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Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 50 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

62 Responses

  1. 10 Essential Things To Know About Cuba Before You Visit | Indiana Jo

    […] food Heaven (Japan, Mexico, India), other’s have left me with a fit of food depression including the Philippines and, sadly, Cuba. It is illogical to me that Cuba, with its Caribbean location can be so lacking in […]

  2. Caleb S
    Caleb S at | | Reply

    Hey Jo! 🙂 I’m Filipino and I completely understand in what you’re getting at. I have visited other Asian countries and i have realized that our food cannot be really compared to since our food is not really spicy and it is not typically the Asian cuisine one would automatically find really amazing and it may be salty or sweet for others. But I think our cuisine truly shines in home cooking most of all, so fast food chains are just but a cheaper means for us.

    Some tips when eating Filipino meals, if the meat has some sauces,broth etc. that comes along with the meat dish mix it with the white rice. White rice is a must in any Filipino meal. Lastly if it’s roasted pork try adding some vinegar or soy sauce depends which type of meal. (I know it’s very salty) it makes a heap of difference though.

    I agree with the other commenters that say that our food is better in the provinces rather in Manila. but if ever you return to metro Manila again, you should try Max’s restaurant it is isn’t so much expensive or fine dining but also not cheap in which they make quality meals 🙂

  3. Is the Food in the Philippines Really That Bad? A Filipino Culinary Tour

    […] researching my current Southeast Asia trip. I read about how the food in the Philippines is ‘not good’ and ‘the worst cuisine in Southeast Asia.’ Not such a stellar endorsement! Therefore, I […]

  4. Kay spedmore
    Kay spedmore at | | Reply

    I have just returned home from the Philippines after a long 6 month Asia tour that took in extended periods within PH, Thailand and Malaysia. Philippines sadly had the worst food overall by a long way. Whilst in the tourist areas of Boracay it was ok as there was a large range to choose from and quality was far more stringent but once into the province it was really only dry rice and ultra fatty meat covered in cooking oil that was offered. I was only in Manila a matter of days so could not comment about that location. Malaysia for me was the real surprise, I was pigging out on ultra health veggie curries from street stalls the whole time I was there, I think my average spend was about $6usd a day on food and that covered 2 really nice meals plus a few veggie samosas as a snack (far better tasting than my local restaurant local to me) and my stomach was fine the whole time I was there. This was after spending time in PH and to say I was in food hell whilst in PH is a understatement the option to eat food with spices and that where put together with care and quality was a massive boost for my wellbeing, I was ill a number of times whilst in PH after eating at local restaurants. Thailand for food is well documented and I will confirm it has probably the best of everything when it comes to dining. I think a good point was when I took a friend who is a Filipino native out for a curry, his pallet was so used to constantly eating bland uninspired food even the mildest of spices where to much.. Hence I have come to the conclusion that I just do not think people in PH know any different??. Those that I speak to who are expats always ask how did I get on with the food??. I do not get that question from anyone else say after going to Vietnam for example. I can only think there may be some denial going on???.. I will also agree with the comments below about fast food, Jollibee is everywhere and it just looks like a poor attempt at a McDonalds yet you see the seating area rammed to braking point with parents hand feed their small children. It really is quite sad..

    Thank you for the blog, I was actually very naive before I went to the Philippines regarding the food and since I have been back it is something I have been looking into and it does seem that there are a number of blogs commenting about the food in a less than positive light, with so many (non native) people commenting can they really all be wrong?.

    K

  5. NJC
    NJC at | | Reply

    I have to suggest that if you don’t like Filipino food (just like many “westerners” don’t), just don’t eat the food. Just eat another cuisine, as Filipinos (just like any other culture) have their own sense of taste – salty and/or sweet with garlic, onions, ginger, soy sauce, and / or vinegar as their base…which sums it up.

  6. JC
    JC at | | Reply

    Hi Jo,

    Delicious, classic Filipino food can be found easily. Just try Via Mare (can even be found amongst the ladies wear section of the Landmark Department Store. I know, sounds strange). You can also try Abe and Sentro 1771. For affordable and sumptuous Filipino buffet, try Quezon and Guevarra’s (comes with an old Spanish Mansion 😀 ). Good luck!

