10 famous foods you must try in the Philippines

Sebastien Chaneac

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:

Tea infused adobo with our friend Dennis
Trying tea-infused chicken adobo with our friend Dennis in Quezon City in Metro Manila

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 famous foods in Philippines
Stefan's reaction to balut…!

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).

Kare kare is a delicious type of stew from the Philippines
We can't wait to go face-down in this bowl of Kare kare!

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.

A kinilaw birthday treat for Sebastien on Boracay island
KINILAW” by whologwhy is licensed under CC BY 2.0 | cropped from original

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.

Stefan serving pork sinigang
Stefan serving sinigang – the new hit song in the Filipino pop charts!

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.

Lechon is a delicious meal from the Philippines where a suckling pig is roasted over coals
Cute but SO delicious!

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…

Stefan with tapsilog breakfast
A Stefansilog breakfast: Stefan served with tapa (beef), sinangag (fried rice) and an itlog (fried egg)

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!

halo halo famous foods in Philippines
Two greedy boys about to fight over this halo halo

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?

Stefan and Sebastien becoming the bukoholics of Boracay
Stefan and Sebastien becoming the bukoholics of Boracay

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!

Sebastien with rum and coke in the Philippines
Sebastien enjoying one of the many delights of the Philippines!
Travel advice for LGTBQ community

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.


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Read about the most famous foods (and drinks) you definitely should try while visiting the Philippines

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Sebastien Chaneac

Sebastien is the co-founder, editor and author of nomadicboys.com. He is a tech geek, a total travel nerd and a food enthusiast. He spends the majority of his time planning Nomadic Boys' travels meticulously right down to the minute details. Sebastien has travelled to over 80 countries with his partner in crime and the love of his life, Stefan. He regularly shares his expertise of what it’s like travelling as a gay couple both on Nomadic Boys and on prominent publications ranging from Pink News, Matador, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and many more. Originally from France, Sebastien moved to London in the early 2000s where he pursued a career as a computer programmer for Thompson Reuters and Bloomberg. He subsequently left it all to explore his passion for travelling around the world with Stefan to hand, and thus Nomadic Boys was born. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

90 thoughts on “10 famous foods you must try in the Philippines”

  1. I am a blogger specializing in Islands and islets. I also cover the unique foods of every island I blog about. I just read your post about staying in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. During your stay, did you try the unique “boiled duck embryo” called “Balut”? I am started gathering real-time experience and I luckily stumbled on your post. Thanks for your valuable time.

  2. Well, thank you guys for featuring my country. Soo glad you enjoyed our food, perhaps with The exception of balut. I don’t blame you. I don’t I can stomach it now after living outside the country so long

    You guys failed to add my personal favorite: Pansit Bihon. It’s a popular dish for celebrating birthdays (noodles are long, ergo, long life for celebrant). Nowadays they’re also serving spaghetti as a substitute (or served alongside pancit) The spaghetti sauce is super sweet, just how the Pinoys Like it.

  3. Hello. thanks for featuring my country into your blog it was soo nice to see the beautiful country that I grow up. Anyway, you ended up with a traveling note not to travel down South, Mindanao. I’m from Mindanao that place is so beautiful, abundant, rich with history, culture and people. I hope you will sometimes visit Our Island Mindanao because it’s different from Manila or a very Tourist place Boracay. Have a good day

  4. Kinilaw is not commonly mentioned/used in Tagalog, I think. At least many don’t understand it right away based on my experience. And if they recognize it they’d rather call it Kilawin. Not sure if the Northerners are fond of it too (The fish variety; Doesn’t look that way), just like durian is not so popular in Metro Manila/Luzon.

    But going south, like in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Cebu the term kinilaw is very much known.

    Perhaps Northern Mindanao’s version is the best because of certain ingredients such as the tabon tabon, which are not commonly used in kinilaw preparation elsewhere in the PH. 😁

  5. Wow! Amazing food list i love to eat all this mention food. Thank you for sharing such useful information about famous food in the Philippines.

  6. Wow.. nice foods to their… thanks for the sharing this blog post.. it’s very nice and you did good job.. please keep up with a new post.

  7. After seeing all the filipino foods listed above it makes me hungry now. I wanna eat balut again and also paksiw. I love these two foods (street food and main dish food). Thanks stefan and sebastian for the awesome blog about our (filipino) foods! Great blog!

  8. Loved your post! So helpful! I will definitely be driven by your advice in my food choices while visiting Philippines 🙂 and I just saw your video from PH and omg… I just can’t wait to go there! 😀

    all the best!

  9. Nice!!! I love that food. I love several times in the Philippines and my favorite is the pork sinigang and pancit bihon 😉 oh… And chicken adobo 😉 hehe

  10. Warm balut with salt is my best combination. Crack the shell of the pointed side of the balut, slurp the warm soup and then drizzle the meat with a good pinch of rock salt, Then if you can eat in one mouthful.
    Yummm..

  11. Well, for me Filipino food is a bit too salty, sweet, oily, and sour. Hardly to find any food with veggies there. I always have problem with my digestion while traveling there. Sorry Filipino friends, I just said the truth 🙁

  12. Haha, I love Balut! Well not love, but I think it’s actually pretty tasty 🙂 Not the hard part though, which my Filipino girlfriend at that time let me eat while while laughing behind my back 😮

    My favorite Filipino food is Ampalaya actually. It’s bitter lemon with scrambled eggs and tomatoes. It’s something you either love or hate I figure. I love it.

    Cheers! Gulp gulp gulp…

  13. It was fun reading your blog. And thank you for giving great comments about our food 🙂 next time when you come back, try the sisig, pares and bulalo 🙂

  14. Your great food and travel blog brings back wonderful memories of my visits to the Philippines (and enjoying Philippine food among friends in Paris). It is interesting what you say about the coconut. Coconut oil was one of the main cooking oils used in the US until the 1980s when the American soybean lobby mounted a successful campaign to discredit coconut oil as a highly saturated fat, bad for health – and thus captured the US (and European) market for soya. The health risks have since been debunked (while soya – and palm oil – is highly questionable) so we can now sip coconut oil without feeling guilty!

    • Thanks for that Wilfrid! Whenever shopping for groceries in Asia we’re always stumped as to which one to buy and this now explains why Palm Oil is so cheap compared to Coconut.

  15. Omg! Ur finally here in the gayest country ever! Yay! Ur missing some more islands here. Lemme know guys happy to give a tour. U guys are in the national paper today. Love love ur blog!

    • Thanks Jake! We loved the Philippines so much – incredible country and THE nicest people ever 🙂 Yes we missed too many islands and therefore need to return for you to show us some? We’d love that.

      • U got it guys. Just send me an email. Happy travel! Another cool place to go and tolerate to our community is Bali. I went there like 3 yrs ago and it was really nice.

  16. Even though he didn’t finish eating the balut, Sebastien is still a good sport for at least trying it. From the looks of it, you got the ‘balut sa pula’ (which means the chick is fully formed with feathers and all).. it does have a gritty (feathery?) taste hehehe… If you get another chance, better ask for ‘balut sa puti’… all you will have is a mushy white stuff along with the yolk… it goes down much better than its gritty counterpart :). It’s great to eat balut late at night and you haven’t had any sleep. Where’s Stefan’s balut eating attempt? 🙂

    Thank you for this list and I learned something new too… good to know you enjoyed the food!

  17. I don’t know if I could eat the duck egg! :/ But the Ox tail soup looks yummy! Plus those coconuts!! You boys always slay it! 🙂 Happy Travels!!!

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