explore the Philippines

What to eat in the Philippines

Filipino cuisine has developed from the different cultures that shaped its history. As such, it is a melange of Indian, Chinese, Malay, Spanish, European and American influences. Though its cuisine is not as renowned as many of its neighbors, such as that of Thailand and Vietnam, Filipino cooking is nonetheless distinct in that it is possibly the least spicy of all South East Asian cuisines. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Filipino food is bland, though. It is just that instead of spices, Filipino food depends more on garlic, onions and ginger to add flavor to dishes. Painstaking preparation and prolonged cooking time is also a characteristic of most Filipino dishes, and when done properly is often what brings out the flavor of the food as, opposed to a healthy dose of spices. Kamayan, literally means Eating with Hands. Some Filipinos who were born and raised in rural provinces still eat with their hands, mostly at their homes during mealtimes. They would often say that Kamayan makes food taste better. Wash your hands clean before attempting this to avoid illnesses. Almost all Filipinos in the urban areas though use spoons, forks and knives. Eating with hands in public is not uncommon however if you’re eating in a mid-range and splurge restaurant this may be considered rude.

To experience how the Filipinos eat in a budget way, Carenderias (food stalls) and Turo-turo (meaning Point-point, which actually means you point at the food you want to eat in the buffet table) are some of the options. Mains cost less than $1. Carenderias serve food cooked earlier and it may not always be the safest of options.

As with the rest of Southeast Asia, rice is the staple food of the Philippines. Some areas in the Visayas prefer corn but elsewhere Filipinos would generally have rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Uncooked rice usually comes in 50kg sacks but can be bought by the kilogram at the wet market or at neighborhood rice dealers. Single servings of rice are readily available at fastfood restaurants or eateries.

Filipino diet

The word diet is non-existent in the vocabulary of Filipinos or has never existed, as mentioned before they are laid back people; they love to eat as much as they can as if there is no tomorrow. They spend most of their money on food, a Filipino teenager might at least enter a fast food chain two or three times a week, during fiestas in a city, town, barangay, purok or subdivision Filipinos would have big parties and it would last from noon to midnight when some of the people would end up being drunk, you can ask if you can join a fiesta in a home and some might welcome you as this is a tradition. If you’re visiting the Philippines it is the best time to cut your so called diet and eat to your heart’s content. The Filipino diet is a lot more similar to the west than the east, with Filipinos eating less vegetables, more oil, meat and sugar than people in neighboring countries; most Filipinos aren’t health conscious. Cancer and heart-related diseases are the leading causes of death here. However if you visit rural areas they use more vegetables and less meat and practice old Filipino medicine.

Etiquette

Some Filipinos use a rather strict interpretation of the serving spoon rule and believe that offering utensils or food that has come into contact with someone’s saliva is rude, disgusting, and will cause food to get stale quickly. Singing or having an argument while eating is considered rude, as they believe food is grasya/gracia or blessed in English; food won’t come to you if you keep disrespecting it. Singing while cooking is considered taboo because it will cause you to forever be a bachelor or spinster. Conservative Filipinos share another belief with the Chinese that not finishing your food on your plate is taboo and rude; you’ll often see Filipino parents scolding their children to finish their food or not they’ll never achieve good academic performance.

Usually, before a meal starts or before food is served, Filipinos say a prayer; wait until the host invites you to start eating. Also, it is rude to refuse food that the host has offered or to leave the dining table while someone is still eating. While eating in front of Chinese/Japanese/Korean -Filipinos, don’t stick your chopsticks vertically upright into a bowl of food.

Cuisine

Filipinos usually serve at least one main course accompanied by rice for lunch and dinner. At times you would have two with a vegetable dish accompanying a meat dish. On special occasions such as fiestas, several main dishes would be served; a Filipino party or a Fiesta wouldn’t be complete without Spaghetti, Pasta, Fruit Salad, Ice Cream, Rice, spring rolls, cake or rice cakes and soda. Soups are also often the main course apart from being a starter. It is not uncommon for Filipinos to douse their rice with the soup and eat the meat that came with the soup alongside.

