The Philippines is probably one of the most popular destinations in South-East Asia. Roughly eight million tourists visited the Philippines in 2019 and they spent more than $11 billion inside the country.
There is no doubt that the beaches and culture are the main reasons for this, but Filipino food is another big draw. The Philippines offers numerous culinary experiences, combining Asian and European influences for truly unique flavors.
Traditional Filipino Food
When you are in the Philippines it can be difficult to know what to order and know exactly what all the dishes are. The most common questions are:
What are the most popular dishes in the Philippines?What are the best meat and vegetable dishes with Filipino ingredients?What should you order if you like stews and desserts?
Answer these questions and you can broaden your horizons by sampling the cuisine of one extraordinary country. Here are 20 spectacular dishes from the Philippines.
1. Chicharon (Deep-Fried Pork Belly)
You may have heard of Chicharon from Spain. “Chicharron” refers to deep-fried pork rinds that people eat as a snack or a quick appetizer.
In the Philippines, you may find deep-fried pork rinds in stores and restaurants. But the term is broader, referring to deep-fried appetizers made with different meats.
There are many variants of Chicharon. Chicharon Manok consists of deep-fried chicken skin while Chicharon Bulakak is a deep-fried intestinal membrane. Restaurants serve Chicharon with vinegar to add a sour flavor to the dish. Check out this traditional recipe of Chicharon that you can make at home with ease.
2. Lumpia (Spring Rolls)
Lumpia is Filipino spring rolls. They are similar to spring rolls you may find in Vietnamese cuisine.
They use a crepe as a wrapper, though the crepe is very thin. You can fill your rolls with different Filipino ingredients, including dried fruits. The rolls are then deep-fried and served with vinegar. If you want a little sweetness with your rolls, you can dip them into banana ketchup. You can eat them alongside Chicharon, or you can have them by themselves. Make these amazing Spring Rolls for your next appetizer!
3. Balut (Fertilized Duck Egg)
Balut is perhaps the most infamous food in the Philippines. Chefs prepare balut by fertilizing and incubating duck eggs for a few weeks. They then boil the eggs and serve them to customers, eating the embryos from their shells. The embryos are seasoned with salt and chilis. Some restaurants like to saute their embryos and serve them with different vegetables.
Many people find balut challenging because of their appearance and nature. Balut may contain bones or feathers. But most residents of the Philippines enjoy it and you can find it in most restaurants at low prices.
4. Torta (Omlette)
Torta is another Filipino dish with roots in Spain. In Spanish cuisine, it is a general term that refers to many different dishes. Within Filipino cuisine, it refers to omelets. Torta has scrambled eggs and other ingredients, including ground meat and vegetables.
Many restaurants offer their own styles of torta. Tortang Alimasag is akin to crab cakes, containing egg and sauteed crab meat served inside the crab shells. You can eat torta for breakfast. But you can find it for lunch, served with salad or fried potatoes. This Torta recipe is perfect to try at home.
5. Longganisa (Sausage)
Many Filipino residents regard Longganisa as being the best Filipino food. It is a very popular breakfast dish, though you can have it for lunch.
Longganisa is a spiced pork sausage. Chefs add numerous spices and ingredients to them, creating unique flavors you cannot get elsewhere. You can buy sausages with brown sugar, saltpeter, and paprika.
There are two main variants of sausages. A Longganisa de Recado is a savory sausage that is spicy. A Longganisa Hamonado is a sweeter sausage that may have brown sugar or dried fruits in it.
You can eat a sausage by itself, or you can eat it in a complete dish. At breakfast, chefs chop up the sausage and serve it with fried rice and vegetables.
Adobo is another important food in the Philippines. It is a national dish that you can find almost anywhere in the country.
Chefs make Adobo by marinating vegetables and proteins in sauces. They may mix vinegar with soy sauce, black pepper, and garlic. Once the ingredients have marinated, the chef simmers them in low heat until a thick sauce forms.
Vegetarians can eat Adobong kangkong. It is a non-meat version of Adobo that relies on water spinach. Meat eaters can eat it as a side dish with meat and rice. This is a dish you have to try either in the Philippines or at home.
7. Lechon (Roasted Pig)
Holiday gatherings are one of many reasons to visit the Philippines. Go to a Filipino fiesta or holiday gathering and you will find Lechon. It is a pig that is roasted over a fire while being turned on a spit. The process of spit-turning is a communal one, and many people like to take turns and gather around the fire to talk.
Some people like to eat Lechon by itself. They may have a liver sauce with it that contains vinegar, garlic, and breadcrumbs. Other people like to stuff their meat with different spices, including ones like lemongrass.
You may have heard of Lechon Manok. This is a spit-roasted chicken you can find at a store or party. When you hear of “lechon” in the Philippines, the person speaking is referring to a roasted pig.
8. Sinigang (Tamarind Soup)
Sinigang is one of many Filipino stews. Most forms of it contain tamarind fruit, which has a naturally sour taste to it. The sour properties of tamarind allow it to complement savory meat and tangy fish sauce.
You can find vegetarian versions of it or ones with fish and meat. Shellfish like shrimp tend to be popular in Sinigang. This one can be a little tricky to get the taste right but this recipe does a great job.
9. Kare-Kare (Oxtail and Peanut Sauce Stew)
Kare-Kare is more of a curry than a stew. The dish originated from South Indian chefs who lived in the Philippines during the British occupation of the country. They created a dish called “Kari-Kaari,” which evolved into Kare-Kare.
Meats and vegetables simmer inside of a peanut sauce for hours. Traditional Kare-Kare contains uncommon cuts of meat like oxtail and pork trotters. Chefs then serve the curry with vegetables and plain white rice.
