Food in the Philippines: A Lingering Taste of Salty Disappointment

“Food in the Philippines isn’t very good,” they were words from a fellow traveller and they came as a crushing blow. How could that be? I was in Asia – one of the cornerstones of the spice trade, a region that had sent its cuisine global with pandemic success.  The Philippines had to have good food, it was its geographical birthright.

 
 

I looked down into my plastic bowl of pale brown watery sauce and floating pig fat (no meat, just fat). The restaurant had been recommended to me, the dish I’d ordered all on my own.  Surely, it was a one-time bad order?

Food in the Philippines

Apparently not.

For the following three weeks with increasing degrees of frustration, desperation and eventually downright food depression, I, too, reached the sad conclusion that the food in the Philippines simply isn’t good. I say these words carefully. The food is plentiful and provides essential nutrition (overly fatty meat aside), but for my inner foodie, sustenance was simply not enough.

 
 

Like many developing countries there is a point where income, at least for some, affords more dining choices and the fish, meat, vegetables and rice staples are passed over in preference for, most commonly, junk food. The result – an unsatisfying culinary mid-way – traditional recipes are no longer at their best, slowly being forgotten on a generation by generation basis, yet the new wave of fast food is a poor tasting substitute, even if it is an ironic social indicator of increased wealth.

Amongst the upcoming Filipino masses, Jollibee with its McDonald style burger meals and platters of pasta that would make the Italians want to throw in the kitchen towel, was sadly one of the most popular if not the crème de la crème of the Philippine’s cooking world. I ate there twice – once for breakfast, another for dinner and both occasions left me with an inner food sadness. I also tried the ubiquitous Kenny Roger’s Roasters (I’m serious – this does exist and no, it’s  not the world’s greatest chicken, as the slogan suggests), slipping out mid-meal to pick up an avocado from the market to add more pizzaz to my meal.

 
 
Food in the Philippines
Beef Tapa Breakfast Menu at Jollibee – fast food eggs are always dire.

Photo by: dbgg1979.

The street food (my usual go-to option in Asia) managed to tick the happy food box as I savoured barbecued everything from innards to unidentifiable pieces of meat, but a girl can’t live on BBQ alone.

Food in the PhilippinesFood in the Philippines

 

The halo halo dessert meaning ‘mix mix’ and comprising pasta, sweet potato, cream and jelly (strange, but works) and luminous green jelly drinks with buko (young coconut) were also fun (they matched the colour of one of my t-shirts, which made me happy), but equally, sugar cannot form my entire sustenance.

 
 

Food in the Philippines

Food in the PhilippinesFood in the Philippines

On Palawan, I tucked into some delicious tuna, tried the deep-fried bananas despite my heart protesting to the contrary and sampled the strangest coffee combination that included mushrooms and Korean Ginseng (surprisingly nice) but none of these items were distinctively Filipino.
birthright.

 
 

Food in the PhilippinesFood in the Philippines

 

 
 

Food in the Philippines

By far the best local meal I ate was the lunch served up in El Nido cooked on firewood on a beach during my time on a boat tour

Food in the Philippines

But beyond those few examples, I was stumped.

 
 

Yes, beef tapsilog was served at breakfast. The Jollibee version is shown above. I sampled others but consistently found the beef over salty and the garlic rice just too much for me first thing in the morning – even if it was offset with an egg.

I will give credit to Ube jam, which is definitely worth a try and probably the best breakfast item I tried the entire time (perhaps I just like the vividly coloured foods in the Philippines?).

Otherwise, kare kare (pork in peanut sauce) and other rice and meat based dishes were consumed with decreasing excitement.

Food in the Philippines

 
 

As time passed and my interest in Filipino food waned, I lost my guilt at eating more internationally – Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and (gasp, I’m about to say it) vegetarian food all stepping confidently into the breach, but it was nothing new, nothing I could take with me as a distinct culinary memory of the country.

Food in the Philippines
Yes, they are vegan sausages and yes they were vile, but the risotto was edible.

