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Philippines Food: The Ultimate Food Guide

Food brings the Filipino family together. In this article we dished out the Filipino cuisine's origin, Philippines food expectations, the best Filipino dish to try, and special food delicacies around the country.

Hospitality is the main Filipino trait and it is also evident when eating.

If you travel to the Philippines, you will very often get invited “kain na tayo” (let’s eat) if you happen to catch a Filipinos in the eyes while they are eating.

It is considered to be not courteous if you don’t invite people around you when you are eating. In this article we are going to show you how to appreciate and enjoy Filipino foods when in the Philippines.

Table of Contents

Philippines Food Culture and Traditions

If you think of fusion food, Filipino food was the predecessor to Asian Fusion before the phrase was coined. Different cultures left their mark in Filipino food evolution over thousand years making this the melting pot of cultural culinary influences.

An intricate pattern of Chinese (pancit, lumpia, anything soy-based, stir frying), American (burgers, fried chicken, fast food), Spanish (any dishes sautéd with garlic, tomatoes and onions, flans, sofritos, fiesta foods, for example bringhe, Filipino-style Paella most closely associated with Pampanga), Japanese and indigenous cooking.

Filipino culinary traditions reflect the country's unique colonial history and varied geography.

The Philippines location played an important role in being a focal point of trade and migration dating back to Malayo-Polynesians in around 3,000 BC. Some of these traders became the first settlers in the country, and came their influence of rice as the staple ingredient to the Philippines. The Chinese and other Asian traders brought with them bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, tofu,soy sauce, fish sauce, lemongrass, and ofcourse noodles.

Then the colonizers came along. The Spanish introduced new cooking methods like braising and sauteing, as well as new ingredients like potatoes, tomatoes, corn, onions and garlic. Finally, the Americans brought with it fried chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, and the idea of “cooking with convenience”.

Here Are Some of the Examples of Influences on Filipino Foods.

  • Adobo

    Which means “marinade” in Spanish. This national dish was heavily influenced by the Spanish adobo but made more flavorful by adding soy sauce (an ingredient introduced by the Chinese) and using herbs native to the Philippines like bay leaves and peppercorns.

  • Tamales

    The Philippines and Mexico were colonized by Spain. Tamales is a Mexican food introduced by Spaniards but became a Filipino food when some ingredients that are not locally available were replaced by home grown ingredients.

  • Kare-kare

    Oxtail stew, derives its name from “curry” as a result of the country’s deeply rooted Indian heritage.

Eating in the Philippines is always a joyful experience. We take our time and savour our food rather than just having a quick meal. We love sharing the experience with everyone. We are very sociable and meal time is always the perfect excuse to meet and socialise.

Best Philippines Food Books to Read

Our Favorite Online Filipino Recipes With Videos

If you must know, I (Heyz) never cooked so much my entire life until Coronavirus happened. Being locked down in India for 6 months and counting made me crave for Filipino foods so much. I don't have much choice but to cook. Here are my favorite websites.

What to Expect in Filipinos and Philippines Food

Filipinos are always eating. We don’t just have three (3) meals in a day, we’ve added two (2) more snacks we call “merienda” (afternoon snacks) and midnight snacks. Snacks are light but don’t let this fool you. Our afternoon merienda can include something as filling as goto (Filipino congee) or bihon (fried rice sticks) plus bibingka (fluffy rice cakes topped with cheese).

In most foreign visitors' perspective, Filipino foods taste too sweet, or too heavy or too salty. Sugar is added a bit too much to everything, from hamburgers and sweet spaghetti's (like in Filipino’s favorite fast food Jollibee - PS. I love it but Josh hates it) to locally rendered Thai food. But if you know what to order you’ll find much pleasure to satisfy even those who have the most selective taste buds.

The international culinary audience are not a fan of Filipino foods. Or are they really? More often than not Filipino foods are largely misunderstood and neglected by the rest of the world. Sometimes, the food culture of the Philippines is also overshadowed by the all time fave Asian flavors from the neighboring countries Vietnam and Thailand. But the Philippines can hold its own global culinary stage in a poll that CNN conducted in 2015 to its readers on what was their favorite food destination.

In fact, the late well known celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain claimed the best pork he ever ate was in the Philippines. In 2012, Andrew Zimmern (American culinary expert, chef, restaurateur, television personality, director, producer, entrepreneur, food critic) proclaimed Filipino food to be “the next great thing”.

In truth, indigenous Filipino food is neither as bad as its international reputation, nor as delicious as locals would have you believe. Of course, it all depends on your taste buds. Bottom line, our food is tasty. I hope the world will realize what Andrew did a few years ago

I don't know about you but for me and Josh
- Filipino cuisine is delicious.

