Filipino Food: 15 Dishes From the Heart of the Philippines

Whether you’re heading on a vacation to South East Asia, or you’re just looking for inspiration to cook up your own Filipino feast at home, there are hundreds if not thousands of tasty dishes you can enjoy.

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Filipino street food is legendary with lumpia, leche flan, puto bumbong, and if you're lucky it's wrapped in a banana leafThis isn't the food you find in a typical Filipino restaurant.

Some are very similar to those found in US and European cultures, for instance, whereas others are quite distinctive to Asia and may seem a little off-putting at first.

Depending on how brave you are, it might well be worth pushing yourself to try some of the weirder and more wonderful meals we’ve discussed, especially if you consider yourself to have a broad and refined palate!

Check out the following fifteen cultural favorites we’ve outlined for you to read about, but remember that the world is your oyster, or if you’re Filipino, you might say Balut: these are not the limit, and there’s plenty more to try and taste out there.

Lechon

The entire roasted pig is a celebratory meal in many cultures, but especially in the Philippines where it is a national dish. It can be prepared in two ways, known as Visayas Lechon and Luzon Lechon respectively.

You prepare a Visayan Lechon by stuffing it with herbs, traditionally bay leaves, scallions, salt, garlic, black peppercorn, and lemongrass, or tanglad.

Using charcoal made from coconut husks, the pig is cooked until crispy and served with salt, vinegar, and possibly some silimansi, a Filipino combination of soy sauce, labuyo chili, and calamansi.

Conversely, a Luzon Lechon would not be stuffed with herbs - if anything, you might use a little bit of salt and pepper. It is flavored with a Lechon sauce instead, a treat made from a mashed liver spread mixed with vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, onions brown sugar, and breadcrumbs, then roasted over a wood fire.

Adobo

When Spain colonized the Philippines, the Spaniards responsible brought many foods with them, Adobo included. The word itself actually refers to a method of marinading raw food in a sauce made using garlic, paprika, vinegar oregano, and salt.

This is done to cure and enhance the flavor - the Spaniards christened an entirely different, indigenous Filipino variant of cooking involving vinegar with the same name, which strangely enough remains in place today.

Other ingredients used in this version include soy sauce, patis (fish sauce), bay leaves, and black peppercorns. It is typically used as a marinade for chicken or pork, but also vegetables including kangkong (water spinach) and sitaw (green beens).

The only similarities, really, between the Spanish and the Filipino dish, are the fact that vinegar and garlic are both used; in the Philippines, Adobo is distinctly salty and sour, often with notes of sweetness, where the Spanish dish is a spicy one.

Bulalo

A light-colored soup made using beef shanks and bone marrow, Bulalo is a delectable dish originating from the Southern Luzon region, specifically in Cavite and Batangas, where they use freshly slaughtered beef from the provincial farms.

Though it’s served piping hot, it’s enjoyed in all weathers, and it can be picked up from all manner of restaurants and street vendors.

The collagen and fat from the bones melt into a delightful broth, which is mixed with the meat and added vegetables including pechay (cabbage), scallions, garlic, fish sauce, onions and ginger. You may also use taro (a root vegetable), carrots or potatoes if you wish.

Laing

Speaking of taro, this is a dish popular in the region of Bicol, where it is also known as pinangat; Laing consists of taro leaves, served either whole or shredded depending on the region, cooked with seafood or meat in gata, decadently thick coconut milk which has been heavily spiced.

It is traditionally prepared using pre-cooked, cubed shrimp, fish flakes, or pork, sometimes all three, which are paired with bagoong alamang (shrimp paste)
lemongrass, shallots, garlic, labuyo chili, and ginger, as well as kakang gata, a coconut cream.

The mixture is wrapped into the leaf and then tied with twine, before being steamed in gata and a knot of tanglad (lemongrass) for seasoning - this is done until the pouches feel tender when prodded to a fork and the gata has been thickened up nicely into a lovely sauce.

You may also hear it referred to as ginataang laing, as it is a form of ginataan, which is a word that means Filipino dishes that have been prepared using coconut milk.

Pancit Palabok

In the Philippines, pancit refers to round rice noodles, as well as any dishes that are prepared using noodles, which were first brought to Filipino culture by Chinese immigrants and then integrated into traditional recipes.

Pancit Palabok, in particular, is often served at birthday celebrations, made using the eponymous rice noodles, which are usually cooked in a golden orange shrimp sauce.

They are then topped with a variety of ingredients, including boiled pork, shrimp, crushed chicharon (pork rinds), tinapa (smoked fish) flakes, chopped hard-boiled eggs, garlic, and scallions.

There are hundreds of other pancit dishes to try, all of which feature different meats, vegetables, seasonings, spices, and sauces. Each belongs to a different location or province, so will be popular in a certain area of the Philipines.

