Filipino food is exciting, surprising and full of wonderful flavours.
We travelled around the Philippines extensively as a gay couple and found many traditional yummy prizes to enjoy. With the exception of balut(!), we've put together our favourite foods and drinks from the Philippines that we think everyone must try.
This is our video of our travels around the Philippines as a gay couple, focusing on the awesome gay scene of Manila, party island Boracay (pre-cleanup!) and the stunning Palawan.
1. Chicken adobo: the famous Filipino dish
Chicken adobo is one of the most famous foods to try in the Philippines, known and loved by everyone.
Adobo means “marinade” in Spanish and this is just that: chicken (or pork) marinated in a mixture of soya sauce and vinegar. This was traditionally used as a way of cooking meat because the acid from the vinegar and high salt content of the soya sauce produced an undesirable environment for bacteria. Other ingredients are added depending on whose recipe you follow.
An authentic adobo is cooked in clay pots, but today it's more common to see them prepared in a wok or metal pot.
Our recipe for chicken adobo has been simplified to enable us to replicate it at home. A very unique recipe we tried was infused adobo with tea at the excellent gay-owned restaurant: Station 7Tea8S in Quezon City with our local gay friend Dennis:
2. Balut: the Filipino Kinder surprise!
Now THIS bad boy always raises eyebrows with tourists in the Philippines…
Balut is a developing duck embryo boiled and eaten as a snack in the shell, often served with a splash of vinegar. This is definitely one of the most famous foods to try in the Philippines and certainly the strangest we've ever tried!
Balut is popular street food, which originated in the Philippines and is also frequently found in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The ideal age of the duck embryo is 17 days when the chick is not old enough to fully show its beak, feathers, claws and the bones are undeveloped. Sounds disgusting? Well in the Philippines, balut is a popular childhood treat. Locals swear by it and will tell you what a nourishing and wholesome snack it is. It's just 188 calories for each balut and it contains lots of niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, protein, calcium, iron and phosphorus.
When we got the opportunity to try it from a street seller on Puka Beach in Boracay, a large group of children rushed excitedly over crying: “Balut! Balut! Balut!”. They loved it and each child rushed to open up the egg and, er, crunch away at the contents inside!
Watch me trying the infamous balut at Puka Beach on Boracay island (suffice to say, we think we'll stick to our traditional hard-boiled eggs in future!):
3. Kare Kare: oxtail stew
Kare kare is a stew with oxtail, ox tripes, lots of vegetables, which is flavoured with ground roasted peanuts (or peanut butter), onions and garlic. It's served with shrimp paste ( called “bagoong”), calamansi juice (Filipino lime) and sometimes spiced with chilli.
Kare Kare is famous throughout the whole country. The alleged origin of its name is from the word “curry” – a nod to the influence of the Philippines' Indian community in the Cainta area of Metro Manila. It is thought to have originated from the Indian soldiers who settled in the Philippines during the British invasion.
We tried it in Manila and found it quite tasty. However, the rich peanut sauce makes it super heavy so that after the 3rd spoonful, you feel full! For most Filipinos, kare kare is seen as comfort food, which they would have eaten for dinner growing up – freshly and lovingly prepared by their inay (the Tagalog word for mummy).
4. Kinilaw: raw fish salad
Kinilaw is similar to the famous Peruvian dish called ceviche. The word “kinilaw” or “kilaw” means ‘eaten fresh’ in Tagalog. It is a raw fish salad served in an acidic juice, usually kalamansi (Filipino lime) and vinegar. In the Philippines, vinegar is nicknamed “liquid fire” because it cooks the food enough to be digested. More interestingly, vinegar in the Philippines is produced by alcoholic fermentation of coconut water, which is what gives it a sour-sweet flavour.
Just like with ceviche, the acid from the lime and the vinegar “cooks” the meat. Other ingredients usually in a kinilaw include garlic, ginger, onion, pepper and chilli.
We tried lots of kinilaw in the Philippines, but one of our favourites was the one at Los Indios Bravos in Boracay.
5. Sinigang: sour meat stew
Sinigang is another popular Filipino stew. It is meat-based and more sour and savoury in flavour than a kare kare – usually using tamarind (sampalok) as the souring agent. Alternative souring agents include guava, tomatoes or kalamansi.
A traditional sinigang is served as a stew or soup, always served with lots of vegetables like okra, water spinach, (kang kong), daikon (labanos), onions and aubergine (eggplants). Pork (sinigang baboy) is the most common meat for sinigang, but chicken (sinigang na manok), beef (sinigang na baka) and fish (sinigang na bangus) can also be used.
We enjoyed this soup so much that our Filipina friend BC Lee was kind enough to give us her recipe for sinigang baboy. You can, of course, buy the tamarind mix in a packet from the supermarket, but it's so much more flavoursome if you make it fresh.
6. Lechon: roasted suckling pig
Lechon is a “suckling pig” in Hispanic traditions. It is literally an entire young pig that has been fed on just its mother's milk (the word for milk in Spanish is leche), which is roasted over charcoal for many hours. Lechon is also considered the national dish of the Philippines. The city of Cebu is considered one of the most famous places in the country for lechon.