But I refused to give in. I researched, I tasted and then I found the answer I’d been looking for, the promise of a food utopia nestled in the heart of the Philippines…the Manila Sunday Brunch.

 
 

PS: I plan to return to the Philippines and I suspect that my disappointment with the country’s food stems from my extended time in Japan where I existed in food heaven. Speaking to other travelers who had spent time in South Korea and Taiwan, the Philippines’ food seemed, to them, a trade up. If you have any suggestions for where and what to eat for next time I visit, please do share otherwise I’ll be taking a jar of (unsweetened) peanut butter and saving my main meal for the weekly Sunday brunch.

 
Want more? Read my post about Visiting the Batad Rice Terraces
I was determined to take a trip to the north of Luzon and the Cordillera mountains to visit the Batad rice terraces. The terraces are dubbed the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and although I have come across many self-proclaimed ‘eighth wonders’ on my travels, I’d say that the stunning emerald-green Batad rice terraces could well take the title.
 
If you find yourself in the Philippines, this journey is definitely worth the effort (and it can feel like an effort with a minimum 18-hour round trip on broken roads from Manila). Here’s my guide to visiting the Batad rice terraces.

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The Ginstitute – Making your own gin in London

Traditional Irish Food – How to eat like an Irishman

How to order coffee in Italy

Best restaurants in Venice – Tried & Tested

What to eat in Jamaica – Traditional Jamaican food

Where is the best deep pan pizza in Chicago?

How to drink Tequila like a Mexican

How to go wine tasting in Ensenada, Mexico

 

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89 thoughts on “Food in the Philippines: A Lingering Taste of Salty Disappointment”

  1. 2018 …..nothing has changed ….the food still sucks. “Good food” makes good food. I think it may have a lot to do with quality of ingredients. Fresh dairy is almost none existent. There is a local farm in Laguna trying to change that. Just last night I tried to keep it simple and ordered pan fried mushrooms that came floating in some kind of tasteless grease and mussels covered in a some kind of more tasteless plastic cheese. I’ve been here 3 weeks and can’t wait to go home and eat some real food. My wife is philipinoe and is an amazing cook. We’ve resorted to staying in and letting her cook. She can make everything taste good and back home make everything taste amazing.

  2. I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard hatred towards Filipino food, some of the comments I agree with, some are just bananas. I think that part of what people need to understand is the Philippines is a dirt poor country, ridden with corruption and war for centuries now. Fine dining simply isn’t an option for filipinos, but with that being said, I wouldn’t call the food bad, and relate it with comfort food, it definitely is bad for you, but meh. Another thing I want to point out is the fact that filipino food is too salty or too sweet. Most of the population of the country could not afford a variety of spices like the ones you would typically taste from eating fine dining dishes such as Italian or French cuisines, thus, we resort to using salt and sugar to compensate for this fact. I got first hand experience of this, 6 months after I moved to the US, I started craving filipino chips, when I finally found one, my pallete has already adjusted to The less salty US food, the entire thing just tasted way too salty for me. I am neither defending nor am I going against filipino food. My point is, each country has their own different tolerance to salt and sugar, and i think the way to objectively judge the cuisine is by cooking it and salting it with the amount you would normally put in reference to what you are used to.

    • Hi Mark, I don’t entirely agree with your idea that a poor country can’t produce great cuisine. India is the perfect example. Also, many parts of Southeast Asia are just as poor yet still manage to create excellent dishes that have become global sensations. I also don’t necessarily think of fine dining equals the finest dining. Simple ingredients, well cooked can beat a French Michelin star hands down in my book. I’m not sure what is actually behind Filipino cuisine and why it is so salty but I don’t think it’s entirely because the country doesn’t have a great GDP.

      • One story I read while growing up in Manila is that because of the love of fiestas, parties, celebrations and desire to over invite people, the cooks would make the food saltier or sweeter, and fatty so that everyone would get a chance to eat, and feel filled up even with only a small portion.

    • Hog wash,

      You state,
      “I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard hatred towards Filipino food”, Obviously you have looked at all..