  7. Ilonggo
    Ilonggo at | | Reply

    Try Iloilo. Tatoy’s and Breakthrough. The food in Manila is not nice. But if you are in Manila, I suggest you try Mesa. It’s maybe the best Filipino restaurant there. People in Manila love salty food too much. Everything is too salty.

    In Iloilo, it’s different and a bit sweet.

    In addition, you should eat pichi pichis, suman, bayi bayi, puto and other Filipino pastries.

    And if you really want to enjoy Filipino. Do not compare it to the Japanese, Chinese and Indian food. We were colonized for a long time so our dishes are already a mixture of different cultures and probably a bad attempt to copy that of our colonizers.

    Lastly, the spice trade did not really pass through the Philippines. Maybe much later on. Maybe it’s the location or the fact that we are comprised of many separate islands.

  8. k
    k at | | Reply

    I came across this blog on a Google search and found the comment thread quite interesting. I went to the Philippines for the very first time in 2006, and I agree with all the other people who are encouraging you to explore the cuisine outside of Manila. Most of the dishes I ate in Manila were disappointing and paled in comparison to my mom’s (or even my own) cooking (I’m a Filipino-American). However, my perspective changed after I went to my mom’s province, because it’s impossible to replicate the dishes or flavors I had there back at home. The key is the ingredient quality/freshness, as well as regional specialities. Some of the foods/dishes I still think about: small bananas that taste like jackfruit, various preparations of lobster and crab that were caught just hours before serving, salads with fresh sea grapes (seaweed) just plucked from the ocean, the tiniest fish that were preserved with salt and calamansi, and banana hearts stewed with coconut milk–a dish that I’ve always hated until I had the real deal there (with a banana heart freshly cut from the tree). The food may not be as heavily spiced as other Southeast Asian cuisines, but there is still beauty in simplicity and food that’s prepared with quality ingredients. Definitely no food packets or fast food (I never eat at Jollibee and wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy).

    One website I’d recommend you check out is marketmanila.com. The person who runs this site actually hosted Anthony Bourdain when he first went to the Philppines, and he highlights Filipino ingredients, dishes, and (sometimes) restaurants.

  9. R young
    R young at | | Reply

    As a expat in Aklan I feel your pain. I have seen over the years a sharp decline in what is offered not so much in choice (I will comment on that in a minute) but in quality. I have also seen a marked increase in peoples weight and how much err “size” they are carrying. This is not something people think of when you mention Asia. Having spent time in Thailand and adopted a far more plant and veg based diet that lets be honest is far healthier than fatty meat I have found the overall quality of greens here really bad and I hate that meat is offered with everything. I also dislike that everything is drenched in Oil. A lot of newer resturants seem to want to try and sell a slightly more varied choice but it is more often than not executed poorly, I know I seem to really be bashing the Philippines here but It is a view that is shared by many ex pats and visitors. Before I came here i was expecting spices and super healthy Asian food sadly I have been offered fairly lack luster food that feels like it is cobbled together without much care and the imported food (italian,chinese) is just as bad. I can see why the younger generation are addicted to junk food and why so many visitors stick with branded food outlets, I mean how sad is it that 7/11 is packed in the morning with people eating American hotdogs.

    Regards

  10. donits
    donits at | | Reply

    one thing i can say to you, i think your taste bud’s not suited for filipino so don’t come back here forever or else you’ll starve to death.

  11. Paula
    Paula at | | Reply

    What about seafood? Every time I read about Filipino cuisine I’m surprised at the lack of seafood dishes…I would assume there must be plenty of it on the islands?? Is it possible to buy fresh fish and seafood on the islands and cook it up yourself?

  12. Bj
    Bj at | | Reply

    I am not a Filipino fiid expert, but thd fiid is really lacking. That is being nice. I have lived and travelled in South America, Central America, the US and Mexico, and recently moved to Manila. Not good. Coffee anf sweets aside, the food is si disappointing and even awful. Really. No words. Don’t do it. Bones, fat and salt.

  13. misai
    misai at | | Reply

    maybe this could help? 🙂
    The app is free for both iOS and Android, and works even offiline.

    http://ph.phonebooky.com/blog/17-awesome-filipino-restaurants-probably-didnt-know-existed/

  14. How to Make Sausages from Scratch | Indiana Jo

    […] Food in the Philippines: A Lingering Taste of Salty Disappointment […]

  15. Gerry
    Gerry at | | Reply

    Hi Jo!

