The Philippines – a destination in South East Asia that is criminally underrated and often looked past for more popular beach spots in Thailand and Indonesia! Well, it’s the Philippines time to shine now, as seen by the increasing number of tourists flocking to Boracay island and Manila every year.
The best thing about the Philippines in our opinion? The vast array of colourful local dishes and the stunning flavours that they promise. If you’re a foodie to the core and want something a little different from the usual gravy and mash, the Pearl of the Orient is the perfect destination for you.
Clari Health has compiled a list of ten iconic dishes that you shouldn’t miss out on when you head down to the Philippines for your holiday – so start planning your own food trail now for the best possible Filipino experience!
Adobo has retained its status as the iconic dish of the Philippines because aside from being flavourful and satisfying, it’s also versatile. If you prefer chicken, you can go for the chicken version of this dish and if you’re a pork lover, you can opt for Pork Adobo. The catchy name of the dish comes from the Spanish word “adobar”, which means to marinate.
The pork or chicken is marinated in soya sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and a whole assortment of ingredients that’ll make your taste buds tingle when put together. You can find almost every restaurant and food vendor selling Adobo in the Philippines so take the chance during your holiday to gorge yourself on this delicious dish.
Despite its cutesy sounding name, this Asian twist on oxtail stew packs a punch with its incredible richness. The secret ingredient? Peanut butter. Not the most conventional of stews, but the oxtail, tripe and any other meat of choice blends with the rich peanut sauce to create a unique amalgamation of flavours.
To round the dish out, vegetables like long beans are also added in. If you’re looking to feast on Asian takes on popular Western dishes, this stew is the one for you. Served with shrimp paste and rice, it’ll make you scratch your head and wonder why you haven’t experimented with peanut butter in your stews back home.
Before you put your hands up and back away, remember that food is an experience and if you’re up for the whole Filipino experience, there’s no better way to go about it than tucking into Balut from a street vendor in the Philippines. A common source of horror to some and fascination to others, this dish comprises a boiled duck egg in which there is broth, yolk and a tiny duck foetus.
Not your typical tea-time snack, we know, but it has gotten rave reviews from many tourists who initially balked at the idea of tucking into a partially formed duckling. Eaten straight from the shell, you can use the broth as a buffer before you go for the main attraction – the vaguely formed duck foetus. Once you’ve had Balut, you can proudly say you’ve enjoyed the full Filipino experience.
No, the names of all Filipino dishes aren’t this catchy. If you’re not a particularly brave or adventurous eater and you balk at the thought of Balut, you can go for its tamer and more palatable cousin, Kwek-Kwek. Comprising a quail egg that’s smothered in an orange concoction comprising flour, baking powder and food colouring, this tiny sphere-shaped dish is one of the street food fan favourites of tourists and locals alike.
It can be enjoyed fuss-free while you’re strolling down the streets of Manila or as a snack while you’re having a beer since it can be popped into your mouth with the help of a tiny wooden stick. For additional flavour, Kwek-Kwek can also be dipped in gravy or vinegar before being eaten.
Almost every South East Asian country has its own take on sweet sticky rice, but the Filipino version is particularly refreshing. Biko is a concoction made of sticky rice, brown sugar and the ingredient that is at the foundation of the dish – coconut milk. Huge squares or rectangles of this dish are served atop banana leaves and for some extra indulgence, sticky coconut milk residue that’s been cooked till it’s golden brown is lathered on top of the Biko.
If you’re looking for a tea-time snack that won’t ruin your appetite for dinner but is indulgent and satisfying in its own right, look no further. If you happen to be invited to a gathering or a birthday party or just any event of importance in the Philippines, expect to see these sweet treats on the buffet table.
6. Lechon Manok
It’s back to the basics with this roast chicken dish, but basics have never seemed more appetising. What’s unique about the Filipino take on roast chicken is that the marinated chicken is spit-roasted to guarantee a burst of flavour and juiciness every time you bite into a piece. The resulting chicken tastes nothing like the rotisserie chicken that you’ve had a lot of and is instead tender, smoky and simply delicious.