      The sad reality is that there is no reason why The Philippines should have any less of a exciting food culture than anywhere else in South East Asia, it is because the “That will do” attitude that causes food to be just adequate for the locals and down right terrible for visitors.

      I have never heard of anyone coming to the Philippines then speaking of being desperate to find a Filipino restaurant near them when they get back. It is always the same notion of “yeah it is edible and that is about it”, if you need to gain weight quickly eat Filipino food..

      Can you tell me why something like Chicken Khao Pad or Pad Thai could not be reproduced in the Philippines as it is in the poorest back roads of Thailand??.

      The fact is the food standards in the Philippines are rubbish, fatty unhealthy meat is everywhere and there is the elephant in the room of the younger generation being happy to eat fast food for every meal.

      I think the other reply sums it up well, there are street stalls in India, Malaysia, Thailand that would put high price restaurants in the Philippines to shame, the “excuse” that the locals are poor is just absurd…

      I have lived in the Caribbean, Lived in the Philippines and south east Asia, and was born in Europe, the Philippines thus far has by far the worst food of any country I have lived or visited..

    • The Philippines isn’t a poor country, it is a lower middle income, newly industrialized country similar to Indonesia.

      But I have to admit, our local cuisine isn’t that great! I myself rarely eat Filipino food except at home and the only local food that I like is Chicken Inasal or Inato!

    • With all my respect. That is one of the least educated comments on the planet. The Philippines is actually a middle income country and the fastest growing economy in asia. Vietnam is poorer, yet makes amazing food, just as an example. Having lived in the Philippines for a year, I can assure you it is the WORST cuisine in asia. Hands down. And people need to stop pretending it isn’t.

  3. Filipino food is spectacularly bad IMO. They just don’t seem interested in fine cooking and cuisine unlike the rest of southeast Asia. To me it is more like a South Pacific Island such as Samoa or a Latin country such as rural Peru both of which have an abundance of unhealthy greasy food.

  4. When i went to Singapore I couldn’t help but feel that food is overrated here and I miss my Pinoy food dearly because I felt the food in Singapore was bland and too spicy. German friends agree with me that much of Sg food lack real meat. But well I’ve only been to malls and hawkers and not to fine dining restaurants. Eventually I found my favorite dishes too which are close to my dear Pinoy cuisine.
    1.) their famous bah kut teh = Pinoys bakang nilaga/ bulalo/balbacua
    2.) hawkers roast pork vs pinoys lechon kawali ( Singaporean friends like our lechon kawali more than their roast pork, but yes, roast pork is healthier)
    3.) Vietnamese glass noodles vs pinoys pancit bihon
    4.) Indonesian influenced dishes are also very much like Filipino dishes and going to indonesion restaurants also satisfy my pinoy food cravings
    5.) so there maybe you should try more of home cooked meals or meals from a reputable restaurants and not the meals on the street coz definitely cheap meals will be missing a lot of key ingredients. What kind of ingredients can you buy for a 50 peso meal when a red/green bell pepper is already 10 pesos.
    6.) street food is also not the way to have a culinary journey in the Philippines unlike in other SEA countries where it is actually encouraged. Here, people eat street food more because it’s cheap filling to our empty stomachs.
    7.) and yes, we’re meat lovers and while the world is moving on to healthier lifestyles, we are stuck in our love for steaks ( salt and pepper only right) or our cheaper version of it, tapa, ( soy sauce, pepper, and lime marinade).
    I feel like I’ve written a whole article for you here…

    • Hi, thanks for the info 🙂 I was only in Singapore briefly and I was so jet-lagged I can’t remember ‘eating’ anything other than a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel ;p You’ve got some great tips in here and I’ll try them next time I go to the Philippines. The one tip I keep getting is to eat more home cooked food. Sadly, however, I don’t keep getting invites to people’s houses. But seriously, home cooked food in often superior in most countries but as a visitor, it’s just not a really accessible option so we are stuck with restaurants and street food. Sadly. Thanks again for the comments.

