Here is a local’s guide on what to eat in the Philippines.
Filipino cuisine is very interesting; it is a mix of influences from a number of cultures.
Having traded with the Chinese, Indians, and Malays long before the colonizers came, the early Filipinos have already gotten inspiration and recipes from their trading partners. And as a country colonized by Spain for over 3 centuries, a lot of Spanish traditions have influenced Filipino cooking, too.
Thanks to these influences, the culinary traditions of the Philippines have become richer and more enticing. In this article, I’ll be sharing with you the 12 best Filipino dishes and delicacies you must try that I think best represent Pinoy culture.
If you want to learn where to find some of these dishes, be sure to read our guide on the best places to visit in the Philippines. Below is a table of contents to help you jump quickly to each section.
A Quick Summary of the Best Filipino Food
Usually called pulutan, appetizers in the Philippines are more like a beer chow. They’re like Spanish tapas, which are also enjoyed in small servings and with alcoholic beverages.
Being an archipelagic country, a shortage of fresh seafood in the Philippines is next to impossible. In fact, one of the best beer chow dishes the country has to offer is kinilaw, the Filipino version of the Latin American ceviche.
Kinilaw is a raw fish salad (usually tuna, wahoo, or mackerel) cured in calamansi juice (tiny local lime) and vinegar. It is believed that the acid of the vinegar and the calamansi “cook” the raw fish.
This appetizer is usually served with onions, gingers, local chilies, and sometimes coconut cream.
Sisig is my ultimate favorite Filipino dish. It originated from the culinary capital of the Philippines, the province of Pampanga. Although considered by many a pulutan, I can eat sisig as a main dish served with steamed rice.
Normally served on a sizzling platter, sisig is made with shredded pork face (cheeks or ears) and tail. It is garnished with onions, chili peppers, and raw egg as a topping that you’ll need to cook and mix with the meat before the hot plate cools down.
Its salty flavor and crunchy yet chewy texture make it the perfect beer chow.
Balut is more of a street food than an appetizer, but it can also be a pulutan when drinking because you might want to be a bit drunk when you eat this. Tourists who try balut for the first time only have two possible reactions to it: cringe or be super amazed!
This infamous street food is basically an incubated duck embryo. It means there are already partially formed feathers, eyes, and bones.
The egg is boiled, so you can crack the top shell open and slurp the tasty embryo liquid from the hole. To make it more flavorful, you can add salt, vinegar, or chili.
The embryo can be eaten with a spoon. But I prefer to just crack the whole egg open and eat it directly, so I don’t have to see everything. (Another trick that can work is to eat it in the dark!)
The taste is terrific, but it isn’t exactly a sight to behold.
Meryenda is an afternoon snack served between lunch and dinner. It can be any comfort food that you may eat without rice. Soups, noodles, and finger food can be considered merienda, too.
Pancit in the Philippines can refer to any noodle-based dish. It’s often served during birthday parties as its long noodle strands represent long life.
The most common kind of pancit is Pancit Guisado, stir-fried noodles with vegetables and meat seasoned with soy sauce and a bit of fish sauce. The type of noodles also varies: from Canton (thick) to Bihon (thin Vermicelli) and Bam-i (a combination of both).
If you like shrimp, you’ll love Pancit Palabok. This is my favorite type of pancit! It’s made with rice noodles and creamy shrimp-based sauce. It comes with bits of pork, hard-boiled eggs, and chicharron (pork rinds). Its appetizing orange appearance comes from the annatto powder.
Lastly, we have Pancit Habhab. This is a traditional pancit dish in Lucban, Quezon Province, and is typically served on a banana leaf. It’s garnished with pieces of meat, carrots, and other vegetables.
5. Arroz Caldo (May Be Served With Fish Sauce)
Arroz Caldo, which means rice broth, is the Filipino version of the Chinese congee. It is commonly a breakfast food but is also considered a merienda. This comfort food is perfect for cold weather.
