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Filipino Food is Taking Over

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FILIPINO FOOD. It’s the next big thing in the culinary scene. Don’t believe us? Just ask Anthony Bourdain! (See: It just makes a lot of sense, because Filipino cuisine has the best of this and that from all over the world. Thanks to centuries of colonization, It’s got influences from Spanish cooking, as well as a bit of American here and there, but all wrapped up in Asian flavors, spices, and cooking methods. It’s both familiar and isn’t. It’s sometimes sweet, it’s sometimes sour, it’s sometimes garlicky — but it’s always bursting with flavor, and is always served with rice.

Much like the recent rise in popularity of Korean barbecue and the Ramen boom, everyone is anticipating the rise of the rice. And so here is your crash course on the stars of Filipino cuisine, a.k.a. what to eat and where to find them during your next trip to the Philippines.


SISIG: Sinfully Scrumptious

Who knew pork could taste this good? Sisig originated from Pampanga, a city just a couple of hours north of the capital, and it literally translates to “to snack on something sour” in the local dialect. And if you have phrases that have single-word translations pertaining to food in the vernacular, you know these people take their food seriously. Sisig consists of chopped up pork cheek and sometimes pork liver, seasoned with calamansi (local lime), onions, and chili peppers, all served crunchy on a sizzling plate. It can be topped off with a raw egg or a dollop of mayonnaise, depending on where you get your sisig. It doesn’t sound much, but wait until it touches your tongue.

Sisig is quite common and is available at any Filipino restaurant or eatery. But the best sisig can be found in Pampanga where it was born in a little restaurant called Aling Lucing’s (Auntie Lucing’s).


ADOBO: The Main Event

Adobo is the unofficial national dish of the Philippines. It’s as old as history itself and can be traced back to the 1500s Colonial Philippines. In Spanish, adobo means ‘to marinate’, and marination is indeed the most important part of the dish. Chicken and pork are the most common proteins used, and they are marinated in a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, peppercorns, garlic, and bay leaves. After that, cooking adobo is pretty much freestyle — some add potatoes, some like their meat double fried, some like it saucy, some like it dry. The possibilities are endless, and so every household in the Philippines claims to have the best adobo recipe in the land

Where to get the best adobo in the Philippines? Nobody really knows. And to even suggest a place can mean civil war. Don’t worry, adobo is very common in the Philippines. Every Filipino restaurant serves adobo.


SINIGANG: Soulfully Slurpy

Probably the second most popular dish in the Philippines (only next to adobo) is sinigang. It’s a sour and savory, part-stew, part-soup dish usually made of either pork, fish, shrimp, or beef, tamarinds, and a whole bunch of different vegetables. It’s hearty, mouth-watering, and could possibly be best described as true Filipino soul food. Just writing about sinigang already makes us hungry!

Honorable sinigang mentions are Sentro 1771’s Corned Beef Sinigang, Manam’s Short Rib Sinigang in Watermelon, and Locavore’s Sizzling Sinigang. These restaurants can be found in Metro Manila, Philippines.


LECHON: Now it’s a Party!

A party isn’t a party until there’s lechon. Lechon is basically a whole pork slow-roast on a fire pit, pre-cured with a soy sauce blend, and stuffed with a whole slew of fresh, local herbs and spices. A few hours in the fire and the end result is heaven — a pig with a salty, crispy exterior, and a tender, flavorful interior. Dip it in some liver sauce and it’s game over. Guaranteed to be the first dish to run out on any buffet spread!

Some of the best places to get the best crispy pig are Rico’s, Zubuchon, and CnT in Cebu.


KARE-KARE: Unusually Tasty

Yet another entry from the Culinary Capital of the Philippines, Pampanga, is this strangely addictive dish called Kare-Kare. The name derives from curry, or curry-curryhan meaning “like curry” but there’s hardly anything curry-like about it, except for the color, I guess. It’s a stew made out of ox tripe and assorted cuts of beef, green vegetables, and peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter. And is served best with sauteed fermented shrimp paste, called bagoong.

The most authentic kare-kare can be found all over Pampanga, a city just a few hours north of Metro Manila.


SILOG BREAKFAST: Start Your Day Right

Silog is the amalgamation of two of its main components: sinangag (garlic fried rice) and itlog (fried egg). SI-nangag plus it-LOG equals SILOG. And there are a dozen of ways to prepare silog. You can pair it with hotdogs to make hotsilog. Or tapa (soy glazed beef) to make tapsilog. Or longganisa (Filipino pork sausage) to make longsilog. How about some SPAMsilog, if you’re into that? The possibilities are endless, just like how mornings should be.

Enjoy your favorite silog anytime of the day at Kanto Freestyle Breakfast, located all around Metro Manila.