    • It’s Mike again, I was using the internet to search for a good place to eat in Philippines and your article came up again. I’ve been to 30 Plus countries and Singapore is one of them. The population of Sinapore is 75% Chinese so if you like Chinese food you will like Singapore food. The food was great when i was there, lived there for 3 weeks went to Sentosa Island, and stayed at the Concorde hotel. Take it from a guy that talks to many expats and travellers, Philippine food is the bottom of the barrel, a very deep barrel. Funny when I was in Singapore or anywhere else that i’ve worked abroad I never saw a Filipino restaurant. I have never meet to a tourist or traveller that said ” wow Filipino food was great” There is no cure for Pinoy food, but our scientist is working on it. Maybe within the next decade for two. Last week my nightmare came true and i have to go back to that Island for another two weeks of consultant/contract work. My advice to tourist going to the Philippines ” Pack a lunch”.

      • Pack a lunch ? And take some hot sauce! I wish you a hunger-free trip back to the Philippines. Have a read above – some local readers have made some recommendations for good places to eat. I’m making no promises, but worth a try? Let me know how it goes!

  5. I am a Filipino and I agree to this post.

    Most of our food is derivative:

    If you had Thai, Indonesian, Malay, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish food you have tried 60 – 70% Filipino cuisine. Badly prepared versions that is.

    Most of it is tomato sauce based:

    It is always presented as “Filipino Style” which is a diabetic’s nightmare or would probably give you diabetes.

    It only has 4 flavor profiles:

    Sweet, salty, overly sweet, or overly salty.

    Forget about temperature or doneness:

    There are only 2 ways meat is prepared, either well done or burnt. Unless the cook in the restaurant had some form of culinary training.

    I only have a few rules when i comes to food. If it’s good, it does not need to be researched.
    If it can really stand on it’s own location does not matter.
    If food that’s supposed to be served hot tastes good when it’s cold then it is really good.

    • So many good point in here, Em and it’s good to know I’m not the only one who isn’t impressed with the local food. Maybe one day more international flavours will appear?

      • Hi Jo,

        The kicker here is I am also a local. But I have not been back to the Philippines for 10 yrs. Sadly I don’t miss the food.

        There’s a filipino restaurant that opened near my area operated by filipinos. I paid for the most unappetizing / disgusting food.

        Adding more herbs and spices wouldn’t hurt. I strongly believe that’s what filipino cuisine need. 🙂

        • Hi Em, yes, there are some Filipino restaurants in the UK too but I’ve not been tempted to visit. It boggles my mind that in Southeast Asia the Philippines doesn’t seem to have the same herbs and spices as their neighbours. I’d genuinely love to understand why this is!

  6. I’m born & bred Scottish but have lived in Asia for three decades. Let me reconfirm what many above note: the Philippines food is the worst in Asia by a mile. Almost the only fans are Filipinos

    The future of Philippines cuisine in the major, international cities, is, fittingly, like another island race, Britain: how it internationalises.

    British cuisine was also limited & dreadful a few decades ago; since then it has absorbed other traditions incredibly quickly and made it their own, the national British dish is now Chicken Tikka (Indian origins), albeit a British slant on it. Curry, Italian, Middle Eastern – all are now staples of the British high street and home kitchens.

    Until that happens Philippines food will be stuck in the awful zone

    • Hi Campbell, that’s quite the change of climate and destination. I really enjoyed the Philippines except for the food. And I agree, that the majority of the people who are fans of the local food are, indeed, the locals. I’m surprised given the proximity of the other Asian countries that food influences haven’t already arrived. Any idea why this might be? My best guess is that the locals are still heavily committed to their own cuisine and perhaps the Philippines hasn’t seen as much tourism as its neighbours.

  7. Talking about foods: The “Best” & the “Worst”, the “Delicious” & the “Tasteless/insipid”, etc. Look here all readers, there’s no such thing as “good” or “bad” food. Eah of us has our own peculiar and personal tastebuds and preferences. What’s “so good” to one may not be good to others at all! Food is something very personal to every individual. Also when it comes to preferences, it all depends on what you’ve been fed on when a baby and this is develpoped in us all till adulthood so that when we are offered some foods that had never before been given to us when children we tend to reject such foods. “There’s nothing written when it comes to taste.”, which the Spaniards say so accurately, “De gustos no hay nada escrito.”