Adobung Kamaru

A culinary classic in the Philippines, this one might make you feel a little squeamish, but it’s also absolutely a dish that adventurous foodies should put at the top of their “to try” list. It usually comes as an appetizer at quite a few local restaurants.

In Filipino cuisine, kamaru refers to mole crickets - it is a bug-based delicacy that sounds far more intimidating than it actually is. Especially popular in Pampanga, the wings and legs of the crickets have been removed to make them easier on the teeth!

Combined with labuyo chili with salt, pepper, and tomatoes with sauteed garlic and onion, thoroughly washed kamaru are then simmered for around five minutes before some vinegar is added and boiled off for some sharp acidic flavor.

Affordable and highly simplistic yet very tasty, even if it’s not your sort of thing, it’s important not to be disrespectful of a culture’s dishes, so simply steer clear and avoid making negative comments, lest you offend any natives in earshot.

Betute

Another dish with history in Pampanga, Betute actually originated as a specialty dish there. This one also may sound a little strange, but it consists of rice field frogs being stuffed with minced pork and then deep-fried until crisp and delicious.

Other seasonings added to the pork blend include salt, pepper, garlic and onions. Like kamaru, it’s easy to prepare with minimal effort and few ingredients, but tastes great and is also considered a little bit of a delicacy.

Try not to be too snobby about it - after all, France did it first when they started serving frogs’ legs! Again, it’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but nobody’s making you eat it - you asked for suggestions!

Chicken Inasal

Typically just referred to as inasal, you may be pleased to hear that this is a chicken-based dish, popularised in the Visayas, especially Bacolod city, which has a huge street food market devoted to local dishes, including Chicken Inasal.

To prepare this, chicken is marinated in coconut vinegar, pepper, calamansi (Philippine lemon/lime) and annatto (a peppery seasoning) then cooked over hot coals whilst being continually re-basted with this tasty sauce.

Once cooked, it is served up with rice, more calamansi, chicken oil, soy sauce, and sanamak vinegar, a distinctive form of the acidic condiment that has been further infused with chili peppers, langkawas (a type of ginger), and garlic.

Tapa

Generally speaking, in Filipino cuisine Tapa refers to a cured or dried mutton, venison, beef, or horse meat, though you might also find it used with other meat and occasionally fish.

It is prepared using especially thin slices of meat, which are cured with salt and spices, typically including soy sauce, calamansi juice, minced garlic, brown sugar, and of course a bit of salt and pepper.

Combining tapa of any kind with sinangag (a garlic fried rice) and itlog (fried egg) makes one delightful breakfast meal known as Tapislog. There are many restaurants across the Philippines that serve only tapa, usually called tapsihan, tapahan, or tapsilugan, though the latter are slang terms.

The popularity of this dish across the whole of the Philippines meanest that it is also sold at various fast-food restaurants across the nation, as well as appearing on the breakfast menus of various hotel chains there.

Pinakbet

An indigenous food hailing from Northern regions, Pinakbet, which is often referred to as pinak bet or pakbet in other areas, is simply a variety of vegetables that are sauteed in either a shrimp or fish-based sauce.

Traditionally, you’ll find ampalaya (a kind of bitter melon) is the base of the dish, but other veggies utilized are tomatoes, chili peppers, eggplants, okra, green beans, and root crops, as well as beans such as kadios, camote and patani.

A word derived from the original Ilokano (a Filipino language) pinakebbet which translates as shriveled or shrunken, the vegetables are cooked down until they are nearly dried out.

You will typically find that they are cooked up in bagoong, a fermented fish paste made from monamon, though you might see bagoong alamang used elsewhere.

Since a lot of the veggies used in Pinakbet are grown in the gardens of many Ilocano households, it’s a very accessible dish, as well as being simple to prepare and using only a couple of dishes.

Sinigang

In the mood for a stew or soup? Consider Sinigang, an incredibly popular yet sour Filipino dish usually flavored with sampalok (tamarind), though you might utilize lemons, grapefruits, or other sour leaves and fruits to bring this distinctive and important taste.

Taken from the Tagalog word sigang which means “to stew”, it will typically feature pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, or other seafood, which is then stewed up with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and whatever sour ingredients the chef has chosen.

Common extra additions include taro, okra, radish, water spinach and eggplant; the majority of Filipinos will add green long peppers to their Sinigang too, which adds some zest and spice for an enhanced flavor.

There are plenty of variations on Sinigang regionally, including Sinigang sa miso, which as the name suggests, uses miso to bring a savory umami flavor, typically paired with tamarind.

Other popular swapsies includes Sinigang sa bayabas which lends guava for its sour fruit, as well as Sinigang sa mangga, a dish soured up using unripe mango. That’s one way to get rid of fruits you don’t need!

Crispy Pata

Back to dishes that you might not immediately want to try and we have crispy pata, which is a deep-fried pig knuckle served alongside a dip made with soy sauce and vinegar. Sounds unusual, but there is a very similar German dish known as Schewinshaxe!