    I enjoyed reading your blog and am glad to know that you at least had one good meal in Palawan, my province. Yes, you are not the first foreigner to say that Filipino food somehow falls flat when compared to food from our Asian neighbors. I have to admit, it was an awakening it was when I tried Pho in Vietnam, Pad Thai in Bangkok, Satays in Malaysia, and a host of so many other wonderful dishes from around this region. I guess the palate expands and develops a need for a variety of flavors once one has tasted food from beyond our own culinary borders.
    In Manila, most local diners go to specialty restaurants that cook up the best version of a certain dish. You will find that these type of restaurants have made it their calling card for having the best( fill in the blank) in town. Not easy to trust these claims if you’re not from here. But fear not, a better way to sample really delicious local fare is to venture out into the provinces. The variety of regional flavors is astounding, if you know where to look. Heading down to Southern Luzon will bring a good appreciation for food that uses coconut milk and chilis as core ingredients. Eating around the Visayas would mean feasting on the freshest seafood cooked in a more ways one can imagine. Other regions have their own unique specialties as well. The catch and crops from from all these places contribute profoundly to the variety of local flavors. Keep in mind, Manila is often a confusing mix of all flavors from our many islands. If you want to get to the real thing, venture far and away. I hope you end up in one of our provinces and will find it hard to leave because you have fallen in love with the food.

  16. jo
    jo at | | Reply

    Im here in philippine days 9 ,all the food is just the same. Soysauce ,venigar,small lime,
    Tomato and red onion and the red sauce just almost in eveything like barbecue etc. ,really??? Im so sorry but I am feel sick so sick of the taste of the foods , I did try alot of thing , but i gues the taste its just not for me,,,

  17. Lisa
    Lisa at | | Reply

    My parents are from the Philippines but are half-White mestizos that they had a bad habit of cooking Filipino food everyday. It’s nothing but unclean. Fatty, greasy, salty, etc.—I’d say worse than Chinese food, which tends to be salty, for example. I swear, Filipino food is the worst out of Asian cuisine. I prefer Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Malaysian, Japanese, or Korean food better. Not too salty, fatty, nor greasy that it doesn’t make you bloated much.

  18. Jim
    Jim at | | Reply

    I’m glad you are looking into visiting the Philippines again 😀 On top of Pampanga you should also look into another province which is Batanes, it is the northern most part of the country. It has been more than 5 years when I last visited Batanes and hopefully nothing much changed about it cause the time I was there it was amazing, can not compare it to anywhere in the Philippines (I believe its isolation and distance from the center helped a lot with this).

  19. Jim
    Jim at | | Reply

    Hi Jo,

    I enjoyed reading your blog, I actually ended here while searching for places to eat Fugu (as I’ll be heading to Japan this winter) and I saw your blog about the Philippines, my home country. I know it is a year old but I just want to put in my 2 cents.

    Just a bit about myself, 30 year old Filipino guy, who loves eating and exploring new place and food. I have now moved to Singapore and have been here for 4+ years. I try to go somewhere new as much as my pocket would allow me. (Just so people know where I’m coming from)

    Enough of myself, let me just put in my modest opinion on Filipino Food.

    I must agree with you that our food normally is in the extremely salty, sweet, sour, bitter end of the spectrum. Most Filipino food is accompanied by white rice (lots of it), which I think made it necessary for our food to be a bit overpowering.

    Regrettably you are correct in saying that our food can not compare to other Asian/South East Asian cuisine. I have traveled a bit around SE Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia) and I would normally eat at roadside stalls away from the main tourist spots. I would have to rank Thai and Viet at the top for SE Asia. Unlike Thai or Viet cooking Filipino c

    Firstly, If anybody is travelling to the Philippines, spend as little time as possible in Manila. The provinces is the way to see the beauty (and deliciousness) of my country. Even when I come home to visit, I try to avoid Manila.

    Also for food, the small eateries (“carinderia” as we call them) in Manila are meant to make profit and unfortunately we Filipinos have the “kung lulusot..” mentality (literally – “if it could work…”) which means to cut corners even if it sacrifices the quality of work/product, thus resulting in disappointing versions of good food.