  8. Filipino food is like prison food. I live here 2 months a year for the last ten years and would like to say that I’m a survivor. Everything that you say is true about the food. I live in the Los Angeles with a large Philippino population. When i was growing up, prior to my contract work in Philippines 2 months out of the year. I have never had Philippines food. Now I know why there are few Philippino restaurants in Los Angeles. The food sucks. let me take thAt back. It’s beyond suck. Pancit, aka Rancit. Now I know why as a kid growing up their were so many Filipino in Chinese restaurants. I’m Chinese by the way. Oh one thing to add I have lots of Asian friends ( Korean, Thai, Japanes Filipino, Vietnamese.) i can’t remember once when any of use suggests ” let’s get some Filipino food for lunch or dinner” and im 45.

    • Mike – well done, you really are a survivor. I’d recommend a medal but I think it might come in the form of an item from Jolly Bee. And I wouldn’t wish that on anyone! And no, I don’t see many Filipino restaurants outside the country and, yes, there is a good reason for that.

  9. I’m Filipino and I agree with your opinion. Filipino food, with the exception of a few entrees like Sinigang, is really bad. Kare-kare is the blandest, most boring stew on earth. No taste. lol. Also, don’t get me started on how Filipinos make Spaghetti. I hate that crap. Its like if you took a perfect food (spaghetti) and decided to ruin it with hotdogs, banana ketchup, and satans ass drippings. Its why I gave up on my culinary culture and married a Vietnamese woman. Infinitely better Food than the Philippines. Even my wife complained about the food when she went home to meet my relatives.

    • Ha ha ha – love the name ‘Luis is sick of pinoy food’ – kind of sums it up 🙂 Also, ‘hotdogs, banana ketchup, and satans ass drippings’ – oh, this comment really brightened my day and I agree with everything you say. Well done on the marriage – I fully approve of Vietnamese food 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

  10. One more thing. I hate this thing about “travelers” trying to find “what is distinctly authentically Filipino” as if it’s not authentic if there were any foreign influences or if you can find something similar elsewhere. Both Thais and Filipinos eat unripe mangoes with shrimp paste, but would you say we copied the Thais and those things aren’t distinctly Filipino? No. We both were just probably using the produce available to us in similar ways. Did you know that much of Southern Thai cuisine evolved that way because of Indian and Chinese influences? Pad thai literally means Thai style noodles, meaning it’s not indigenous. Did you ever wonder why it is that you find similar food in Malaysia or Singapore? The thing is, cuisine is ever evolving because of cultural exchanges so to find “authenticity” by stripping away foreign influences is misguided. Is Filipino less unique just because we don’t use the same spices or herbs? But then did you ever expect to find homegrown cheese, chocolate de batirol or chorizo in Southeast Asia? If we’re not used to spicy food, does that make you better than us for liking it or better than your companion who couldn’t take the spice or heat? I’m the same, my stomach gets upset at when I eat spicy food or too much coconut milk but that’s no different than some people from other countries. I prefer my breakfast to be savory and not sweet but do I don’t think I’m better than those who prefer to eat cereal or toast and jam in the morning or prefer to eat something lightly seasoned for lunch or dinner.

    I don’t get this “there is no authentic/unique/distinctly Filipino cuisine/culture” mentality, sorry. We’re a melting pot of Hispanic and Asian culture and that’s just the way it is. When I order baked mussels topped with cheese in bar/restaurants, I don’t for one second wonder “oh this isn’t Filipino” I just eat the damn thing. Maybe that’s what’s uniquely Pinoy, if it’s damned good we eat it we don’t care where it’s from. And also, this comparison of countries as if a country only existed to specifically cater to expats’ tastes… *sigh*. I’m sensitive about this sorry. I think British cuisine is boring but Filipinos don’t go slagging it off like everyone else. Speaking of British, we also have a smoked fish similar to British kippers and we usually eat smoked fish for breakfast. Maybe if we tried to find things in common rather insisting on finding what makes us different the world would be a better place.

