The Philippine cuisine is as colorful as its history. It’s a fusion of the native and several foreign influences including Chinese, Malay, Arab, Spanish, and American. According to food historians, 80 percent of the dishes are of Spanish origin—thanks to the almost 400-year rule of Spain in the country. Filipino dishes are combination of flavors—sweet, sour, and salty—that are remarkably pleasing to the taste buds.
Traveling to different parts of the Philippines presents regional specialties and cooking variations of their dishes. Many of the regions rely heavily on their agricultural or seafood products that are abundant locally.
Manila, the capital city, located in Luzon (the largest island group of the Philippines) brings all the native fares from different parts of the country together. Regional delicacies and dishes are available for you to enjoy. However, in search for the best of those native dishes, you need to go to the island or the region where the food originates.
For native grilled dishes, one of the popular restaurants in Manila and other urban areas in the country is Gerry’s Grill. They offer grilled bangus (milkfish), tuna belly, chicken, and pork liempo (pork belly). They also serves one of the tastiest beef kare-kare (a Filipino peanut stew with oxtail, beef, and vegetables) eaten with salty bagoong (shrimp paste) to complement its slightly sweet taste.
Filipinos love to eat– they eat breakfast, brunch, lunch, snacks/merienda, and dinner. Eating pancit (noodles) for snack is a typical Filipino habit. This dish is made of pancit canton (thin noodles) and pancit bihon (rice noodles) mixed with vegetables and meat topped with chicharon (pork cracklings). One of the best pancit canton you can buy in the metro is from Ado’s Panciteria, wrapped in banana leaf.
Manila as a melting pot of foreign culinary influences also offers international dishes to suit your cravings. If you want to eat Chinese food, you can go to China Town where you can feast on your favorite dim sum, noodles, and other Chinese dishes. Japanese, Korean, Thai, European, and American restaurants are easy to spot in this part of the country.
Going north from Manila is Bulacan, famous for its chicharon (pork rinds or cracklings). It is made from pork skin or pork fat, with or without meat, salted and deep-fried. This cholesterol-laden food is best eaten when it is dip into a vinegar solution. Chicharon sold in the streets are not at par with those you can buy from Bulacan.
Moving further north is the province of Pampanga, touted as the culinary capital of the Philippines. This is the home of the famous Aling Lucing’s sisig, a tasty concoction of minced grilled pork (pig’s face and belly), mixed with chopped liver, and onions. It is served in a sizzling plate, with chili and calamansi. Lucia Cunanan aka Aling Lucing invented this dish way back in 1970’s.
They say that people in Pampanga eat everything. A visit in Everybody’s Café may prove that right when you see betute (deep-fried stuffed frog) and kamaru (crispy and succulent fried crickets). The café also serves the best morcon (stuffed beef roll topped with special sauce) in town.
To know what a Filipino pizza is, try Doy’s Kapampangan pizza at the historic shed-turned-restaurant, Camalig. It has a not-so-thin crispy crust with rich sauce, uniquely topped with Kapampangan sausage, ebun buru (salted duck egg), onions, and pickle relish. Looks weird, but you’ll be amazed on how good it taste.
While in Angeles City, trying Pampanga’s halo-halo (halo literally means “mix”, a mix of everything) is a must. The famous Kabigting’s serves a luscious halo-halo that has a mixture of sweetened banana, beans, corn, macapuno, and pastillas topped with finely shaved ice, mixed with milk. Unlike the halo-halo you’ll find anywhere in the country, Pampanga serves the creamiest and tastiest.
Located on the southwestern region of Luzon is the province of Batangas. It is where you can find the most sought-after bulalo (beef soup). The delicious and cholesterol-high dish has big portion of tender beef and succulent bone marrow, and vegetables. Many people would visit the popular Rose & Grace for a taste of hot and tasty Batangas bulalo.
Bicol in the southeastern tip of Luzon, land of the coconuts, is the hometown for bicol express (pork with red and green chilies and coconut milk) and pinangat (meat wrapped in taro leaves with coconut milk and chilies). Waway’s Restaurant in Albay is among the top choices to eat those hot and spicy dishes.
Cebu’s Lechon (roasted pig) is hailed to be the crispiest and tastiest. It catapulted to stardom when Anthony Bourdain of No Reservations covered lechon during his trip to the Philippines in 2008. The pig is stuffed with wild spring onions, lemon grass, red onions, and star anise. It is then roasted over slow fire. CNT is a popular brand name for Cebu’s lechon.
Cebu and neighboring regions that are near bodies of water are abundant with fishes and other seafood products. Many of the locals would eat fish raw, but unlike the Japanese sashimi, the fish would be soaked in local vinegar mixed with spices—they call this kinilaw. Tuyo (dried fish) is also one of the delicacies in these areas.
The Philippines, with over 7,000 islands, has a lot to offer—so many travel destinations and so many dishes to try. Some of the dishes are simple to prepare, while others can be so laborious and requires years of culinary experience. Different regions of the country have their own versions of common victuals. Pork adobo (pork boiled in soy sauce and vinegar, mixed with garlic, onion, peppercorn, and bay leaves), for instance, which is a household dish, have a variety of cooking method.
The Filipino cuisine is all about the right blending of flavors that make the dishes flavorful. Traveling to different islands and regions in the Philippines is such a pleasant gastronomic experience