Rice is cooked in chicken stock for a long time until it turns into a thick porridge. The soup is then infused with ginger and served with toasted garlic, green onions, black pepper, and sometimes hard-boiled egg. To add more flavor, you can add fish sauce or freshly squeezed calamansi juice.
Arroz Caldo Photo by Knorr
6. Lumpia (May Be Served With Garlic Fried Rice)
Lumpia, or Filipino Spring Rolls, can be either fried or fresh.
Fried lumpia can be considered a main dish, especially when served with plain or garlic fried rice and sweet and sour dipping sauce. This crispy, deep-fried viand is prepared by stuffing minced meat and vegetables into a thin, rolled wrapper made with rice flour, water, and salt.
Because it’s easy to make, this treat is almost always present in large Filipino family gatherings.
Fresh lumpia, on the other hand, uses a thin, sheer egg wrapper that doesn’t need to be fried. Also known as “lumpiang ubod”, this kind of lumpia is made with ubod (the core of a coconut tree). Chopped ubod, bits of pork, shrimp, and garlicky sweet sauce are rolled into the egg wrapper and eaten fresh.
When the Spaniards came to the Philippine Islands, they noticed how the natives preserved their meat — by marinating them with vinegar and salt. Until this day, Filipinos still use this “recipe” or technique to make the ubiquitous adobo.
Considered the national dish of the Philippines, Adobo is perhaps the most famous among all Pinoy dishes. This meat stew is almost synonymous with Filipino cuisine.
Derived from the Spanish word adobar, which means “to marinate”, adobo is prepared by braising the meat in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and a little bit of salt. Bay leaves and peppercorn are added to add more flavor.
Sinigang is another Filipino classic dish. It’s a sour meat stew filled with a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, garlic, onions, string beans, taro, and okra. It is traditionally made tangy by tamarind, but other alternative ingredients to make it sour include kamias, guava, green mango, tomatoes, or calamansi.
There are many variants of sinigang, and it depends on the meat served. The more popular ones are sinigang na baboy (pork sinigang), sinigang na isda (fish sinigang), sinigang na hipon (shrimp sinigang), and sinigang na baka (beef sinigang).
Lechon is almost always present in a Filipino fiesta or feast. This famous roasted suckling pig is perhaps the second most well-known Filipino food after adobo.
An entire pig is slowly roasted over charcoal for hours to fully cook it, hence its golden brown skin and moist and tender meat.
To bring out its flavor more, the stomach of the pig is stuffed with spring onions, lemongrass, laurel leaves, anise, and pepper. Garlic, soy sauce, and other local seasonings are also rubbed into the skin of the pork.
Derived from the word “curry,” Kare-Kare is an oxtail stew that is likened to Thailand’s Massaman Curry.
This savory dish is made with braised ox tripe, oxtail, and thick grounded peanut sauce. Other ingredients include seasonal vegetables such as eggplants, banana blossoms, and string beans.
Kare-Kare is best served with bagoong or fermented shrimp paste.
11. Chicken Inasal
Inasal is a dish prepared by grilling meat. It can be chicken or pork, but the former seems to be a more popular choice by many Filipinos — especially the ones in Bacolod, where this style of cooking (presumably) originated from.
The barbequed meat is marinated in calamansi juice, sugar cane vinegar, salt, pepper, and lemongrass. It is, then, brushed with annatto seed oil or achuete.
It is best served with garlic fried rice. To add more flavor, you can dip it in soy sauce.
Halo-Halo, which translates to “mix-mix”, is the ultimate Pinoy dessert.
This vibrant, tropical dessert is made with shaved ice doused with evaporated milk and a variety of fruits and sweet beans topped with a scoop of ice cream. The assortment of sweets may include boiled purple yam, coconut gel, sugar palm fruit, banana, tapioca, boiled beans, chickpeas, and sometimes seven cornflakes.
These ingredients are served in transparent glass for you to see the colorful layers of different fruits and sweet condiments. You, then, mix it all and enjoy a refreshing delight to cool you down from the warm Philippine weather.