton noodles are the Filipino equivalent of Chow Mein.
Although a Seafood BBQ is hardly unique to the Philippines, this nation of over 7000 islands does do it particularly well.
If you are travelling through the Philippines, island hopping and exploring the many different beaches or snorkelling spots the country has to offer, then it’s inevitable that at some point you will be served up a beautiful array of fresh seafood, freshly grilled in front of you.
You can expect everything from prawns and squid to snapper and tuna.
Bicol Express was one of the most intense regional dishes I tried in the Philippines, but I absolutely loved it.
The Bicol region is famous for both its volcano and its chillies, two fiery things that complement each other well really, and the regional speciality is the Bicol Express, a creamy blend of meat and veg that on the outset looks simply delicious, yet calm and smooth – sort of like a korma – but that actually, is stuffed full of hot, hot chillies.
It will literally set your mouth on fire, so have a few drinks ready to battle it. If you love a bit of spice though, this is the best food to eat in the Philippines.
Jollibee is not a dish or a type of food, but a fast food chain that’s a Filipino institution, so much so that when the first London branch opened in 2018, the queues lasted as long as 17 hours.
Jollibee serves up fried chicken, Yum burgers and Jolly Spaghetti to name a few of the dishes on offer. It’s cheap, it’s definitely cheerful, and it’s such an ingrained part of local culture that you really should pop in at least once during your travels in the Philippines.
A Boodle Fight is a cultural and foodie treat to be part of in the Philippines. It’s a way of eating popularised by the military, and today used during feasts, celebrations and communal meals.
Long banana leaves are laid across the table and all the dishes are placed on top. There are no knives or forks and everyone simply digs into the rice, meat and vegetables with their bare hands, fighting to eat all they can before everyone around them does.
Snacks and Desserts in Filipino Cuisine
There are plenty of great snacks and desserts in the Philippines too, and you’ll never be hungry once you have a taste for the unique items on offer across the country.
Filipino food makes use of a lot of sugar, and a lot of the deserts are incredibly sweet, while many of the snacks you can find – particularly street food style – are simple, yet effective, and have long been staples in the islands.
Balut is perhaps the most iconic Filipino food out there, and I’ll be honest, it’s an acquired taste. A taste which may take a lifetime to acquire. It’s something you have to try though, as it’s a local favourite.
Balut does not sound nice. It’s a boiled duck egg, but the embryo has had time to begin forming shape before it’s chucked into the boiler. You’re left with a crunchy egg, and the beak and bones and everything else is consumed with a dash of vinegar or a pinch of salt.
Balut is traditionally eaten after a marriage ceremony, as the duck egg is supposed to fuel the eater with energy and act as an aphrodisiac. You’ll find Balut sellers across the Philippines, selling eggs for just a few pesos an egg.
Chicharron is a fantastic stomach filler, and it’s completely addictive. It’s basically pork crackling, salty and fried until it’s crunchy.
You can dip it in soy sauce or vinegar and you can buy it in bags on the roadside to munch on when you like!
Lumpia is the Filipino equivalent of Spring Rolls, and they are directly inspired by the traditional Chinese version brought over by immigrants.
These savoury snacks are made from rolled egg pastry stuffed with vegetables or meat, which are then usually fried in oil.
Turon is a popular version of Lumpia that involves taking the same egg pastry wrapping, but filling the rolls with sugary, sliced bananas.
It makes for an excellent snack or for a desert of its own accord and you will find them for sale by street vendors in almost any location.
Buko is the term for coconut. Across the Philippines, you’ll quickly realise that a tasty, delicious and refreshing natural snack and drink comes in the form of the humble coconut.
Drink the juice, eat the coconut meat, and marvel at how the locals use coconuts for almost everything. They turn it into oil, they burn the husks for warmth and they use the milk to create delicious desserts.
One of the most refreshing culinary items I found on the streets of the Philippines was deliciously icy sorbet. Although not exactly Filipino, I loved it, as I found it almost everywhere exactly when I needed a cold, icy and juicy snack that doubled as a drink.
You’ll find sorbet is made with many of the local fruits, including mangoes, coconuts, lychees and more.
During the Spanish colonisation of the Philippines, the Europeans introduced many of their own deserts to the islands.
Strangely, the use of egg whites in the construction of local churches – they mixed the whites to form a strong cement – led to the adoption of such deserts as Leche Flan, which made use of the leftover egg yolks. It’s a delicious dessert and a must eat when in the Philippines.
If you are after a sweet treat, then look no further than Caramelados.
Also introduced by the Spaniards, these milky caramelised sweets were one of my favourite sugary snacks when I was travelling.
Halo-Halo is the ultimate Filipino dessert. It’s iconic, photogenic and refreshing, so save it for those sweltering hot days. Halo-Halo means mix-mix and it’s a marvellous blend of almost quite anything that might vaguely fit into a dessert.
Take crushed ice and mix it with anything you like really. Add in ice cream, caribou milk, condensed milk, jelly beans, kidney beans, syrup, sugar, gummy bears, jackfruit or whatever else takes your fancy, layer it all up in a tall glass or big bowl, and then mix it all together. You’ll need a spoon and a straw, and some Halo-Halo are even topped with a huge slice of leche flan. It’s not exactly healthy, but it is refreshing.
Drinks in the Philippines
You can find all manner of beverages in the Philippines! Soft drinks are inexpensive and you can purchase all the usual brands such as Coca-Cola, although if you are after a Fanta Orange, for some reason it’s called Royal in the Philippines – I would love to know why if anyone out there does, in fact, know why?
Expect plenty of fruit smoothies on the islands making use of local fruits such as mangos and bananas, and of course, expect plenty of fresh coconuts too.
Alcohol wise, the biggest beer producers in the country are San Miguel, and a little-known fact for you is that although in Europe most people associate San Miguel beer with the Spanish brand, and presume it to be of Spanish origin, it actually originated in the Philippines.
San Miguel is sold in two major variants, San Miguel Pilsener and San Miguel Light, with the light version essentially being a low-calorie drink that actually, is incredibly refreshing in the heat.
The company also brew the infamous Red Horse. This darker beer is much, much stronger than the standard pilsner or light, reaching as much as 7 or 8 per cent in alcohol content. It’s actually rather delicious despite this strength, but be warned that it can lead to deadly hangovers the following morning.
These three beers can be bought across the country, for as little as 50 pesos a bottle, and ice cold. You may also find Corona in more touristy destinations alongside the occasional other international brands too while in Manila, you can find an increasing selection of local craft beers at more upmarket bars and restaurants.
The local favourite when it comes to spirits is Tanduay, which can be bought for almost nothing, anywhere. It’s surprisingly good considering its low cost, particularly if you are looking to mix it into a few cocktails or to serve as a long drink with say coca-cola. Other, internationally branded spirits, may be more expensive and are only really popular in large cities or at tourist destinations.
All Words by Richard Collett