The trotters are slit open in three places and then placed in a deep casserole dish alongside a handful of bay leaves, salt, garlic, and black peppercorns, which is then filled with water until the pork has been completely covered.

This combination of ingredients is brought to a boil and should then simmer for approximately an hour, maybe more and maybe less - when it feels nice and tender if you jab it with a fork, then you’re probably done with this first step.

All of the pork is then removed and allowed to cool down, before being completely dried using paper towels. Then it will be thoroughly seasoned with more salt, pepper, and garlic, before being secured in saran wrap and frozen until the next day.

Although it’s a lengthy process, it’s absolutely worth the wait: once done in the freezer, the knuckles will then be deep-fried (from frozen, which is very convenient) until crispy, golden brown and delicious.

As mentioned before, they’re usually served up with a dipping sauce made with sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, and other seasonings to taste, which vary depending on the region. It’s essentially a slab of tender pork meat, coated in crispy crackling.

Kare-Kare

Not a dish for anybody with nut allergies, or the faint of heart, Kare-Kare refers to a peanut curry that hails from the Philippines - in fact, the Filipino word for curry itself is kare, whilst saying it twice refers specifically to a combination of curry and curd.

You’ll usually found it made with oxtail, beef tripe, pork, cow’s feet, pig’s knuckles, other cuts of pork, and possibly stewed beef, offal, or ox tripe. That said, you might also find Kare-Kare with seafood like squid, mussels, or prawns, as well as a vegetarian version known as Kare-kareng gulay.

A veggie-friendly kare-kare might contain Chinese cabbage, daikon, eggplant, green beans, asparagus, or okra - though you can also find meat variations with these veggies added as well.

Flavorful and savory, the sauce is derived from roasted peanuts that are ground and combined with peanut butter, garlic and onions, using annatto for color. If you like it thick, you can add some toasted or plain ground rice for a little something extra.

Naturally, that’s not the only seasoning present: also added are bagoong (shrimp paste), chili, calamansi juice, salt, and pepper. If you’re celebrating a Filipino fiesta, then someone will definitely have whipped up a big old batch of kare-kare!

The origins of this dish are contentious - many believe it hails from Pampanga, which isn’t surprising as it is referred to by many as the “culinary capital” of the Philippines. That said, it’s also believed to have come from Indian sepoys who immigrated to and settled in the Philippines when Britain was occupying Manila.

It is often likened to satay dishes, as both are curry-based sauces that are made using peanuts.

Bagnet

Simply called chicharon in Ilocos, Bagnet is a Filipino dish made with liempo (pork belly) that is seasoned with bay leaves, salt, black pepper, and garlic, then boiled and dried overnight before deep frying, very similar to the method of preparing Crispy Pata explained above.

Either eaten as a standalone dish or paired up with some plain white rice, you might also find it in a Pinakbet, though it is often eaten as is and dipped in vinegar-based sauces, often bagoong, the popular fermented shrimp paste in many of the other tasty treats we’ve listed.

Interestingly enough, bagnets became a popular culture reference in the Filipino movie I’m Drunk, I Love You: the movie’s protagonist Carson regularly craves this dish, so much so, she makes up her own “bagnet dance” in order to celebrate the enjoyment she experiences from eating them.

Again, the important part of mastering this dish is ensuring the pork has been sufficiently dried out overnight after boiling, as otherwise the exterior won’t end up nearly as crispy as you’d want it to be.

Balut

And last, but by absolutely no means least, we have Balut. We’ve saved this one for the final dish because it’s somewhat controversial and may have put you off reading through the rest of the list. Let’s just bite the bullet and get straight to the point.

Often spelled as Balot, this dish is a fertilized bird egg, usually a duck, that contains a still-developing embryo, which is then boiled and eaten as it is, directly from the shell. It is a difficult dish to convince newbies to try because often the baby chicken can be clearly and distinctively seen.

First introduced to the Philippines by Chinese immigrants a couple of centuries ago, it became a pretty significant part of Filipino culture, despite the continued questioning of the ethics of eating this food.

The ducks have usually been incubated for between two and three weeks, depending on the culture of the local area, before they are steamed and then eaten. If left to develop for longer periods, more distinct features of the duckling can be picked out, as well as the presence of under-developed bones, which are still soft enough to chew.

Traditionally, the eggs of a mallard duck are believed to be the best and most important method of enjoying this delicacy, which is a very commonly sold street food across the whole of the Philippines and in other parts of the world.

Though you might find it disgusting, it is arguably an excellent source of both protein and calcium that can be picked up relatively cheaply. Many will add chili, vinegar, and salt, or a combination of these, to season their eggs.

To eat one correctly, you must sip out the broth that surrounds the embryo, before peeling off the shell and consuming the entire thing, as all of its contents are edible. It’s possible that depending on the age the egg was matured to, you might wish to dispose of the albumen, which can become rubbery and unpleasant to eat after a while.

Cassie Marshall
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