Unlike other Southeast Asian cuisines, Filipino food isn’t really at the top of the foodies’ lists. Sadly, Filipino food isn’t very known in the culinary world. I can attest to why, as I wouldn’t consider it my favorite cuisine at all. But since I was raised very Filipino, I do have my favorite meals that I normally find comfort in. Others may find the meals to be too greasy, too plain, too unimpressive, but here’s the truth; sometimes, it does take a very good home cook to serve the best of the Filipino meals. Another factor is that not many people are aware about the good stuff (like the breakfast, but I’ll save that for another time). Perhaps one of the reason why tourism in the Philippines isn’t as poppin’ as the neighboring countries is because very little know about the best, so here I am, presenting to you a list of the Philippine’s best dishes to try. If you’re planning a visit to the Philippines soon, this may come in handy for you so keep reading.
Before I begin, here’s a few facts about Filipino food that you might want to consider;
–Street food is crap. When it comes to the meals at least. The munchies like fish balls, etc, are quite legendary to me. But when it comes to a full meal, don’t trust the cheap eateries you find on the side of the street. Not only the quality of the ingredients are questionable, but they just don’t seem like they were made with love? It’s not like Thailand or Vietnam where every food in every corner is somehow magically very satisfying. In the case of the Philippines, it’s best to invest just a little bit more for a good meal. You don’t need to go to an expensive restaurant. You’ll find affordable meals ranging from $3-$10 a meal at clean, decent restaurants. Hole in the walls do exist, but ask the locals to guide you for the best spot.
–Meals are the best here when it’s home-cooked. Filipinos are very hospitable. Get yourself invited to dinner at someone’s home. Better yet, catch a party, or a town fiesta, where houses are open and serve massive food for EVERYONE.
–Keep your mind open. You should know right now before even scrolling down that most Filipino food do not look very appetizing. They’re not quite pleasing to the eyes. But hey, don’t knock it til’ you try it!
Kare-Kare is not for everyone, it’s either you love it or you hate it. A well known stew all around the nation, Kare-Kare, originally, is made of a base beef and some pretty gnarly meat such as pork hocks, oxtail, tripe, and calves meat. Oxtail and beef are the most popular featured meat in this meal. It also comes with an array of vegetables; eggplant, string beans, Chinese cabbage, etc. Now the flavor, despite how plain it is what makes it so unique. Cooked in roasted peanuts or peanut butter, the mixture of other simple spices makes it very different indeed. What makes it special is when eaten with shrimp paste (bagoong), adding just a little dab on each bite. Probably not for the beginner, but Kare-Kare is definitely not a meal to be missed in the Philippines.
If Thailand has Tom Yum, Philippines has Sinigang. A perfect rainy day food, Sinigang is every Filipino’s comfort food. A tamarind based meal, this soup, which is the hero of the meal, is infused with the perfect balance of salty and sour. The flavors are enhanced by the sidekick, usually pork or shrimp. Vegetables, such as eggplant, morning glory, and radish, are added for some crunch. Best eaten with steamed rice, Sinigang is definitely a staple Filipino household meal that’s not to be missed.
Okra, squash, string beans, eggplant, and bitter gourd all mixed together making the perfect vegetable medley. Pinakbet is usually cooked with bits of pork which enhances the flavor of the meal. But the key ingredient is the addition of fermented shrimp paste, locally known as bagoong. It’s also best eaten with steamed rice, which counterbalances the strong flavors. Tip: Go up north specifically in Ilocos, where the meal originated from for the best Pinakbet.
Possibly the most humble of all, adobo just may be the most popular Filipino dish. Also eaten with steamed rice, as majority of Filipino food are, adobo’s flavor comes from a beautiful well balanced mix of soy sauce, vinegar, and pepper. There are different types of adobo to choose from; pork, chicken, and morning glory for the non-meat eaters. When I make adobo, I like to add eggs (or quail eggs) as well.
Another rainy day food, Tinola is also a soup based meal with chicken, chayote, and other vegetables if preferred. The soup, made of the fresh chicken stock with an infusion of ginger, is simple yet very hearty. This may just be a Filipino’s best version of chicken soup. Tinola is best eaten with rice. Fish sauce also works as the best condiment for this to enhance the flavor.
6.) Pancit Bihon
The staple Filipino party meal, this stir-fry noodle dish is found in every Filipino party. Pancit Bihon is made of very thin rice noodles (rice sticks) stir fried with some veggie pieces such as carrots, celery, snow peas, and shredded cabbage. Although it’s more common with some pork meat, others include bits of shrimp as well. It’s an easy food to eat, perfect for the beginners and the less adventurous. Tip: This is also best paired with another Filipino party food MVP; Lumpia!