    • There’s a lot of Brit food bashing and I get it – it’s very specific food and, similar to your country, highly regional. I’ll do you a deal – next time you’re in the UK, I’ll give you some food tips that will change your mind 🙂

  11. The reason you’re doubly disappointed is that you didn’t do your research and assumed the Philippine was just like the rest of Southeast Asia when it’s actually the Hispanic side of Southeast Asia. You might see more similarities with the Central American love for pork and fat than with the love for curries. Our food is already very Westernized considering our history. We don’t bat an eyelid eating cheese or eating tomato or cream based stews. That said, I grew up in Manila and agree that Manila food does not compare to food from my mother’s province (Iloilo). Regional food is better and similar to Italian cooking, cooking method is simple to highlight the flavor of the produce. Seafood is often grilled (if you want them to go light on the salt then make it a special request because we like our flavors to be extreme – very salty, very sour, very sweet, very bitter). Our sources of flavor is shrimp paste, fish paste, souring agents (young tamarind, calamansi, vinegar), fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic and onions. Each province has its own special version of vinegar (made from cane sugar, coconut or palm) or type of shrimp/fish paste. Since the Philippines was divided up by the colonial Spanish government into different agricultural economic regions, the food of each region would depend on what their main produce was or what could survive in the land beside their plantations. This is why food and tastes are highly regional and Manila is unfortunately not a good representative of that. We do tend to like fat (some chefs would tell you fat is flavor), but more health conscious people avoid it. Filipino restaurants are also starting to make their mark in the US, although granted it’s not commercially spread but more limited to foodie circles. But then think about it, it’s hard enough to replicate the flavors of my mom’s province’s cuisine in Manila.

    We don’t really have a street food culture similar to Thailand because the general mentality was that street food was dirty or only poor people eat street food (What mostly sold as street food were offal or parts that the rich wouldn’t eat). People eat food sitting down in an eatery. What you eat at a restaurant is different from what you eat at home (unless you’re eating at a carinderia, a cheap eatery). You get more vegetable dishes the farther you get away from the city (I don’t know, this could also be a logistics issue because Manila’s vegetable source is still 8 hours away and there are too many middlemen and it gets complicated).

    However, when I went to Thailand, I checked out what the locals were eating at the local market in Silom and I noticed we used the same produce, same vegetables and generally same type of cooking except they use more chilis, coconut milk, turmeric, ginger, lemon grass and herbs. The food I saw was totally different than your usual pad thai, green/red/massaman curry/stirfried morning glory. They looked like our Filipino ulam (dishes to partner with rice) but just more spicy. When I went up north to Chiang Mai, a guide told me that they find Bangkok food too sweet (!) and not spicy enough. It’s not palatable for them. Imagine, Thais finding their own local capital’s food too sweet? They also do not use coconut milk and use more chilis. Chiang Mai also used pork skin and fat (chicharon)! Then their poorest region, Isaan, has the simplest preparation method in Thai cuisine generally characterized by its use of salt. But this has become very popular in the capital for locals.

    A special dinner organized by a Scot-Thai couple I attended in Chiang Mai served grilled pork ribs, a spicy chicken and chayote stew that looked so much like the Filipino tinola (except it had lots of chilis and lemon grass) and banana blossoms steamed in banana leaves. We also make a salad or coconut stew out or banana blossoms so everything was not so alien to me. It’s just that people don’t get to taste that kind of Filipino food unless they have some friend with a loving lola (grandma) like mine who can cook you the best food when you come to visit or you’re visiting some specialty heritage restaurant in someone’s ancestral home. You might be able to taste it at some carinderia’s but it’s hit and miss because some carinderia’s skimp on the ingredients and generally take shortcuts.

