Do Not Miss These Filipino Street Foods!
Filipino Food Culture
When visiting the Philippines, indulging into the Filipino street food scene is no doubt one of the best ways to get immersed in the country's food culture and probably make some new Filipino friends along the way. After all, food is what brings people together, and the food of the Philippines is no different in that regard.
For those who have travelled through parts of Asia, you will realize that a lot of Filipino cuisine has a thing or two in common with Chinese cuisine, and that of other neighboring countries, and even some western cuisines.
The Philippines has been colonized by a list of neighboring and western countries and this has resulted in influencing the Filipino food. You will find that in Filipino food markets, street food stalls, and local eateries, a number of dishes are a variation of Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and western cuisines. Settlers from other countries not only influence Filipino cuisine, but the arts and crafts of the Philippines as well.
Most traditional Filipino foods are meat based. Lechon (Filipino whole roasted pig) and Lechon Manok (Filipino roasted chicken) are both found cooking along streets of the Philippines with the chicken version being so popular there is often a line of locals waiting to order.
The best places to find the greatest variety of Filipino street food, and to see streets bustling with an array of vibrant stalls pumping out authentic Filipino dishes is in the bigger cities. Try Manila, the country’s capital, or explore Cebu which is where most foreigners land to explore the amazing waterfalls in the south.
But this doesn’t mean there isn’t street food or quick meals in other parts of the Philippines. All around the country small canteen shops can be found. These small eateries offer a selection of local cuisines and dishes. The main ingredient is plain white rice which is usually accompanied by 2 or 3 small portions of side dishes.
Must-Try Filipino Street Food List
Lechon—A National Dish of the Philippines
I thought I would start off this list of Filipino street food with a national dish of the Philippines, Lechon, also known as Lechon Baboy. Lechon actually comes from the Spanish and translates to suckling pig.
As a Philippine national dish, it’s an especially popular meal during family get-togethers, wedding parties, and during festive occasions.
That being said, Lechon isn’t necessarily a dish you’ll come across too often. Mostly we found that eateries would start preparing the whole roast pork on weekends and only the bigger restaurants that get loads of customers would have this dish more frequently. So, if you see this special Filipino street food, do not pass it up!
What to expect is tender and juicy meat with an outer crackling skin with just the right crunch over a layer of tasty pork fat.
Filipinos seem to be the masters of roast pork, and I can easily say that the roast pork we tried in the Philippines was the best ever. Each time we had it, it was cooked to perfection. The reason for this perfection is simple. There are master lechoneers who take time and effort to constantly shift the heat so that the pork cooks evenly and is moist throughout. This process is time consuming, but definitely worth it!
We first tried lechon while cruising around for an evening meal on Siquijor Island. A small stall was just off the main road and a whole pig was displayed on the side of a gravel road. We had the opportunity to choose whichever cut of the pork we wanted, and it was incredible. Price: around Php 250 for ¼ kg
Lechon Manok—Popular Filipino Street Food
As I said, Lechon Manok is Filipino roasted chicken. Similar to what you find in western countries, whole chickens are grilled rotisserie style. But instead of in an electric oven they slowly rotate over an open flame with the help of a small motor.
The chickens are roasted just the right amount of time to be cooked without drying out the meat. This cooking process leaves the meat juicy inside and a crunchy grilled skin on the outside. The open flames give it all a charcoal twist.
Lechon Manok can easily be found in many popular areas and where lots of locals pass by. The small low key Filipino food stalls serving this dish usually open in the evening and you can expect a line of customers especially in areas where there is just a single stall.
A whole roast chicken will cost between Php150 ($3) to Php300 ($6); mostly the higher prices are found in Manila.
Balot—Infamous Filipino Delicacy
So, the first two entries are dishes most have some level of familiarity with. Balot is where the Filipino street food takes a turn and gets much more interesting.
Balot is the infamous Filipino delicacy—a boiled egg with a developing embryo inside. Basically, a boiled egg with a chick inside (usually duck).
