Philippines – Food & Cuisine
Most Filipino dishes are just like the country’s attractions — intimidating at the start and addicting after the first bite. A product of a string of colonisations, the flavours of Filipino food are a mix of Spanish, American, Malay, Indo, and Japanese. Each island has a “specialty” dish or dishes inspired from the local produce and flavours. Though generally preferred less compared to its Thai and Vietnamese contemporaries, you still should not miss the experience of trying out Filipino dishes.
Rice is a staple in the Philippines — locals eat rice three times a day — and most dishes are made to be paired with it. Pinoys are big fans of meat, with some of the country’s most popular dishes made from pork, beef, and chicken that incorporate vinegar, soy sauce, and patis (fish sauce). Islands are not only distinguished by their attractions, but they also make a mark through their flavours. Luzon, the northern island, is known for its soups, stews, and stir-fried dishes. Visayas is home to gentle flavours made rich by either coconut milk or sugar. Mindanao — abundant in agricultural and marine produce — is the best place to eat the freshest vegetables and seafood. Garlic, onions, tamarind, chilis, and ginger are heavily used in most Pinoy food.
Apart from the usual dishes served, an interesting part of the Filipino cuisine is their street food. Affordable and accessible, Pinoy street food presents a whole array of peculiar but savoury creations like fried or barbecued chicken intestines, calamares, fried quail eggs, fish balls, rice broth, and banana fritters. Fast food also plays a huge part in the dining scene in the Philippines. Fast food chains such as Jollibee, Chowking, and McDonald’s are always noticeably crowded, thanks to its affordability and accessibility.
The Philippines has an endless list of gastronomic delights to offer. Here, we’ve gathered some of the country’s must-try dishes.
Lechon — also known as spit-roasted suckling pig — is one of the country’s most iconic food. You can find it as a centerpiece during important celebrations like weddings, birthdays, and Christmas. The pig is stuffed with flavourful herbs, spices, and vegetables, and cooked for several hours. The crispy skin of the lechon is a must-try. Lechon can be seen in every location, but the best version can be found in Cebu.
This dish is unofficially considered the “National Food” of the Philippines. The variations of this dish are quite plenty, with pork adobo as the most common. What makes adobo special is in how the meat is prepared and cooked, by marinating in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and black pepper. The meat is then boiled to tender, the oil browned and simmered. More adventurous and contemporary cooks ventured to include seafood and vegetables prepared in the same manner. This is a popular dish during fiestas because it does not spoil fast due to the presence of vinegar.
Sinigang is a sour-based soup dish that includes meat and vegetables. Traditionally, it relied on tamarind for the sour taste, but it eventually evolved to rely on other ingredients to give it a distinct taste, such as kamias, guava, santol, kalamansi, or even watermelon. The soup can include meats such as pork, beef, fish, and even seafood such as bangus or shrimp. This dish is best served and eaten with rice.
Considered as Pampanga’s pride, kare kare is a thick soup dish that is made with either oxtail, pork hock, calf’s feet, pig’s feet stewed in a rich peanut sauce. To add to the texture, various vegetables such as eggplant, Chinese cabbage, green beans, okra, asparagus and other greens are thrown into the mix. Best eaten with rice and a bagoong sauce (fermented fish or baby shrimps).
Sisig was first used in the Filipino vocabulary in the 17th century as was used to refer to a sour snack or salad. These days, sisig refers to a sizzling dish made of meat from the pig’s head and liver that’s marinated in sour sauces such as lemon juice or vinegar and seasoned with salt, pepper, and other spices. All these are then boiled, broiled, grilled, then served in a sizzling dish to maintain its heat. Other variations of this dish include fish and vegetables prepared in the same method instead of meat.
Originally referred to as Sinilihan and coming from Malate, the Bicol Express is a spicy dish made or pork and chilies cooked in coconut milk. It was later named after the train that travels from Manila to Bicol — the Bicol Express, as the Bicolanos are very much known for their love and preference for spicy food. Currently, the BIcol Express is one of the country’s most popular dishes and is typically eaten on its own, or with wine, or with, of course, rice.
Lumpia is the Filipino version of spring roll — wherein thin crepe pastry sheets called lumpia wrappers are filled with a mix of chopped vegetables such as carrots, cabbages, green beans, bamboo shoots, and leeks. It can be eaten in two ways: fried and fresh or unfried, and can serve as a meal on its own or as a viand. It’s a quick way to satisfy anyone’s hunger.
Chinese influence can also be seen in Filipino dishes, such as the pansit dish. Pansit can come in various forms but it generally refers to a noodle dish mixed with chicken and vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, and soy sauce. Every Philippine province has its own variation of the pansit — such as pansit bihon, pansit bam-i, pansit bato, pansit palabok, and pansit habhab. The differences lie on the sauces, meats, vegetables, and even noodles used.