The Philippines were settled by the Austronesians. So the origins of the local cooking methods are similar to neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. However, since the Philippines were a Spanish colony for more than 300 years and then under US control, their cuisine has absorbed techniques and flavors from Spanish, Latin and US American cooking, as well as a lot of Chinese and Indian influences brought by different waves of settlers. Thus you can find many different kinds of dishes ranging from paella and tapas, bread pastries, corned beef, noodles soups, fried noodles to many variations of curries.
Since the Philippines are an archipelago consisting of more than 7000 islands, you would think people eat a lot of seafood. They do in some parts, but funnily enough the most popular dishes come with pork. The Filipinos are quite pork crazy. One of their most famous dishes is lechon or roast pig. We have been told the best lechon is from Cebu and asked many times to go there and try it, because it is more delicious than in other regions. Roasted pigs are an important part of social gatherings and prepared for fiestas, special occasions and family celebrations. When you want to get married in the Cordillera mountain region for example, the groom has to present the in-laws with a pig. There are several famous restaurants where you can try lechon. As we did not go to Cebu we can not attest this, but Rico s and CNT Lechon kept popping up in different lists.
Indeed, many Filipino dishes feature meat. Chicken, corned beef and cured pork, fried pork, braised pork, pork sisig etc. can be found on most menus. We actually had a hard time finding vegetable dishes and gave up on looking for vegetarian eventually. If you like pork, you will find some awesome dishes here.
Almost all dishes come with rice and Filipinos eat the good white stuff three times a day. The crew on our boat trip lovingly called rice “Filipino Power”. People here traditionally do a lot of hard work at sea or in rice fields, thus the food is a bit on the heavier side to provide enough energy. Another great staple is pancit (rice noodles – usually fried). Sometimes the cooking was slightly too salty and especially the pork dishes can be a bit fatty. While the meat was tasty, neither of us is a great lover of pork or salt. So take this conclusion with a grain of salt ;-).
Filipinos seem to love fast food. There are several popular Filipino chain restaurants like Jollibees or Chowking. You can also find many international chains such as McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, IHOP, Dairy Queen or Wendy’s around malls and shopping streets.
Since we spend only three weeks in the Philippines and a lot of that time in remote areas, we did not get to try too many different local dishes. Also, since we traveled to just a few places in Luzon and Palawan, we did not get to very comprehensively eat ourselves through the menu. The most delicious food we had were definitely all the onboard cooked meals we got on the Tao boat. Some of those were classic Filipino dishes with a creative twist. For sure there is a lot more interesting food to discover on the huge archipelago. Here are some great dishes we came across during our stay:
For breakfast you often get garlic rice, fried egg and some form of meat, here corned beef. This plate also included egg drop soup and some banana and melon.
The other best breakfast while in the Philippines however was porridge out of fresh coconuts topped with banana jam and fresh melon and pineapple. Thanks to Toto the boat chef!
Best dish: anything adobo
Adobo is a very tasty omnipresent cooking method that refers to anything cooked with garlic, black pepper, soy sauce and vinegar. We had squid adobo cooked with ink, pork and chicken adobo. All of which were very tasty. It is considered the Philippines inofficial national dish and on our first night our host send us straight out to get some adobo, which we did.
Best soup: Sinanglao (Vigan beef soup)
A lot of soups in the Philippines are slightly sour as they are cooked with tamarind paste. In Vigan the beef soup comes with tender beef, inards, congealed blood and raw onion. You can skip the intestines, but try the blood as it has a really fine texture.
Food from the Ilocos region around Vigan is considered a distinct regional cuisine. Other food in the area include empanadas, poqui-poqui (a mashed eggplant dish), and Vigan longanisa (sausage). If you are close by, consider a small food quest detour.
Best Snack: Tupig
This charcoal-grilled sweet sticky rice with coconut in banana leaf has a nice BBQ taste, is very cheap and great to eat while you are walking around. We have seen and eaten it in many places in Luzon.
Best desert: Sans Rival McFlurry
The Philippines have one iconic desert: Halo-halo. Our host on our first night told us we should go and eat it as it is divine. (We did not right away, since we were afraid of the ice cubes at first.) Halo-halo is a colourful mixture of shaved ice, sweet condense milk, toped with coconut shavings, a rainbow of jellies, banana jam and beans. The toppings can vary.
It is a great refreshment on a hot day and fun to eat since you discover something new in your cup with every bite.
Unfortunately, Halo-Halo got beat out by something insanely delicious we are at the airport on our last day: the Sans Rival McFlurry. Sans Rival is a Filipino butter cream layer cake with toasted cashew nuts and merengue. The French Name sums it up quite adequately. It sounds like one hell of a cake. Since we only tried the McFlurry right before leaving we did not actually get to try this popular cake in its original form, which is a shame. I am planning to petition McDonalds to bring it abroad or if that does not work we will just have to come back to the Philippines. It was really freaking delicious. If you like experimenting, here is a recipe link that looks promising.
Best fruit: Calamansi Lime
This tiny amazing citrus fruit is used all over the country to improve the taste of everything. Mixed with soy sauce it becomes a delicious dipping sauce, it works in cocktails, to spice up grilled fish, you can often get it as juice in restaurants or shops.
Best drink: Ginger and turmeric tea
The Visayas (the middle islands) produce sugar cane. Thus the Philippines makes some nice rum. Fresh coconuts are also available everywhere, but since they already won Best Drink in Vietnam before, we decided to mix it up. The honor for best drink goes to ginger and turmeric tea.
We actually had a lot of ginger tea all over the Philippines as it was found on most menus. Some was made with fresh ginger, some from ground dried ginger and some was even powdered. Most of it was served without sugar. Tanja especially is very fond of ginger tea, as it is great in keeping motion sickness at bay and helps with digestion. We had innumerable cups on it when sailing and brought some along on the snaking bus rides in the mountains. The mixture with turmeric gets the price because it has an extra-kick to it. Try it at home!