Filipino Food Bible: What to Eat and Drink

For any traveler arriving in the Philippines with the foodie disease, this is your bible. When it comes to eating local cuisine, we intensely question everyone we meet, from hostel-owners to passers-by, taxi drivers to locals alike, all so you don’t have to. With fresh seafood galore and a near-unhealthy obsession with swine, Filipino cooks consistently knock it out of the park, and it’s so damn delicious. Wash it all down with a Red Horse or a fresh-squeezed, ice-cold glass of sugarcane juice and you’re in business.

Chicken Adobo

Eat:
1. Adobo. Soy-stewed chicken or beef. Must be the national dish because it’s everywhere.
2. Sisig. Sizzling, of course. Pork ears and fat stewed to perfection served over rice. Wow.
3. Pinakbet. Veggies stewed in fish paste.
4. Lechon. For those who worship bacon, Lechon is your new god. Do not leave without trying it. Word is it’s best in Cebu but you’ll find it everywhere.
5. Kare-Kare. Oxtail, fatty as fatty gets, stewed in a beef broth-infused peanut sauce.
6. Lumpia. Philippine egg rolls. A staple.
7. Bangus (rellenong). Had this less-fishy sardine on our last day and it became my favorite dish. Smoky, salty, and soaked in olive oil. Simple dishes do it again. Try it at ‘Lola’s Best’ in Makati, Manila.
8. Diniguan. Pork stewed in it’s own blood. Not as gruesome as you think and really nice. Even Erin liked it.
9. Crispy Pata. Another pork dish not worth missing. Fatty, fried chunks dipped in chilied soy. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
10. Ube. Purple yam used in every dessert possible. Sweet and abundant.
11. Adobong Pusit. Squid stewed in it’s own black ink. In-freaking-credible.
12. Halo-Halo. Translates to mix-mix. Basically a hodge-podge of Asian desserts covered with sweet condensed milk, sugar, and ube ice cream.
13. Lapu Lapu. Another local white fish that is flaky, firm, and wonderful.
14. Taho. Soft tofu covered with sugar water and tapioca.
15. Buko Pie. Coconut meat in a pie.

Balot

16. Buko Vinegar Sauce. This will be a staple in my cupboard for the rest of my life.  Pour over rice, meat or just drink it.  It’s that good.
17. Beef Tapa. Stewed-then-sautéed beef strips typically served at breakfast with an over easy egg and garlic rice. Probably ordered this at least a dozen times.
18. Garlic Rice. Last nights leftover white rice fried up with some veggie oil and an ample amount of garlic. You’re more likely to wake to this smell than anything else.

and last but not least,

19.  Balot.  A half fertilized duck’s egg.  Crack and peel the top, add some salt and drink the juice first.  Peel more, add more salt and dig in.  The secret, apparently, is to close your eyes or be filled to the brim with Tanduay so you don’t notice what you’re sinking your teeth into!

Drink:

Beer
San Miguel holds the monopoly on beer and it’s OK. Pale pilsener is the standard and you can also opt for light. When available, we skipped both and went with Red Horse, SMG’s more tasteful pilsener, priced equally, but with 7% alcohol. You can even buy them in liter-plus sizes to share. A cheaper, more tasteful, higher-gravity nightcap? Yes, please. Better make it two.

The Best Beer in the Philippines

Booze
Tanduay! The local rum and given the abundance of sugarcane, it’s cheap (less than $2 per 750ml) and tasty. I like it straight but even the locals think that’s loco loco, and prefer to mix it with–you guessed it–good ‘ol Coca-Cola. Add calimansi, the local lime, and it’s Cuba Libre’s for a party of 5 all night at a $1 a head.

If rum’s not your thing, Ginebra, local Gin, is also popular. Mix it with pomelo juice and you are in for a treat. Sip slow though, it packs a mean punch.

Sin-Free
Mango shakes rule our world and often made up our merienda, an afternoon snack. Philippine mangoes are world-renowned for their sweet flavor so the shake doesn’t need much sugar to make you happy.

Calimansi juice is always good too, but request less sugar because in typical sweet-toothed Filipino fashion, they overdo it.