15 Must-Try Philippines Food for Your First Time Visit to the Country

  • Adobo

    The most popular Pinoy dish. Pork or Chicken stewed in vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, bay leaves, and peppercorns. The ingredients are meant to preserve the meat longer and its taste gets better day after day.

  • Bicol Express

    A spicy stew consisting of bite sized pieces of pork with coconut milk, chilies, shrimp paste (bagoong), onions, tomato and garlic. It originated in Bicol where everything is a bit more spicy.

  • Bulalo

    It is considered to be one of the most favorite main dishes in the Philippines. It is a beef soup consisting of shank with bone marrow still inside the bone.

  • Chicken Inasal

    It is chicken marinated in “calamansi”, pepper, sugar cane vinegar and annatto seeds, then repeatedly basted with the marinade as it sears over hot coals. Best eaten with rice and with bare hands.

  • Crispy Pata

    Pork trotters or knuckles that are deep-fried served with a soy-vinegar dip. This is another Filipino favourite “pulutan” (snacks or food served while drinking alcoholic beverages; loosely translates to finger food) or is enjoyed with beers or any hard liquors.

  • Ginisang Munggo

    A mung bean dish complimented by different flavors from meat, seafood, and vegetables.

  • Halo-halo

    It means ”mix-mix”, it is literally a mix of various tropical delights in a bowl. This is served as dessert made of shaved ice drenched in evaporated milk mixed with fruits, boiled sweetened white beans, typically topped with purple yam, ice cream, leche flan (like crème caramel).

  • Kare-Kare

    Philippine stew enriched with a thick peanut sauce. It is made from a variation base of stewed oxtail, pork hocks, calves feet, pig feet, beef stew meat, and occasionally offal or tripe. Meat is braised and a thick savoury peanut sauce is added with banana flower or aubergine and seasonal vegetables.

  • Kinilaw

    It’s like the Spanish “Ceviche”. Kinilaw is raw fish (often tuna or wahoo) or pork cured in Filipino lime “kalamansi'', vinegar “juice or suka”, with ginger, onion, fiery indigenous chilies and coconut cream.

  • Lechon

    The star of every Filipino feast. Soy, garlic, milk and seasoning are massaged into pork skin to give succulent and slowly roasted until it is crisp crackling.

  • Pancit

    It is a noodles stir-fried with fresh vegetables and meat (pork or chicken) or seasonal ingredients, such as Chinese sausage and seafood

  • Pochero

    Its a Spanish word meaning “earthenware/clay pot”. It contains mixed meats, tomatoes, garlic, vegetables and carbs like potato and plantain

  • Sinigang

    (Josh’s favorite Pinoy food) A Filipino soup or stew known by its sour and savoury taste. Main ingredient is tamarind, although it can use other sour fruits and leaves as the souring agent.

  • Sisig

    It is a sizzling platter of shredded pork cheeks, ears and tail that’s made salty and crispy, topped with egg and mayonnaise. Served as “pulutan”, a tradition of sharing finger foods while drinking hard liquors.

  • Tropical Fruits

    Durians, mango, mangosteens, rambutans, jackfruit and longans are sold at markets and fruit stalls.

Exotic Pinoy Foods

  • Balut

    A boiled duck egg with a fertilized developing embryo. The incubation generally ranges between 14 and 21 days before it is cooked.

  • Exotic Meat Adobo

    Any exotic meats like rat, cat, bat, frog, cricket and bayawak (monitor lizard).

  • Asocena (dog meat)

    Popular in the Cordillera Mountains of North Luzon. Asocena is usually consumed as “pulutan”.

  • ‘Soup No 5’ or Bull-ball Soup

    It is a soup made from bull's testes or penis. It is an aphrodisiac based on urban legends.

  • Camaro

    It is a fried crickets cooked in salt, vinegar and soy sauce; pig trotter or knuckles are boiled and deep-fried). There is an eating-contests attraction held in Pampanga, where the dish is traditionally served.

  • Tamilok (Wood Worms)

    It is a fave food in Palawan. Usually eaten raw after soaked in vinegar. This delicacy is not really a worm but a shell-less saltwater clam that bores holes into wood.

Places and Restaurants to Eat Around the Philippines

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Eat Your Way Around the Philippines

In a country of geographic diversity, it's no surprise that there's an equally diverse array of regional specialties. Staples such as rice, longganisa, lechon, adobo and even balut are cooked and presented in different ways. Of the regional cuisines, the spicy food of Bicol is probably most suited to Western palates, while Filipinos consider Pampanga province in Luzon as the country’s food capital.