Although the first thought of this puts many off, even myself, I must say that balot is rather tasty once you forget about what you’re actually eating. And after all, it is nothing more than a boiled egg and a small chicken. At least that was my reasoning before I tried Balot. And in the Philipenes, even many kids love it!
I actually tried balot in Cebu City on the first night we landed in the Philippines. You will usually find it on Filipino streets during nighttime. That was actually a good thing for me because I couldn’t really see what I was about to bite into.
Balot is usually consumed with some salt and vinegar. Just peel the top of the egg off splash in some vinegar, sprinkle with salt, and drink all the liquid inside. This is actually the best part of balot and tastes like broth. The solids inside the egg taste like a combination of chicken and egg with hardest part being the egg white.
Balot is found throughout all of the Philippines and usually stored in small styrofoam boxes. Prices range from Php15 ($0.30) to Php25 ($0.50) depending on size and incubation time.
Kwek-Kwek—Traditional Food of the Philippines
The name of this popular Filipino street food may have given it away. Kwek Kwek are boiled eggs coated in an orange batter and deep fried until the batter is crispy. Traditionally duck eggs are used however quail eggs are also common. You can easily spot these quick bites from their bright orange color.
Kwek - Kwek are served on a wooden skewer stick and for the best result are dipped in some vinegar and served with some onion and chilies. We paid Php15 ($0.30) for 4 eggs.
Isaw—Famous Filipino Street Food
Isaw must be the king of all street foods in the Philippines and is also common throughout South East Asia. Isaw are intestines of either pork or chicken that are grilled over an open fire.
Like most Filipino street food barbecues, the grills light up between late afternoon and evening time. The intestines are poked into skewers and grilled over fire until charred.
Isaw are a bit chewy on the outer skin where they’ve been grilled but taste tender on the inside.
Isaw are served with chilly vinegar and locals usually leave the skewer to soak up as much vinegar to enhance the taste. Price: Php5 ($0.10) for 1 skewer
Sotanghon—Filipino Noodle Dish
A common noodle dish you will find in the Philippines is Sotanghon. The noodles used in this dish are usually glass noodles cooked in a unique and tasty broth.
The noodles are cooked in a meaty oily broth along with beans and topped off with a hardboiled egg. The slippery glass noodles and the fact the broth is rather oily makes this a dish you can actually easily eat on the go. Just slurp through your meal while taking bites out of the hardboiled egg for that bit of chew.
You can easily spot this dish at Filipino street food markets from the eggs floating in a dark glass noodle soup. Price for this dish is Php25 ($0.50) / Php30 ($0.60)
Halo Halo—Filipino Dessert
Halo Halo reigns among the best desserts in the Philippines. So, I thought it would be a great way to finish this list of the best street food in the Philippines.
Halo Halo in the Filipino language means mixture, and that is basically what this Filipino sweet treat is all about.
This cold Filipino dessert is a mixture of shaved ice topped with a combination of fruit, sweet beans, condensed milk, jellies, syrup for taste and topped off with a scoop of ice, usually purple ice cream. Price: Php30 ($0.60)
Filipino Food at Local Canteens
If you can’t find a street food vendor, or wish to sit and eat, go to the local canteen. These low key eateries are the Filipino’s answer to fast food and are easily found wherever you go.
A local eatery is commonly a small shop that serves a variety of dishes along with rice. But you will also find something similar on the side of the street. In fact, we came across places serving a quick meal in the middle of farmland along a main artery road in Dumaguete.
Most common dishes are chorizo sausage, fried eggs, chicken liver, fried pork or chicken and sometimes noodles.
These canteens prepare the food early in the morning and the only time I had this as a hot meal was a few times I was out at around 5:00am and dishes were just being prepared. So basically, beside the rice, which is out of a steamer, dishes are usually served cold, you just need to get used to that.
Prices vary depending on the ingredients in the dish. Expect to pay around Php50 ($1) for 2 or 3 portions with a side of rice
About the Author
James Cutajar is an experienced traveler that spent almost 2 years travelling around South East Asia. Along with his partner Jacqueline, they have created a travel website focusing on routes, travel guides and itineraries in their website thetraveldeck.com