Stuffed with lemon grass, onions, bay leaves, ginger, garlic and then seasoned with calamansi juice and fish sauce, this dish will leave you in the best kind of daze. You can get portions of Lechon Manok from street food vendors in the many cities or towns and enjoy it with Atchara (pickled green papaya) and lechon sauce (a mix of liver, spices, breadcrumbs, sugar and vinegar) on the side.
7. Ube Ice Cream
If you have an incurable sweet tooth or if you visit the Philippines when it’s burning up, you should treat yourself to some of this delicious ice cream. A treat for the eyes and the tongue, this vividly purple ice cream is well-known and loved by Filipinos for its light and refreshing flavour. Its purple colour comes from Ube – a tuber or yam that’s less widely known than taro, but which is used commonly in the Philippines as a staple.
Some takes on this dish include coconut milk, which adds even more flavour, but if you want to enjoy it just as it is, go ahead and tuck in! If you’re feeling particularly indulgent or if you’re back from a long hike, you can even enjoy an Ube ice cream sandwich with sweet bread.
Batchoy is commonly known as a Filipino comfort food so if it’s raining hard during your trip to Manila or if you’re just looking for something warm and hearty to feast on after a long, tiring day, go for this pork noodle soup. Originating from La Paz in Ilo Ilo, the dish was introduced by Chinese traders and quickly gained popularity with the locals, who then adapted it to suit their own palate. The result is a delicious broth that brings together the best of both cultures – Chinese and Filipino.
The springy egg noodles aren’t the highlight of the dish, but do a pretty good job in complementing and soaking up the rich soup. Pork innards, slices and pig blood are what give Batchoy its distinctive flavours and the ginger-heavy broth that they simmer in is a perfect complement to the meat. For a more tangy flavour, fish sauce is also added to the dish, so prepare yourself for its uniquely Filipino taste.
9. Lumpiang Sariwa
Filipino food is generally hearty, filling and worth every calorie, but surely there’ll be days during your trip when you’d want to opt for something fresh, healthy and simple. Lumpiang Sariwa, which is known to tourists as fresh spring or egg rolls, give you the light flavour that you may prefer on some occasions without being overwhelming. Vegetables are usually used as the filling, but there also versions which use shrimp or varieties of meat.
The classically Filipino fish sauce as well as black pepper are used to season the filling. The wrapper for the rolls, on the other hand, is made primarily of eggs, with an addition of flour. In other takes of this dish, heart of palm may also be used for the wrapper and the rolls may even be fried – but you can opt for this lighter version of the dish which is incredibly fresh and treat yourself and your loved ones.
10. Pancit Bihon
A simple dish that can be found in virtually every corner of Filipino cities, Pancit Bihon and its numerous variations are crowd-favourites because they’re so cheap and satisfying. The dish, which consists of noodles stir-fried with meat or seafood, vegetables, oyster sauce and soy sauce among a variety of other ingredients, is the dish that can be served on any kind of occasion – parties, work meetings and even weddings.
If you’re looking to eat within a budget during your holiday or if you’re simply have a huge appetite and are hardly ever satiated, this dish will do the job for you. Greasy carbs will never go out of trend, whether it’s pizza in the West or Pancit in the Philippines, so knock yourself out. The dish won’t burn a hole in your pocket and will fill you up adequately. You may even want to consider it for breakfast if you’re going to have a long and tiring day ahead of you.
These are our top ten dishes, but you’ll find hundreds more that you’ll thoroughly enjoy when you do go on that holiday to the Philippines. Remember, always practice discretion when consuming food and drink from street vendors and as a rule of thumb, make sure that the food is freshly cooked and hot before you consume it.
This is a good way to avoid traveller’s diarrhoea, food poisoning and even more serious illnesses like typhoid. Also stick to bottled water or drinks that are served hot, like tea or coffee. To avoid contracting food or water-borne illnesses like cholera, make an appointment with us well before your trip so that we can recommend you vaccines that’ll keep you safe and protected and provide you with relevant travel health advice.