Lechon is also very popular across Spain and large parts of Latin America, usually reserved for special occasions. It's one of the many influences in the Philippines from its 333 years as a Spanish colony – from 1565 to 1898.
The leftovers of the lechon are stewed with vinegar and spices and become a delicious dish called paksiw na lechon. Paksiw literally means: to cook and simmer with vinegar.
7. Tapsilog: the King of the Filipino breakfast
Taspsilog is a popular breakfast dish in the Philippines. The name itself refers to the contents comprising the meal: cured beef (“tapa”), fried rice (“sinangag”) and a fried egg (“itlog”).
The beef in a well made traditional Filipino tapsilog is seasoned with a sauce that is a mix of soy sauce, calamansi juice, brown sugar, minced garlic and black pepper. The rice is fried with lots of garlic to give it a strong (and tasty!) aroma. Finally, the egg is usually served sunny side up. To complement a traditional tapsilog, vinegar or pickled papaya (atchara) is sometimes served.
Variants of tapsilog include “adosilog” (adobo with fried rice and fried egg), “litsilog” (lechon with fried rice and egg) and the most unique of all – “Stefansilog” (a Stefan with fried rice and egg)…ok this is just us being silly…
8. Halo halo: the best Filipino dessert
This is THE ultimate and most famous of all Filipino desserts! Halo Halo means ‘mixed together’ in Tagalog. It is served in a tall glass containing ice shavings, evaporated milk and various small chunks of yummy goodies all mixed in together.
What are the yummy goodies I hear you cry?
Well this includes a mix of boiled kidney beans, chickpeas (“garbanzo”), sugar palm fruit (“kaong”), jackfruit, tapioca, sweet potato, sweet beans, coconut gel, ice cream, guava paste, purple yam and more! There is no one exact formula or recipe, as long as you have a fabulous mix of all of these thrown in with the shaved ice and evaporated milk.
The end result is a tropical, colourful and very tasty mess, perfect for the beach. Every time we went to one of the many beaches in the Philippines, there'd always be a vendor with a huge queue selling halo halos!
9. Buko: the Filipino coconut
Buko is the word for coconut in Tagalog. For us, no day in the Philippines was complete without a buko or two. First drinking the nourishing juice inside, then hacking it open with a machete to eat the yummy fleshy fruit inside.
Unlike the traditional coconuts which are smaller, slightly hairy and brown in colour, Filipino bukos are much larger, smoother and green. They have a lot more juice inside which makes them so much more satisfying, especially when you want to refresh your body and cool down in the hot, humid Filipino weather. It's also a fantastic source of potassium, sodium, magnesium and iron, which is why the coconut tree is nicknamed the ‘Tree of Life’ in the Phillippines.
The Filipinos make good use of the Tree of Life: other than the many uses of the fruit itself, you can also use it as wood fire, the leaves for thatching, the coconut husk to make ropes and more.
Coconuts are so ubiquitous in the Philippines that the country has become the second-largest producer of the world’s coconuts (after Indonesia). It's no wonder that we quickly became Bucoholics during our trip to the Philippines…see what we did there?
10. Rum: the Filipino drink of choice
The final one in our list of the best Filipino foods and drinks is the most ubiquitous alcoholic beverage in the country – rum!
Surprised? Thought that this was more of a Caribbean speciality? Well, you're not wrong. However, in Asia, the Philippines is one of the largest producers of rum, mainly because of the abundance of sugar cane across the country. For most Filipinos, it's the drink of choice as it's available everywhere and in some cases, it's usually cheaper than bottled water!
Tanduay is one of the most famous brands of rum in the Philippines. It started in 1854 and has grown to become so famous throughout Asia that it now ranks as the second most popular rum brand in the world after Bacardi.
So to honour this grand Filipino industry, we say tagay (cheers in Tagalog) with lots of Tanduay and coke!
Advice for LGBTQ travellers to the Philippines
The information we present in this guide is from our experience and perspective travelling as a gay couple in the Philippines, a destination we found to be one of the most gay friendly countries in Asia. However, homophobia is still prevalent in more rural and remote areas, so LGBTQ travellers should take care. Also, we advise all travellers to avoid the south, especially Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago and the Zamboanga Peninsula as violent crime is prevalent there. For more, read out our article about why we think the Philippines is such a gay friendly country.
For more inspiration:
- Read about our transformation into mermen on the island of Boracay
- Find out more interesting facts about the Philippines
- Check out the largest pride events around the world
- Then get inspired by these fabulous outfits for gay pride
- And don't forget to pack these must-have accessories for gay pride as well
- These are our favourite scuba diving spots throughout Asia
- Read more about our experiences travelling through Asia as a gay couple
- Heading to Japan? Check out our gay city guide to Tokyo
- As well as our gay Japan itinerary for first-time visitors
- And don't miss out on the experience of becoming a geisha in Tokyo either!
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