Sugarcane Juice is ridiculously good and is often found fresh-squeezed. It boasts many health benefits as well.

Tuba, pronounced with a lot more flare than our giant bassy brass, tooo-baaahhh, is not only fun to say, it’s delicious too. It’s young coconut (buko) juice but only has a shelf-life of 8 hours before fermenting and being turned into vinegar. Tuba is hard to come by so when you do find it, drink up, it may be your last chance.

The wild thing is this list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cuisine of the Philippines.  The further you get from the main cities in the 7,100 island archipelago, the more local flavors you’re going to find.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  For those at home, Yelp Philippines for your food and enjoy!

Felicitous Filipinos

After two layovers in NYC and Hong Kong, we arrived in the Philippines during a rain storm, but tried to be accepting of the seven-day dreary forecast. After all, it was wet season and we had packed new raincoats to break in. But the egg shell colored sky was a steep contrast to the general mood of humanity in Manila. In the taxi, upbeat English tunes streamed as loudly as the occasional horn toot and our driver sported a perma-grin, visible to us in the rear view mirror. Men in rain capes sped past us on mopeds and people dashed for cover by scurrying into jeepneys, budget transport military-style jeeps with two long benches.

From the Philippinos we know and love in the USA, we had an inclination that this country would have a high happy factor. But we had to believe the weather would definitely put that idea to the test.

Beef tapa is a slightly sweet, marinated beef often served with garlic rice and an egg for breakfast.

After taking a nap, which turned into a 17-hour jet lag coma, the clock struck 4 am and we were rarin’ to explore. By 6 am we had breakfasted, showered and planned our day in Manila. When we arrived at the front desk with a note pad and pen to jot down directions to Intramuros, the oldest district of the city, and to record a few tourist tips, the hostel owner pegged us as European tourists. We took that as a compliment and bolted to his first restaurant suggestion, Tapa King, for our second breakfast. (Hey, the first one was practically a midnight snack!)

More smiling faces welcomed us into this fast-food establishment. Garlic rice, marinated sweet beef and an over-easy egg was served in a bowl with vinegar and other sauces as condiments.

We strolled through Rizal Park’s gardens and came upon numbers of homeless camps along Roxas Blvd. We learned that there is even a content attitude among the very poor, with the passive Philippino philosophy, “Bahala Na,” meaning whatever will be, will be or leave it to God.

Pollution from moped taxis called tricycles mixed with the stifling air and our lungs reminded us it was time for a rest. Among 16th century town walls and ornate cathedrals, we ducked into an Intramuros cafe for a $.25 Sprite. Bowl cuts and bobby pins abounded. School had just recessed and students snacked on adobo and pinakbet and at the Philippino buffet. But this scene lacked the chatter of children as all heads turned up to view a small television screen suspended in the dark corner.
Basketball.
This is one sport that makes the already joyous Philippino hearts leap and faces beam.

 

Jason pedals the pedi taxi driver around for a role reversal.

After getting denied entrance to Intramuros’ ancient cathedral due to my sleeveless shirt, we decided to head somewhere with no dress code: China Town won that bid. A pedi taxi driver, a scrawny guy on a bicycle pedaling an attached dinged-up side cart, offered to cycle us there for 100 pesos (US$2.50) We’ve never felt heavier and looked out on the man with such pity that we decided Jason should get out and pu

sh at one point on a slight incline. The driver enjoyed this gesture and committed to displaying it with a belly laugh. Toward the end, it was my turn to hop out and Jason tried the mode of transport himself by pedaling the taxi driver around. The man chuckled and waved to passersby. Such a fun spirit these people have.

Throughout the next few days we were given free rides, taken to country clubs, brought specialty food that we may not have ordered but that we just “had to try,” and ended up feeling like the funniest people in the world. Laughter, innocent jokes and an all-around kind spirit hung in the humid air of Manila. We wished to bottle up these spirits and uncork in places with less pleasant demeanor. So we committed to partaking in a bit of Philippino humor during tough future situations. We’ll let you know how that one goes!

Next stop: The islands!