    Anyway I recommend you try these:

    Kapampangan food – Generally more elaborate, indulgent and rich, I would consider this the most “French” out of Filipino cooking. It also does not shy away from using fat, but it uses it to its best potential (similar to how French use butter). I mean stuff like preserved crab roe or fermented rice (some people don’t like it but it goes so well with fried fish wrapped in mustard leaves). Try the bringhe, it’s a sticky rice paella like dish that might remind you of more Malaysian flavors (because they use turmeric) but Westernized in that it’s dotted with chorizos and egg. You can see a list of food to try here:

    Also, try the halo halo in Pampanga, I prefer it than the regular colorful halo halo because it uses water buffalo milk and only had a few add ons (stewed bananas, beans, leche flan). The most popular brand in Manila is Razon’s.

    Manila – Try the bibingka with the salted egg and quezo de bola (edam cheese) and a cup of tsokolate e (Filipino style hot chocolate made with tablea or balled up ground cacao beans similar to Mexican style chocolate). It’s totally east meets west, the rice cake with the salted egg with an added European cheese on top. It’s salty and sweet and a nice afternoon merienda (snack).

    Go to Sidcor Sunday market in Quezon City (cheaper and with more regional cuisine than Salcedo or Legazpi markets) to buy some carabao’s milk cheese (kesong puti or literally white cheese) from my mother’s favorite seller. This is water buffalo milk that is (yes) salty and similar to haloumi maybe (some say like mozzarella but not really because it’s not stretched). If you can find some hot pandesal, they go so well together. As far as i know, we’re the only country in Southeast Asia with indigenous cheese. You can also purchase some nice regional longganisas there (and yes we stud the sausages with fat similar to chorizos) for grilling or frying.

    Batangas (Tagaytay area) – Bulalo (beef shank soup cooked for hours and hours) and tawilis (whole fried small fish, kind of like anchovies). Kapeng barako (local coffee). Other than this I don’t really think there’s anything special about the food there.

    Bicol – Bicol dishes are characterized by use of coconut milk and chilis. You might enjoy this. Laing (taro leaves cooked in coconut milk), Bicol express etc. Not sure where there’s a good restaurant in Manila but I think you should go down to Bicol and try their cuisine and and visit the world’s perfectly cone shaped volcano while you’re at it.

    Ilonggo food – So this would be food from the cities Iloilo or Bacolod where they speak Ilonggo (a different Filipino language), although some proud Bacolod people would probably say their cuisine is better. Well I guess there are plentiful more good restaurants in Bacolod than Iloilo but then Bacolod is much smaller than Iloilo. Iloilo is known for its fresh seafood and batchoy (a meat and noodle soup dish). What I notice about food from here is that the use of young coconut vinegar gives it a very distinct flavor that we can’t replicate in Manila. I swear their vinegar tastes super different. Their version of stir fried morning glory has a healthy amount of shrimp paste (and is cooked so to make you want to eat more rice), yes it’s salty but I think it’s good. I also prefer the beef tapa from here because it’s marinated in coconut vinegar and actually sundried to make it like jerky. I don’t like the sweet saucy tapa you get in Manila. Iloilo also makes their own version of bringhe but they call it arroz valenciana.

    Negrense food or food from Bacolod is similar to food from Iloilo except their batchoy is sweeter and they originated the chicken inasal. Not that shite you get from Mang Inasal that is too sweet. Original Bacolod inasal is grilled chicken marinated in coconut vinegar (giving it a very distinct taste) and basted with rendered chicken fat colored orange from achiote seeds (Mexican influence). Sometimes lemongrass is added. Pair this with atchara (pickled papaya salad) and it’s heaven. Because a lot of rich families opened restaurants or cafes that promote the use of the local produce (sugar). Bacolod also has a lot of dessert places that I think are better than those in Manila. Cakes and pies galore. Their coffee however is too sweet the hairs on my arm always stand up after taking one sip. But do get yourself some muscovado sugar from here.

    A modernized version of Negrense food can be had at Sarsa restaurant in Manila. For authentic inasal. you can try Parilla Bacolod chicken in Makati.

