Philippines food is unique - in it we can taste the essence of Malay, Indian, Spanish, Chinese, and American food adapted to local ingredients. Philippines cuisine is a blend of sweet, sour and savoury, and uses less hot spices characteristic of Southeast Asian food.
I had the opportunity to taste many Philippines dishes - traditional and avant-garde during the 15 Hour Food Frenzy Safari, in conjunction with the media launch of WSFC16 or World Street Food Congress 2016 (which will be held from 20 - 24 Apr 2016) in Manila.
These are just 10 of the highlights.
Click on photo ^ for story on the birthplace of sisig ^
1. Sisig from Pampanga heads this list. This iconic dish is made by carving meat, fat and skin off a pig's head. Marinated with vinegar and calamansi juice, grilled over charcoal fire, chopped into bits, mixed with chopped onion and mashed chicken liver, sauteed on a sizzling cast iron plate with margarine and served while the bits of grease and meat still spatter, staining clothes, spectacles and camera lens :-D
The texture is a mix of crispy, soft, crunchy (from the onion) and greasy (from all that fat). Flavour is savoury, sour, and sweet.
Clogs arteries but it's one of those foods I am willing to die a little for.
2 - Silog. Silog is a hybrid word combining sinangag (garlic fried rice) and itlog (fried egg). In it's most basic form, it is simply fried rice and egg usually eaten for breakfast. There are infinite variations of silog, depending on the addition of a third item. Sisilog - sisig, fried rice and fried egg. SPAMsilog - SPAM brand luncheon meat, fried rice and fried egg. You get the idea.
Tapa is usually beef, mutton, chicken or fish cured in salt and spices. Fried, cut into bite sized pieces, served with fried rice and fried egg, we have tapsilog in the picture above.
3 - Rellenong Bangus, one of the most delicious fish dishes I've ever tasted. A classic from Pampanga, the milkfish (the "national fish" is very common here) is stripped of it's meat but leaving the skin intact like a sock. The meat is then deboned, mashed, marinated with calamansi juice and pepper, boiled, stuffed back into the fish skin, sewn, and then deep fried.
Texture is crisp outside (skin) followed by soft and wet inside, and a little jello from the fatty fish belly. The flavours are layers of sweetness with variations depending on the dressing sauce used in the final presentation. Every restaurant have their secret recipe.
If you love fish, don't leave the Philippines without trying Rellenong Bangus.
4 - Lechon, the "best pig ever" according to Celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain. Lechon is the Philippines' national dish and has obvious Spanish roots. It's a young pig, stuffed with herbs, sewn with strings, brushed with spices and roasted over a charcoal pit on a spit. The meat is moist and tender, while the golden skin is cardboard thin with a layer of juicy fat below. Every region in the Philippines have their own rendition of lechon, and the best is considered to be from Cebu <- click
5 - Sizzling Kansi Bulalo or sweet Filipino style tulang. From the region of Negros Occidental, sizzling kansi bulalo is a tender beef stew in a rich creamy sweet savoury sauce served with shank bone with bone marrow (utok). Ah..... that sweet creamy jello wet marrow is oh so... irresistible. If you are a tulang person, you must track one of these down when you are in the Philippines.
6. Bagnet from Ilocos is the Philippines' answer to roast pork belly (siew yok or sio bak) but it is deep fried in lard. Every bagnet place have their own recipe - some are very similar to the way we have roast pork belly in Hong Kong, Malaysia or Singapore. Others have vinegar in the marinade due to Spanish influence. My favourite bagnet have tender moist meat with a thick layer of juicy fat above and capped with a golden leaf of blistered, crackly skin. Eaten with a dip - there are many variations, some are like tomato sauce, others like kare-kare resembles satay sauce (of Malaysia and Singapore). Me? I like to eat my bagnet neat without any dips to taste the original porcine flavours.
7. Chicken Inasal - Fresh chicken paa (thigh), pecho (breast) or isol (tail) marinated with sinamak (blend of palm vinegar, spices and herbs) then charcoal grilled to golden brown with charred fringes. The tender juicy flesh is eaten with garlic fried rice drizzled with chicken oil drippings. Locals like to eat inasal with a blended dip of soy sauce, vinegar and calamansi.
8. Batchoy is the Philippines version of noodle soup - Iloilo is usually credited as the birthplace of batchoy. The soup base is usually pork. Boiled yellow noodles in the soup is garnished with pork (often innards as well), chicharon (pork cracklings), chicken, raw or runny egg and vegetables. Each eatery have their own concoction to attract customers. Some places add boiled pork blood. At other places, the broth is souped up with utok (bone marrow). O la la :-D
9. Isaw - the ubiquitous Philippines BBQ street food. It's chicken or pork intestines marinated with powdered seasoning, speared with bamboo skewers and grilled over a trough of charcoal embers. Every street corner in Manila has it's isaw stand - I exaggerate but only by a bit. There are many different chicken parts and they often have very quaint names, like the way we name our drinks in Singapore/ Malaysia coffee shops:
- Adidas - chicken feet
- Betamax - pork or chicken blood curd in cubes
- Helmet - chicken head
- I.U.D. - chicken intestines
- Magwheels - large pork intestines sliced salami style (coin shape)
- Walkman - pig ears.
The savoury smokey chewy isaw is eaten with a sourish dip blending vinegar, lime juice, onion, garlic, chili and spices often in a disposable plastic cup.
10. Tsokolate, the Filipino hot chocolate is the "national drink". Cacao was brought to the Philippines by Spain via Mexico. To make Filipino Tsokolate, ground chocolate is boiled with hot water and then mixed and frothed with a wooden whisk called a batidor.
After frothing the chocolate and water, the reward is a thick and creamy aromatic drink of nutty and gritty hot chocolate. A kind of velvety chocolate tarik :-D
Credit: Wikipedia Commons
+1 Bonus - Balut because any list of Philippines food without mentioning balut would not be legitimate :-D
Developing duck embryo is boiled and eaten from the shell. Ubiquitous street food in Philippines cities.
Balut is eaten by breaking open the shell by knocking on a hard surface. Make a small opening at the top to expose the embryo. The fluid inside is sucked up. It tastes like a warm watery savoury sweet chicken broth. (I am not kidding you :-D )
The egg shell is peeled further to expose nearly the entire embryo. Bite off and gently chew on the embryo :-D It is soft and very slightly grainy. I didn't feel the feathers, bones or beak. The flavour is like a very watered down Chinese salted egg yolk.
I can eat it again but each time I will have to overcome the psychological barrier of the little duck eyes, feathers, beak and bones.
These 10 Must Try Filipino foods are just some of the highlights of the 15 Hour Food Frenzy Safari curated by Makansutra and OurAwesomePlanet in conjunction with WSFC16 World Street Food Congress 2016 in Manila (from 20 to 24 Apr 2016).
This list does not do justice to the diversity of Philippines food - it's only the appetiser. Take your time to explore and discover the many other dishes that are unique to the Philippines.
Food is one of the reasons why it is more fun in the Philippines. Will we see you at the World Street Food Congress?
Date: 20 Feb 2016
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