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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
“You feel good?” Erin replied, only to make certain she had heard me correctly. The comment had, after all, come after a long silence.
We were in our second jeepney of the morning, this time in the front seat, bouncing and swerving our way up to Tagaytay (tah-guy-tie), a cool mountain retreat famous for it’s views of Lake Taal below and for being a religious epicenter; it was the Vatican of the Philippines before tourism set in.
“Yes, I feel good. I needed this,” was my reply.
“You needed another jeepney ride?” Erin half-jested.
Our morning had started early–Grandma Maggie early–thanks to several days of overcoming jet lag which basically consisted of 5 to 7-hour naps midday. Starting with a jeepney to the central transport area of Manila followed by an hour of trying to locate the correct bus, hawks attempting to pull us in every direction and a 30-minute wait in a van that never departed, we were bound for Maryridge convent where we’d be spending the night soaking in Mother Nature and being served authentic home-cooked meals. The recommendation for this retreat had come from Ronald, one of five proprietors of Our Melting Pot, a non-profit hostel centered in Manila with the goal of spreading positive and sustainable tourism throughout the Philippines. Ronald could sense we would appreciate this type of retreat the night prior, where he accompanied us to dinner, because we had insisted on trying local Filipino cuisine.
Imagine a small lake within the world’s smallest erupted volcano. Next to it is another small, but active volcano, that canceled our plans to hike to the small lake, where you can take mineral baths in the sulfuric water. “Too dangerous,” says a local. These two volcanoes are sitting in a lake that is nestled in what is the crater of a much larger erupted volcano. Perched on the edge of this volcano’s crater, is Maryridge convent, a nature-lovers paradise complete with exotic flowers and plants, sweeping views, and the constant harmonious hum of cicadas, tree frogs, and tukos.
“Nah,” I jabbed back, “I feel good because of the adventure and excitement of it all.” We were passing pineapple farms, left and right, roadside stands selling coconuts, bananas, and of course, pineapple, while we steadily climbed up to paradise.
Moments like these are what drive us. The uncertainty of departure let alone arrival, the fumbling-around with a new language, and the smiles we receive for trying. The chance encounter with a vendor of meat and pigs head, only because we stopped and asked for directions. The jeepney driver who laughs at us as we try to pronounce good morning in Tagalog, magandang umaga,–the good-natured attempt that created the bond that would land us the locals rate on the final tricycle ride to the front door of the convent. The three-hour journey that would take one with a car.