Another noodle dish, Palabok is the bright orange noodle meal that you’ll be seeing around. The noodles used varies from thin to thick, depending on the region or province it’s from. My favorite kind are the thin ones. This shrimp-flavored noodles is topped with a bit of hard-boiled egg, toasted garlic, chopped green onions, flaked smoked fish, chicharon (pork cracklings) bits, a little bit of pork meat, and of course some shrimp. Best eaten with squeezed calamansi, Palabok may just bring your noodle standard an inch higher.
The perfect sizzling meal, sisig is usually served as “pulutan” aka munchies while drinking. Despite being made of meat from pig head with other bits of stuff I, myself, probably don’t even want to know, this dish is actually a hit to foreigners. It’s best when it’s crunchy, which makes it hard to determine what kind of meat was exactly served. Best served with garlic rice and a bottle of beer, sisig is also eaten best with squeezed calamansi and an egg served at the top, and then mixed with the meat. There are also tuna version of sisig as well. Although it is deemed delicious and less scary, I suggest going all the way. Chances are, you will love it.
Ceviche lover, are ya’? Filipino’s version of ceviche may be a little less known, but it’s just as enticing. This dish is made with raw fish, such as tuna or tanigue, marinating in a beautifully well-balanced vinegar and onion concoction. I have been eating this for a few years now after my husband– of all the people in the world, my California grown husband, introduced this to me. However, I recently discovered a different version of this while I was backpacking down Visayas this past summer. With the perfect balance of base and acid, their kilawin version has an addition of coconut milk which makes it so perfect in all its aspect. You guys, I have never seen any kind of ceviche the same way after that. That was a special day, and I made a call to my husband; “baby, I found a new dish!” I exclaimed with pure excitement about my discovery. I haven’t had kilawin made that way since then, but know that I plan to embark on a journey to find more of that.
10.) Filipino Spaghetti
You will notice once you go to restaurants and even fast food here, that it’s pretty common for spaghetti to be paired with fried chicken (what makes Mcdonald’s here different). This takes me back to my first years back in the Philippines. Oh the good ol’ college days. Coming home drunk just as when the sun is rising, being driven over an hour from the city to where me and friends lived, and always ordering the spicy friend chicken and spaghetti at the drive thru of the country’s most famous fast food chain (Jollibee). This is also my family’s staple party meal (and we have the best recipe too), instead of Pancit, which is always a hit for the kids– because duh, it’s sweet. What? YES. Sweet spaghetti. Creamy, banana-ketchup-sweet sauce, with generous amount of ground meat, cut up hotdogs, and Filipino cheese. I’m not quite sure how this originated, but I’m glad someone was wise enough to come up with this.
11.) Bicol Express
My favorite! Now this separates itself from most Filipino meals. Originating from the province of Bicol, this dish is a hit for the lovers of spice! Made of pork cooked in fresh coconut milk and a whole lotta chili, it will satiate your desire. If you’re like me who finds an odd satisfaction when your nose become slightly runny from spicy food, then search no more when you’re here. There’s not much to say, really. It’s a spicy Filipino dish at its best.
Unless you’re vegetarian, it’s pretty easy to love this meal. Pork belly marinated in a simple soy sauce marinade and then grilled to perfection, this meal is guaranteed to satiate you. It sounds basic, but when cooked to perfection, it will perfectly hit the spot. It’s good with rice, but you also need to know the condiments that goes with this to fully enjoy it. Some like it with spicy vinegar, while others like myself prefer it with soy sauce, calamansi, and Thai chili combination.
13.) Lechon Kawali
You should know that Filipinos do know their pork. If you haven’t had lechon in general, more commonly known as roasted suckling pig, you may be missing out a little bit. Lechon Kawali, differs just a little bit from that, however. Not for the ones watching their cholesterol, this dish will possibly clog your arteries and send you to food coma. This pork belly fried until golden is so delicious it might just be worth the excessive cholesterol. Just kidding. But if eaten with moderation, it’s quite blissful. I love eating this with rice as well, and with a special Filipino sauce called Mang Tomas. Crispy, tasty, and heavenly. Everyone’s kind of meal. Tip: Speaking of roasted suckling pig, head on to Cebu for the best stuffed ones!
14.) Bistek Tagalog
Similar to Mexican Beefsteak, this beef dish is first marinated in a wonderful preparation of soy sauce, calamansi, and pepper and then topped with onion rings. It’s such a flavorful dish, another perfect mix of salty and sour. The beef are thinly sliced which makes it so easy to eat. This goes perfectly with white rice with the sauce drizzled all over it!
Blood stew. It took me awhile to actually give this a try, but I did and I happened to enjoy it. Definitely not something I would crave over and over again, but when it’s made by a good cook, it can be pretty great. Another love it or hate it meal. Best eaten with rice or puto, a Filipino rice cake.
If you’re more of a dessert or breakfast person, don’t worry, I’ll get you covered on that soon! Have you tried any of these dishes though? What did you think about it? Is there anything else that I missed out on? Let me know on Facebook! Let’s chat there 🙂