10. Bicol Express (Spicy Pork Stew)
Bicol Express is a creamy stew. It comes from the Bicol region of the Philippines, which is known for its spicy dishes. The main ingredient is coconut milk mixed with chilis. Chefs cook pork belly with shrimp paste inside the spicy coconut milk for long periods of time. You can then eat the stew with rice.
11. Inihaw na Liempo (grilled Pork Belly)
If you don’t like stews, you can eat Inihaw Na Liempo. It is a marinated pork dish that chefs grill over charcoal.
Pieces of pork belly may sit in a marinade of garlic, soy sauce, and chilis for hours. Chefs also like to serve the grilled pork with a dipping sauce with the same ingredients. These flavors can be a little overpowering, so you should try to eat the pork with rice or noodles.
12. Bangus (milkfish)
Bangus, also known as milkfish, is the national fish of the Philippines. It offers tender meat that makes it ideal for grilling or baking.
You can find Bangus in a number of locations, including Cebu City. Grilled Bangus can contain various stuffings, including chopped onions and tomatoes. Paksiw Na Bangus is milkfish cooked in vinegar and chopped garlic over long periods of time.
13. Tinapa (Smoked Fish)
Tinapa refers to smoked fish. A number of fish can get smoked for hours, including milkfish. Chefs like to brine the fish in salt to add extra flavors to the dish.
Tinapa is a common breakfast item in the Philippines. You can eat the salted fish with eggs and tomatoes. You can find Tinapa in stews and soups, especially ones containing vegetables and beans.
14. Kinilaw (Filipino Ceviche)
Ceviche comprises raw fish that chefs cure in citrus juices and vinegar. These ingredients keep the fish fresh and kill bacteria that could sicken the customer.
Kinilaw is the ceviche of the Philippines. It is akin to ceviche you find in other countries.
What makes kinilaw distinct is the types of fish that chefs use. You can find Bangus ceviche, but you can also find yellowfin tuna and shellfish. The fish can be salty and tender, creating a more filling dish.
If you like kinilaw, you can try Kilawin. Chefs make Kilawin by marinating meats in vinegar mixtures and then cooking them. This makes Kilawin good for people who can’t eat raw meat or find it unsavory.
15. Batchoy (Noodle Soup)
Batchoy is a noodle soup. It is extremely popular in La Paz, but you can find it throughout the country. Chefs prepare it with egg noodles in a pork and beef broth. They then put in pieces of pork, including chopped pork liver.
La Paz Batchoy can contain additional ingredients. Chefs in La Paz like to put in fried garlic and raw eggs. You mix the eggs into the soup, and they cook inside the broth.
Batchoy tagalog is another popular variant. It has misua noodles, which are salted and very thin. The broth is ginger-based instead of animal-based, but the soup can contain pieces of pork in it.
16. Silog (Fried Rice)
Silog is a fried rice dish. It always has meat in it, and the name of the dish itself takes whatever meat it contains. Cornsilog contains corned beef, while Hotsilog contains hot dogs.
Silog is a very popular breakfast dish. As with most other Filipino dishes, you can eat the rice with a vinegar dipping sauce.
17. Halo-Halo (Shaved Ice Dessert)
Halo-halo is becoming popular outside of the Philippines. It is similar to a yogurt parfait, but it has condensed milk instead of yogurt. It has pieces of coconut, sugar plum fruit, and plantains in it. Chefs layer the ingredients inside the glass and then put crushed ice and custard on top.
18. Kakanin (Sticky rice Cake)
Kakanin refers to any dessert that contains glutinous rice paste. Puto is a rice cake that chefs steam. They may put fruit juice or cook the cakes with fruit so that they have different colors on top.
Kutsinta is another kind of rice cake. The cake contains lye in it, which makes the cake sticky and chewy within the mouth. The cake is orange because chefs combine the rice paste with achiote seeds.
If you are not fond of cakes, you can eat Suman. It is a porridge made with glutinous rice and coconut milk. Chefs wrap the porridge in banana leaves, which impart subtle hints of banana without overpowering the other ingredients.
19. Taho (Sweet Tofu)
Douhua is a custard from China made with fresh tofu. Taho is a variant of douhua with additional ingredients and a unique cooking style. It is extremely popular amongst Filipinos in suburban areas, as taho vendors go around and sell the dish.
Taho has simple syrup as a topping. It also contains sago pearls, which are very similar to tapioca. You can also find taho with cut fruit and flavored syrups.
The chef whips the custard so it becomes akin to a liquid. Some people like to drink their taho out of the bowl, though others use a spoon to scoop up the sago pearls.
20. Ube (purple Sweet Potato)
Ube is a Filipino purple sweet potato. You may have heard of it from Instagram, where Ube has become popular amongst food bloggers. You can find numerous Ube dishes inside the Philippines, most of them serving as desserts.
Ube Halaya is a jam that chefs make by boiling and mashing Ube. Chefs like to put the jam in cakes and cookies. You can also spoon the jam over ice cream, especially basic flavors like vanilla.
The Best Filipino Food
Filipino food is more than meets the eye. Grilled and marinated meats form the basis for several appetizers, including balut. Curries and soups are the centers of many Filipino lunches and dinners. Roasted pig is a popular dish at parties and holidays.
If you like seafood, you can sample ceviche and various salted dishes. Desserts like Halo-halo and Ube are light yet bursting with flavors and are some of the Philippines’ most popular cultural exports.
If travel to the Philippines is on your bucket list then make sure to try some of these Filipino dishes at home so you have a better understanding of what food would be on offer and what you like and dislike.