    Just looking at the 1st photo, which is of Kare-kare (Filipino stew normally of oxtail/tripe/beef in peanut based sauce) it is obviously made with very little care to either taste or texture or aesthetics. I am pretty sure the one you had was made the same way as instant noodles -boil and add packet seasoning(I am not sure why this place was recommended to you). Real Kare-kare should have a thicker sauce made from roasted ground peanuts, with a variety of greens in it accompanied by shrimp paste. This is not made to be eaten on its own, it is to be eaten with perfectly cooked fluffy white rice.

    If you are looking for great food in the Philippines, I would suggest the province of Pampanga which is about 2 hours north of Manila. I am from this province so it may seem like a biased opinion, but even if you would ask Filipinos from other province they know that “Kapampangans” are the best cooks of the country. Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman visited Pampanga on their respective shows a few years back.

    Here is a link of some good Filipino food http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/eat/40-delicious-filipino-dishes-157035.

    Oh just one thing your experience in Sofitel i dont really it as Finding Filipino Food Heaven, as a lot of the food in that post have no connection with either the Philippines or the Filipinos. (But I hate that lady at the sushi line too ;))

    I still have so much I would like to comment about but I think its already been quite a long post on my end, maybe I should start my own blog lol

    Overall I appreciate how honest your views are. Keep it up. And hopefully you have a better experience next time!

    Cheers!
    Jim

  20. Chun
    Chun at | | Reply

    It’s a matter of perspective. As an Asian, I find Mexican food to taste the same with almost always the same ingredients just wrapped differently. I’m not event talking about Taco Bell but the restaurants run by Mexicans catering to Mexicans

    I live in a very Mexican area in the US (lots of Mexicans directly from Mexico) and I think Mexican food in very overrated.

    I don’t think Filipino food in itself is inherently inferior. Has more to do with the technique of the family or the restaurant. In fact, I’m actually surprised a bit by some comments that the flavors are basically “salt and sugar”. The ones who “feed” me, I could taste the tangy vinegar, garlic, pepper, simmered vegetables, shallots, etc….

  21. Haurold
    Haurold at | | Reply

    You should go around the Philippines with a tour guide next time. There are plenty of good restaurants in the Philippines. For instance, you can find the best kare-kare in Pampanga, but you can also find good ones in Manila. The one you had (based on your photo) looks really sad. I have to agree that tapas (and other currd meats) are so salty, but there’s history behind it. The temperature and humidity in the country can spoil meat so easily, hence, early Filipinos use of lots and lots of salt. Since early Filipinos were very poor, they used basic ingredients – as basic as salt and pepper – that’s it. Cured meats are often dipped in vinegar or eaten with sliced tomatoes to tone down its saltiness. Point is – a tour guide (a food blogger perhaps) should be a great help. There are plenty of restaurants and dining places in the Philippines, but it’s really hard to find good ones.

  22. Dr. S.
    Dr. S. at | | Reply

    Couldn’t agree more with your blog. I went to the Philippines on a vacation. Believe me, I tried eating everything — even the Balut. Long story short, I ended up losing 10 pounds in 10 days.

    Beautiful country. Nice people. But I wouldn’t go there for the cuisine. This is not a knock on the Philippines. It is what it is. And maybe that explains why there is a dearth of Filipino restaurants outside of the Philippines.

  23. Bruno Cavallo
    Bruno Cavallo at | | Reply

    You write up is 100% accurate. Filipino food is definitely non comparable to the neighboring countries. I gave the Pinoy cuisine many years of chance to let it grow on me…but sadly, it didn’t.

    During my time in the Philippines, I always find it hard to decline invitations to some Pinoy house parties.

    Almost every household will claim that their mom makes the best adobo, sinigang, kare kare, pinakbet etc. Isn’t this claim kinda universal but not necessarily the truth. Everybody will claim their mom makes the best so and so.

    When it comes to food, it is a very sensitive issue when you don’t share the same sentiments as the locals. They feel insulted when you don’t enjoy their cuisine. They become defensive as they might have the feeling we think they are crazy for enjoying the kind of food they like.

    I have always try to be gracious about not condemning the Pinoy cuisine but sometimes I get frustrated ( I am a serious foodie…lol ) when a Filipino telling me how great their cuisine is and comparable to Thai food, how we never really give the Pinoy cuisine a fair chance…but when I finally take the bite, I feel cheated.

    I think I am on a mission to finally let the Filipino see the truth. I want them to really accept that their food is really inferior. They should stop promoting their food for tourism, but rather concentrate on the beaches, good musical talents and a country that speaks and understand English.