  • Batanes

    These are the farthest islands in the north. If you make it to these islands, be sure to try their “uved balls” and “vunes”. Uved balls are a surprisingly tasty delicacy made with bananas, mixed with minced pork and pig's blood. Vunes are actually chopped-up taro stalks cooked with garlic.

  • Ilocos

    Good news for vegans, Ilocano cooking for some is a vegetarian's paradise. Its pinakbet style is with tomatoes, okra, eggplant and “ampalaya” (bitter melon). Cooked in layers in a pot like a vegetable lasagne and is possibly the best-known in the country. For meat lovers don’t fret. They also have meat specialties to look forward to like Dinakdakan (grilled pieces of pork oftentimes the discarded parts like pig face, ears, liver, tongue, and yes, brain), Vigan Longganisa (uniquely salty, and spicy sausage delicacy). They also use a different kind of fish paste called “bagoong” and goat or pig bile to flavour dishes.

  • Bicol

    If you like spicy flavours, Bicol will be your favourite place in the Philippines. Bicolano cooking involves many varieties of “sili” (hot chilli pepper) and “gata” (coconut milk); anything cooked in gata is known as “ginataan”. By now you must have heard of Bicol Express already, if not, it is a spicy mix of pork, sili, shrimps, onion, garlic and other spices cooked in coconut milk. Also remember pinangat, green “gabi” (taro) leaves wrapped around pieces of fish, shrimp and/or pork. Another Bicol’s pride is candingga, diced carrots and pork liver sweetened and cooked in vinegar. With all of these dishes and other main courses, you can expect to find “natong” or “laing”, a chopped, leafy green vegetable commonly served on its own as a side dish. And finally for dessert, pili nut, an alleged aphrodisiac, is found in cookies, pastries, marzipan, pies and ice cream.

  • Cordillera

    They topped the adventure list when it comes to food in the Cordillera. They eat pretty much everything like python, a bundle of frogs and dog meat. Would you dare?

  • Mindanao

    Around Cagayan de Oro (Northern Mindanao), is known for its “kinilaw” (ceviche), which is spiced with “tabon tabon” (a fruit native to northern Mindanao). Local foodies claim their city’s “lechon baboy” (roasted pig), is the tastiest. They stuff it with lemongrass and other herbs and spices. “Adobo” in Zamboanga is made with “gata” (cream coconut) and “bulad” (dried fish). While popular everywhere in the country, it comes in a large amount of varieties in southern Mindanao.

  • Pampanga

    Dishes are sweet and cooked with fermented sugar, while shellfish is fermented in rice sauce. “Pinaupong manok” (a steamed chicken stuffed with vegetables) is a Pampanga specialty adored throughout the country.

  • Negros

    The flagship of Negros is “Inasal”, basically grilled or roasted chicken marinated in lemongrass, “achiote” (a peppery spice), calamansi (a Philiippine citrus fruit) and garlic. It has become something of a national dish and is most associated with Bacolod. In my opinion, it’s much better than Nando’s.

Philippines Food for Fiesta

Each village, town and city in the Philippines has its own fiesta celebrated on the feast day of its patron saint (in the Catholic calendar). Before, every household was expected to prepare local food and for anybody who appeared at the door. Today, food is still prepared but on a smaller scale, and only people who have been invited shows up at the buffet table.

The preparation on such occasions varies regionally, but expect meats are always present generally consisting of pork, beef and chicken dishes, sometimes fish and seafood are thrown in.

“Kaldereta” (beef or goat-meat stew), “igado” (stir-fried pork liver), fried chicken and of course the “lechon” (roast pig) are some of the dishes you can expect to find at a fiesta. Local delicacies like sweet rice cakes are served as dessert. Birthdays and other private parties are usually celebrated with a big plate of “pancit”.

Where to Eat & Drink

Although Filipinos love to eat out, you hardly ever need to book ahead for the trendiest restaurants in busy metros like Manila and Cebu. Here are the places where you can order food and drinks.

  • Restaurants

    Manila and bigger cities have knick of international and Filipino restaurants. You can best find them in the malls or busy areas of the city.

  • Food Parks

    These are wildly popular in almost every busy corner of Manila and also becoming a trend in the provinces.

  • Cafes

    International and Filipino coffee-shop chains are becoming more regular, serving coffee and light bites to office working Filipinos.

  • Markets

    An affordable way to get food if you love cooking. It is the best place to find local ingredients or sample regional delicacies.

  • Fast Food

    Fast-food chains are found everywhere.

  • Pubs & Bars

    It is always present in cities and beach resorts. In more rural areas, “karaoke” (KTV) bars may be the only source of nightlife.