    Cebu – The only think I really like about Cebu is their lechon. Stuffed with garlic, green onions, lemon grass, lots of salt (yes we like extremes of basic flavors). Depending on the chef basted with soy sauce/oil mixture or coconut water/oil (some use no basting). Zubuchon, made by the guy who made Anthony Bourdain declare lechon the best pig in the world, now has a branch in Makati. Zubuchon is not so popular with local Cebuanos and is more preferred by Manila palates.

    Davao – The best tuna and crabs. Pomelo (like a grapefruit) and durian. Grilled tuna collar – really succulent and juicy. Not fishy fresh off the grilled.

    Desserts – I think we have some of the best cakes and pastries in Asia. Try the ube cake, pandan cake, sans rival, biscocho, barquillos, leche flan, pastillas (milk paste candy), real yema made with egg yolks. For rice cakes, go to a church after mass and check out the many stalls of rice cakes available, there’s puto but that’s just a bland leavened rice cake in my opinion. My favorite is kutsinta and palitaw, which is like flattened mochi like patties rolled in shredded coconut and eaten with granulated sugar mixed with ground rice crispies.

    Others – Try your food with condiments – vinegar, soy sauce+calamansi+chili, fish sauce + chili or fish sauce + calamansi. Try ginataan dishes (gata means coconut milk and anything cooked with coconut milk is ginataan), e.g. ginataang alimango (coconut crab), ginataang kalabasa (coconut squash), etc. however be careful because some desserts are also “ginataan”. A variety of chicken dishes cooked differently – lechon manok (roasted), chicken tinola, sinampalukang manok (in soup with tamarind leaves), afritada, chicken pastel. Christmas party food is distinctly east meets west – roasted meats, meatloaf, grilled skewered meat (barbecue), rice, seafood, pancit, ham, cheese, brownies, food for the gods, fruit salads or ice cream for dessert, etc. Try different kinds of pancit – pancit palabok, malabon, bihon, efuven, etc. Each region has its specialty pancit.

    If you look at our cuisine with no expectations that we will be like Thailand or Vietnam or Malaysia or Indonesia and viewed in the context of its own and its history then you would totally understand it from a different way. Yeast is not part of our indigenous cuisine (our rice cakes use different leavening agents) so it’s kinda stupid that someone complained about it and about not being able to make a pizza since we’re more a rice than bread eating country. Anyway, if you have any more questions where you should eat then don’t hesitate to drop me an email.

    • Wowser – thanks so much for this. I love that you both understand and know your own cuisine so well. I couldn’t say the same for many Brits. Just one question really – can you show me round your favourite food places next time I’m in the Philippines ;p

  12. 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 🙂

    • Thanks Caleb, especially for the food tips and the restaurant recommendation. So many comments say that the best food is home cooked. The problem as a tourist is that I think I’d get arrested (or at least some strange stares) if I kept turning up uninvited to strangers’ homes ;p

  13. 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

    • Thanks for your comment Kay. Yes, I was naive before I visited too and sadly surprised by the food. I guess a nation’s cuisine can be tested by the yardstick of how prevalent restaurants with that cuisine are overseas. You’ll find plenty of French and Italian places dotted around the world. Not may Filipino restaurants (or English for that matter).

  14. 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.

    • I know, NJC – I got there in the end, eating non local food, but I do like to try the cuisine. I’ve been assured there are many good/better options to sample so I’m thinking of a return visit.

  15. 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!

    • Mare – thanks! It’s on the list and I’m at the point in my travels where eating in the ladies wear section doesn’t sound strange at all 🙂 And Spanish Mansion – I’m there! Cheers for the tips.

  16. 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.

    • I’m scribbling furiously – thanks for the tips. I’m considering an Indiana Jo -v- Filipino Food rematch in 2017 with the intention of proving myself and this post wrong so these recommendations come in really handy. Also interesting about the spice trade. Thanks again!

  17. 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.

    • Thanks so much for the tips! I’m back in Asia next year and the Philippines is potentially on my list for a re-visit. I’ll definitely check out that website. I don’t need the food to be heavily spiced – fresh and well cooked is good enough and some of those dishes you mention sound amazing. Out of interest, where is your mom’s province?

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