    To sum up my long comment, I always try to treat Filipino food like the kid of my best friend. Only thing is, the kid is not cute, in fact he doesn’t look good at all. I know my best friend will love his kid till death no matter what other people might say about the kid. I for one will not be honest and tell my friend how ugly his kid even though it is the truth. I will most probably say, hey man…that’s your kid…you gotta love him no matter what!

  24. Aize
    Aize at | | Reply

    Thank you for your criticism of Filipino food. Although blog says negative things about your food experience here in the Philippines, this is something we can definitely swallow, as it does not demean or insult our traditions. You also chose your words carefully making it sound more sensitive, professional and reader conscious.

    By the way, should you decide to come back to the Philippines, you can experience more of the Filipino cuisine and culture in provinces. Better if you can find a host family where you can stay. I guarantee they will make your stay more worthwhile, but prepare a huge appetite once they invite you for a meal, because when we have guests we tend to serve them the best tasting food one can prepare at the largest serving we can manage.

  25. Kai
    Kai at | | Reply

    Having come to the Philippines many times, and have travelled throughout the islands. I agree with Jo, that staying on a budget and eating primarily street food for flavor and balance of taste, it is not even in the same league as in other neighboring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, or Indonesia. Most street food available is of limited choice and includes a high degree of salt, most likely as a preservative since it is out all day. Just as important to note is it doesn’t have the rich favors,quality, nor comparable price associated with its neighbors. If you want good quality Filipino food, I’m sure it’s available in high end restaurants, but you’ll need to pay the price. I wish that some street vendors would try to create some new salt free economical viable unique and delicious items that would set them apart from what all the other vendors seem to sell.

    Kai

  26. Filipino food
    Filipino food at | | Reply

    I’m delicious, you just don’t like Filipino food the way Filipinos like them and the food is not made for foreigners. It’s for the Filipinos

  27. Joann
    Joann at | | Reply

    I been to Manila once and I have to say the food is a bit salty and greasy for my stomach. I ended eating fruits and salads most of my trip because the first couple of days ruin my stomach with all that grease and fat.

  28. Simon
    Simon at | | Reply

    Having just spent 3 weeks in the Philippines, I have to agree with you. I am unable to report one single good meal. No doubt a few exceptions exist, but it shouldn’t be so hard to find palatable food. Even the most basic of things is rarely done correctly; numerous times I ordered eggs and toast – as the alternatives were horrific – and, instead of toast, was given barely warm bread. I mean, if a cafe can’t manage to toast bread, what hope is there? On one occasion I asked why the bread was not toasted at all, and was told, “Sorry sir but our toaster is not working today.” That’s fine, but perhaps better to let the customer know when they’re ordering.

    On a positive note, I have managed to lose a lot of weight during my short time in the Philippines. And I love the country and the people, it’s just the food that is truly dire.

  29. Narciso
    Narciso at | | Reply

    Where are you eating? I can’t believe Jollibee and Kenny Rogers Roasters are even used as barometers for an entire cuisine. From the looks of it, your best experience, outside of a buffet, was at a resort not exactly known for it’s food. This is…unfortunate and a bit disconcerting. There are plenty of good eating establishments that serve solid local fare, with a little more to offer than gourmet pig’s ears. Bale Datung, Antonio’s, Abe, Fely J’s, Cucina de Tita Moning, Sentro 1771, Laudico’s, XO 46, Kabila, Milky Way, the list goes on…and that’s just in and around Manila. Tony Bourdain has gone so far as to declare The Philippines’ version of roast pork the best he’s ever had…ever. You don’t even have to look past the US. Just look at the NYC dining scene, Filipino cuisine is on the rise…Pig and Khao, Jeepney, Maharlika. People flock to those places. My conclusion is you’re just eating underwhelming versions of proper local food. If you make it back, let me know, and I’ll tell you where to eat. There won’t be one fast food establishment on that list, nor a hotel’s version of local fare.

  30. Aaron
    Aaron at | | Reply

    I’ve been to the Philippines a few times and I unfortunately have to agree. Salt and sugar, that’s about it.

    I guess there is a reason that we don’t see many Filipino restaurants around…..

    1. IndianaJo
      IndianaJo at | | Reply

      I would add oil to that list of Filipino cooking essentials but yes, it does explain the lack of international Philippines restaurants!

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