Spanish, Portuguese, Mexicans, Americans and other European and Mediterranean people introduced their cuisine to the locals and just like they did to the Chinese, they embraced it. While the Spanish occupied the Philippines, connections of the Mexicans and the Aztecs with the Filipinos started in the Manila-Acapulco trade, the people introduced to each other their native cuisine. American influence came during the American colonization.

Spaghetti – Possibly brought to the Philippines by the American-Italians during the American colonization, this is a must try for pasta lovers not because they love it, but because it is so different from the Italian spaghetti. Unlike the Italian version, Filipino spaghetti is sweet; its ingredients include sugar and condensed milk. The Filipinos are meat lovers who obsessively add meat to their spaghetti, including hotdog, Spam (this is what ham is called in the Philippines as Spam is so popular) and corned beef/pork or minced beef/pork.

Fastfood chains

America’s influence is palpable in the Philippines, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a mall without the requisite McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, and even Taco Bell. Filipino fast food chains that capture the essence of Filipino food compete strongly for Filipino taste buds however, and they may be a safe place for the tourist to try the local fare. The following are a list of fast food chains that have branches all around the Metro, and in many cases around the country.

Filipino-Chinese cuisine

The Filipinos and Chinese traded with each other in the early times, then the Chinese finally began settling in the Philippines and introduced their cuisine and culture, the Filipinos embraced the Chinese heritage and started adapting it in their lives including food. Most of the dishes found below are served in Chinatown and Filipino-Chinese fast food chains and eateries.

Arguably Filipino street food is one of the best however it may not be as clean as the ones you find in Singapore. Street food vendors have been criticized because of their unhygienic practices as well as unhealthy options but praised by many especially the youth because of its affordability and taste, nowadays street food is also found in malls but the traditional way of street vending still hasn’t died out. Street food is usually enjoyed with beer or soda, usually eaten during the afternoon till night.

Fruits

Coconut – Although it’s familiar, you should try the coconut of the Philippines, the country is the largest exporter of coconuts in the world.

Durian – smells like hell but supposedly tastes of heaven, most common in Davao but can usually also be bought in some supermarkets in Manila.

Green Mangoes, Ripe Mangoes, Dried Mangoes – Don’t leave Philippines without trying Green Indian mangoes with Bagoong(shrimp paste), tasting ripe mangoes and buying Dried mangoes as a Pasalubong.

Sweet treats

  • Banana chips – Unlike the ones eaten in India, the Filipino version is a lot thicker and sweeter, try dipping it in ice cream.
  • Buko Pie – Pie with scraped coconut as filling.
  • Cassava Cake
  • Egg Pie – Pie with sweet, flan like filling
  • Halo-Halo – Halo-Halo means mix-mix in Filipino, is another refreshing dessert which is a mix of sweetened beans and fruits, such as sweetened bananas, red and white beans, sago, crushed ice and milk and topped off with leche flan and ube jam and/or ice cream.
  • Ice scramble – Crushed ice with condensed milk.
  • Mais con Hielo/Yelo – A dessert of fresh sweet corn served in a glass mixed with crushed ice and milk.
  • Sampaloc candy – salted and sweetened tamarind fruit.
  • Turon’ – Saba(Plantain) bananas in wrappers and fried and then topped with condensed milk or sugar.
  • Turron – Originally from Europe, a bar of cashew nuts with a white wafer.

Dietary restrictions

Muslims will find it hard to find Halal food outside predominantly Muslim areas in the Philippines even though the country is one of the fastest emerging markets in exporting certified halal products. Ask if there is pork in the dish before eating it. Seventh Day Adventists would possibly find some vegetarian restaurants in the Philippines, mostly lurking in the commercial, financial and provincial capitals, and most of them use tofu instead of meat, Sanitarium products may be found in Seventh Day Adventists or Sanitarium hospitals. Hindus will find Indian restaurants which serve some vegetarian options around Metro Manila. Vegetarians and vegans will find it difficult to find a Filipino dish which is wholly vegetarian as most of the Filipinos love to add meat in every single dish they eat. Also vegetarianism is often unheard of in the country and is often ridiculed.

Jews will also find it hard to find kosher meals. However rabbis in the Philippines suggest some stores which sell kosher food, visit Kosher Philippines for advice.