Food Tours, Events, Destinations Around the Philippines

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Philippines Food for Vegetarians & Vegans

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’ll have a hard time eating out in this meat-mad country. It is hard to find soy-based products outside of Manila or Cebu, where Chinese merchants and restaurants sell soy milk, tofu etc. Beans in general is often not on the menu in the Philippines, hence getting adequate protein can be difficult. If you feel this is going to be a problem, then we advise that you stock up on these products before leaving the metropolis.

Drink Guide

Alcoholic Drinks

  • San Miguel Beer

    holds a virtual monopoly on the local beer market, though imported brands are also available. Red Horse is an extra-strong beer (7%) by San Miguel.
    price starts at around P30

  • Craft-beer

    In Manila and some resort areas, craft-beer breweries are becoming fashionable.

  • Tanduay Rum

    Drinkable (and very affordable) spirits such as Tanduay rum are produced domestically and available at convenience stores such as 7-Eleven.

  • Local Brews

    Local brews include basi (a sweet, port-like wine made from sugar cane juice) and tuba (a strong palm wine extracted from coconut flowers).

Non-alcoholic Drinks

  • Water

    To be safe, carry a water bottle and fill up on purified water at restaurants.

  • Coffee

    Decent ground coffee and espresso can be found in Manila and in nice resorts but more common is the three-in-one (coffee, cream and sugar) instant sachet variety. You can also find the best local blend in Benguet. Though Batangas is the coffee capital of the Philippines known for its "barako" coffee.

  • Carbonated Soft Drinks and Juices

    They are everywhere, as are fruit juices. Buko juice, is said to be good for holding off dehydration. It is young coconut juice with bits of translucent coconut meat floating in it.

  • Kalamansi

    The popular little local citrus known as calamansi or “kalamansi” is used to make a refreshing cordial or added to black tea.

Philippines Street Food

Filipinos’ love for food is exceptional. Despite three large meals, we still enjoy taking several snacks in between. This is where street food plays its part. Filipinos love having access to a quick bite anywhere, anytime. So does a great variety of street snacks have developed - some sweet, some savory, and some are just... odd.

In this street food adventure, we must first understand the word “tusok” (Tagalog word for poke). Most of the Filipino street foods are deep fried, eaten by taking a pointed skewer and “poking” or sticking it through the pieces, and then dipping it into your preferred sauce.

Here’s the most common Filipino street foods:

  • Fish Balls

  • Squid Balls

  • Kikiam

  • Kwek-Kwek

  • Isaw

  • Balunbalunan

  • Betamax

  • Helmet

  • Adidas

  • Halo-Halo

  • Taho

  • Sorbetes

  • Kakanin

  • Turon

Final Thoughts

This is only an introductory taste to all the different Filipino foods available. Needless to say, boiled rice is the centerpiece of any meal may it be fiesta, birthdays or ordinary days. Regular Filipinos eat rice everyday from the time they are able to eat solid food.

A piece of advice, when we travel we must aim to dive into the culture of the place and one of which is by eating local food. Understand the culture better through food and enjoy the experience.

And, along with the food, one of the most memorable parts of eating in the Philippines are the amazingly friendly people you’ll share your food with.

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Travel Resources

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Travel Checklist

Hazel Apuhin
Hazel Apuhin

If you can't find me in front of my laptop, I am out chasing for sunsets or having a little trek to the viewpoints. It is just nice to disconnect from online and reconnect to the nature. Nature never ceases to awe me. I started to work online (since 2015) to be able to travel farther and longer. And so I did.

How about you?
  • If you’re a newbie to travelling the Philippines, did you find this post helpful? What other things would you like to know about travelling longer or how to work online to sustain a travel lifestyle?

  • If you’re an experienced traveller or an online nomad reading this post, do you have any other ideas to contribute on how to start a work and travel lifestyle? We would love to hear them!

14 thoughts on “Philippines Food: The Ultimate Food Guide”

  1. Rattling nice style and excellent content , hardly anything else we require : D. Julienne Reece Madeleine

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  3. Your articles are for when it absolutely, positively, needs to be understood overnight. Cammy Em Khorma

  4. Wow so much international diversity, awesome post..
    Ilocos would go my taste as I love eggplants and veggie
    food. Fantastic, detailed post with book recommendations,
    I’m thrilled..

    1. hazel apuhin

      Thank you! If you like veggies or if you are a vegetarian, there are several vegetarian restos in the cities and metros. We do have tons of tropical fruits to fill your tummy when you are on the far fetched islands.

  5. dried jackfruit factory

    Does your website have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to send you an e-mail.
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    1. hazel apuhin

      I love milkfish too. I have been craving for it here in India. I love it grilled with stuffed tomatoes and onions. Yum!

      1. Thankyou for sharing this! I’ve never had Filipino food and wouldn’t know where to start. This post is super helpful, I’m inspired to give it a try now!

        Shayla |

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