LUMPIA: Rock and Roll

It’s everybody’s favorite finger food! Lumpia is the Filipinos’ answer to the Chinese spring roll. It consists of a mixture of ground pork, chopped up veggies, seasonings and aromatics, all wrapped in a thin flour-based wrapper, and deep fried to crispy, golden perfection. Dip it in some sweet chili sauce, and send your tastebuds to heaven.

Lumpia is a common entree found in most Filipino restaurants, fast food chains, and side street eateries.


BALUT: Baptism by Duck

A trip to the Philippines is never complete without trying the infamously tasty balut — the boiled duck embryo of Fear Factor fame. Those who can get past staring into the eyes of a barely formed duckling will find the balut to be extremely delicious. A dab of salt and a dunk into spicy vinegar, you’ll go for seconds!


GRILLED TUNA: Fish Never Tasted This Good

When in Davao, you can’t not have grilled tuna. It’s tuna. What’s so special about tuna? If this sounds pretty basic for an entry in a list of the Philippines’ most popular dishes, it’s because it is. It’s just tuna. And the tuna in Davao City shines by itself. A fatty cut of tuna gets charred in a charcoal grill till its skin is black and crispy, dip it in a mixture of soy sauce, chilis, and calamansi (local lime), and you’ll see (and taste) just why Davao’s tuna is famous all over the world.


TAHO: Awaken Your Sweet Tooth

The local taho vendor goes from house to house peddling his sweet produce by shouting “TAHOOOOOO!” at the top of his lungs. On his shoulders is a bamboo stick with metal tubs hanging onto either end, and in those tubs are the magical ingredients that make up taho.
Taho is made out of smooth, silken tofu, tapioca balls, and sweet brown sugar syrup. There are versions of it that replace the brown sugar syrup with strawberry syrup, found in Baguio City.


CHICKEN INASAL: Bacolod’s Best

Bacolod’s pride and joy, chicken inasal (grilled/roast chicken) is chicken done right. Chicken is first marinated in a carefully rationed mixture of lime, pepper, vinegar, and annatto. It is then skewered and grilled in an open fire, basted continuously with the same marinade. Chicken inasal is served on banana leaves with a side of rice drizzled over with the drippings of the chicken (called chicken oil). The chicken is dipped in soy sauce, vinegar, chilis, and calamansi.


FILIPINO BBQ: Fiery Freestyle

Anything can be barbecued. That’s the most important Filipino principle of barbecuing. We barbecue not only pork, but also the pork parts often taken for granted like the ears, the intestines, the gizzard, the heart, and even pig’s blood. There’s nothing you can’t barbecue in the Philippines.


HALO-HALO: Keep Mixing!

This is dessert done right. Made of shaved ice, evaporated milk, jello, flan, ice cream, sweet fruits and beans, coconuts, tapioca, and so on. Halo-halo literally means ‘mixed together’ in Filipino… and that’s exactly what you have to do before devouring this genius of a dessert, to keep mixing and mixing and mixing!


THE BEST OF ILOCOS: Bagnet, Pakbet, and Empanada

Ilocos Norte is known for two things: bagnet and pakbet. Bagnet is a tasty slab of pork that has been twice (or sometimes thrice) fried to get that signature crispiness that only Ilocanos can make! The word bagnet comes from the Ilocano “bagnenettin” which means “preservation without refrigeration” — who knew that thrice-frying a slab of pork was the secret to ditching the refrigerator!


Simple enough to make, pakbet consists of sauteed minced pork and a slew of local veggies such as string beans, eggplant, okra, squash, and bitter gourd. And to bring them all these flavors together is the secret to great pakbet: the quality and freshness of bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). It’s salty, sweet, bitter, tangy, and meaty all together!


The Ilocano twist to the Spanish empanada. It is stuffed with shredded papaya, crumbled longganisa (pork sausage), and a fresh egg sealed in a signature orange pastry and then deep fried to crispy perfection. Don’t forget to dip it in spiced vinegar to bring all those flavors together. You haven’t had empanada quite like this!


SPICE IT UP: The Bicol Express of Bicol

Bicol is a region found in the southern part of the island of Luzon, and is about 12 hours away via train from Manila. And yes, Bicol Express was named after Bicol Express, the train that ran from the capital city all the way to Bicol. It is a dish made out of sauteed pork, coconut milk, and lots of green chilis — creamy and spicy, just the way the locals of Bicol like it! Be sure you have some water beside you because this can get quite spicy.


BOODLE FIGHT: The Best of Everything

Sometimes you just want to eat a little (or a lot) of everything. A little bit of grilled fish here, a little bit of roast pork there, something salty first, something sour later, and of course a mouthful of rice with every bite. And that’s exactly what a Filipino boodle fight is. It’s a long-standing military practice of eating a meal as a community to help build camaraderie. But you don’t have to be in the military to enjoy a boodle fight, as civilians practice this as well.

This is best enjoyed at the beach where your local boatman can grill a bunch of seafood and meats, serve it with rice on a bed of banana leaves. Now dig in with your bare hands!

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