A Foodie’s Guide to Travelling the Philippines
The Philippines’ thousands of different islands and the country’s diverse history have ensured that Filipino cuisine is some of the most interesting in Asia. Influences from Spanish colonisation, nearby Asian neighbours and more recently, American and other Western styles have ensured that Filipino food is distinct and most certainly flavourful.
Unfortunately for Filipino chefs though, this is a country that is better known for its sandy beaches and clear water than it is for the culinary opportunities awaiting foodies. But while the negative reputation amongst travellers for the weird, local love of corned beef, greasy fast food and unfortunately bland recipes might be true to an extent, give the ever-improving culinary scene in the Philippines a chance and you can be rewarded with some of the most intriguing dishes in Asia.
From hearty Filipino breakfasts to freshly grilled seafood barbecues and plates of crispy pork, here’s our foodie’s guide to travelling in the Philippines.
Start your day in the Philippines with a Filipino-style breakfast. Across the country, breakfast involves garlic rice, meat and eggs. This popular breakfast combo can include a huge variety of Filipino meats, and it’s a carb and protein heavy way to fuel up for the start of a long day of adventuring. Try out the variety, from the strangely delicious Cornsilog - Corned beef, rice and eggs - to the more traditional Tapsilog, which includes a hefty portion of beef, alongside rice and eggs. Anything with the ending ‘silog’ is going to be breakfast, and it’s going to be served with rice and eggs.
Adobo is one of the Philippines’ most well-known specialities and it could well be the primary contender for the country’s national dish. Adobo is a thick, dark sauce of vinegar, garlic and other seasonings which is used to coat pieces of chicken or pork. The dish is cooked slowly, allowing the delicious flavours of the distinctive sauce to really seep into the meat.
Lechon was famously described by the late Anthony Bourdain as ‘The Best Pig, Ever!’ This is slow cooked pork at its finest, with the whole pig roasted over hot coals for hours until the meat is tender and the outside is crispy, crispy crackling. One of the best places to try Lechon in the Philippines is in Cebu City. Be sure to dip the pork in gravy or vinegar for an authentic tasting experience.
Sisig is all the leftover parts of an animal that is served up sizzling on a hot plate with an egg cracked into the middle of it. It might not sound so tempting, but actually, it’s outrageously addictive, because the chilis and spices add a level of flavour that’s completely unexpected. Traditionally, Sisig is made from unwanted parts of a pig, but these days, you can find all kinds of varieties of experimental Sisig across the country. The city of Angeles, north of Manila, is known as one of the best places in the Philippines to try really authentic Sisig.
Kare-Kare is another Filipino dish that from the recipe might not seem so appealing. This thick, stew-like creation makes use of the offal, the intestines and all the other not-so-delicious sounding parts of a cow. Mix in some fresh vegetables and leave the ingredients to stew for hours slowly in a unique peanut flavoured sauce and you have one of the heartiest foods in the country.
Sinigang is a sour soup that has long been popular across the many islands of the Philippines. While the most common ingredient is pork, you can find regional variations across the different islands, many of which use seafood instead. Add in vegetables, spices and the sour tamarind, and you have the unusual concept of a sour and savoury soup.
The unusual Filipino snack known simply as Balut is one of the reasons why the country’s culinary scene gets a bad reputation from some travellers. Locals might love it, but for many foreigners, eating Balut is more of an experience than a delight. Take a semi-formed duck embryo, boil it, and then eat it straight from the shell. This is a Filipino delicacy, that is really not for everyone.
Being a country of thousands of islands, it’s no surprise that the Philippines does seafood rather well. When you are hanging out on one of the many beaches or taking an island-hopping trip, then the locals will be serving up fresh seafood, and it will be barbecued over hot coals. You can find everything from Snapper to crabs and huge prawns and it all goes down best with a cold drink or refreshing cocktail on a white sand beach.
At some point in your travels around the Philippines, you may find yourself at the mercy of a Boodle Fight. This unique Filipino tradition is a giant feast, and there’s likely to be more food than you could ever want to eat in one sitting arrayed on banana leaves and stacked on rice on the table in front of you. The name Boodle Fight comes from the fact that soldiers would have to fight for their food if they wanted to eat because army meals were one giant free for all. There are no knives or forks, and you simply grab the rice, the meat or the fish with your bare hands before everyone else does.
The Philippines’ most loved desert is the deliciously extravagant Halo-Halo. In English, this translates as Mix-Mix, because this is a beautiful mix of all things sweet, including multiple flavours of ice cream, milk, jelly, fruit and even nuts and beans. Almost anything can go into a Halo-Halo, and it’s likely to be different everywhere you might try it.
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Jollibee is a Filipino institution that is slowly spreading across the world. Wherever you have large expat Filipino communities, eventually, a Jollibee will pop up. This is the country’s number one fast food joint and although you might be thinking that a trip to the Philippines should see you trying all the local fare, Jollibee is actually about as local as it gets. They serve up an intriguing mixture of Jolly Burgers, Jolly Spaghetti, Fried Chicken and other fast-food favourites.
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