When I think of the island country of Philippines located in Southeast Asia, a few things come to mind– brilliant singers like Charice, boxer Manny Pacquiao, its 7000+ gorgeous islands, and of course, the food!
Food– eating it, enjoying it, appreciating it; that’s part of understanding and learning about the culture of a country. On my recent trip to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, I had the opportunity to eat some of their local dishes and delicacies, and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them. The cuisine here is less spicy than other Southeast Asian countries and is influenced by so many different cultures– Indian, Chinese, Malay, Spanish, European and American. Dishes are usually filled with all kinds of spices and ingredients; and each province has a different specialty, so imagine how many dishes there are! This is one country that really knows how to value and appreciate their food… nothing goes to waste.
Listed below are my top 10 favourite dishes in Manila, each of them just as awesome as the other– some delicious, some weird and all extremely sinful. When you make your way to the city, be sure to seek them out.
1. Pork Sisig
I’ll start with my favourite Filipino dish, sisig. The sisig consists of parts from a pig’s head; mainly its jowls and ears, and pig innards. The parts are boiled, then grilled, then chopped into tiny pieces before being fried with onions; and served in a sizzling hot plate with a raw egg on top. It is absolutely delicious– one of the best pork dishes I’ve ever tasted.
My Filipino friend from Pampanga told me that this dish originated from his village. The history of sisig goes like this– Back in the day when the U.S. army were in the Philippines, they had an air force base camp near the village. When cooking and preparing their food, the Americans do not use the pig’s head and usually throws it away or sells it for cheap. The people of Pampanga then decided to use the pig’s head, and came up with this awesome dish. Why waste food, right?
2. Chicharon Bulaklak
This dish is so addictive, one bite is just not enough. You can continuously eat it like a snack. The chicharon bulaklak is deep-fried pig intestines and mesentery, which is the tissue that attaches the intestinal track. It may sound pretty nasty, but try it, it’s extremely delicious and crunchy. This snack is best eaten when dipped in vinegar and accompanied by a couple of bottles of local Filipino beer. Try to limit your consumption though, it’s highly fatty and extremely oily.
3. Crispy Pata
The crispy pata is deep-fried whole pork knuckle or trotter. The pata is prepared by first dipping it in cold water before deep-frying– this brings out the crispiness of the skin, and leaving the meat soft and tender. Just like the chicharon bulaklak, this dish is also known as a beer-accompanying snack, and is usually served with a soy-vinegar dipping. I enjoyed gnawing on the bone and biting into the crunchy skin. Sinful, but oh so delicious.
4. Chicken/Pork Adobo
Many locals consider adobo as the national dish of the Philippines. In direct translation, adobo means to marinade, or to season. The meat– usually chicken or pork, is dipped and stewed in vinegar as the main ingredient, before being cooked with added soy sauce, garlic and bay leaves. It has been a Filipino dish from before the Spanish occupation in the Philippines, and this process was initially done to preserve the meat. The adobo is served with rice, and the vinegar gives it a pickled, zingy flavour.
The kaldereta is meat stewed in tomato paste, and cooked with tomatoes, liver, bell peppers, spices and cheese. It was originally a Spanish dish, but has been altered over time into Philippines’ own version. The kaldereta that I tried was the kalderetang kambing, which is goat meat. It was presented on a sizzling plate, and the meat was perfectly soft and tender. The kalderetang kambing is usually served on special occasions– parties, fiestas and celebrations. Other meat used to make kaldereta include chicken, pork and beef.
The bulalo is said to originate from Batangas, where another Filipino friend of mine is from. He insisted that I try this dish from his province, and I’m glad I did. The bulalo is beef soup that involves cooking the shank with the marrow in tact. It is simmered for a considerable amount of time until the flavours are released into the clear soup and the meat is tender. I thoroughly enjoyed drinking this soup; absolutely flavourful, and the soft marrow just melted in my mouth. Just the way I like it.
7. Papaitan Baka
A little bit of courage is needed to try this dish. The papaitan baka is a soup dish made out of goat or cow internal organs– everything from the stomach, intestines, liver and bile. The bile causes the soup to be slightly bitter, therefore this dish is an acquired taste. I was surprised that I actually liked it and had double servings! Add some calamansi/lime juice to reduce the bitterness.
8. Kare Kare
I loved this Filipino stew with its thick and savoury peanut sauce. It was so good that I finished it till the last drop. I had the oxtail stew, but other meat versions include pork leg, beef, beef cheeks, tripe or goat. This dish also includes a generous amount of vegetables like eggplants, green beans, long beans and chinese cabbage. The kare kare is usually served in a claypot with shrimp paste on the side. The shrimp paste is essential to really bring out the flavours in this dish. Chilli can be added to the paste for some extra spiciness.
Dinuguan is also know as the pork blood pudding stew. It is a dish that consists of pork and pig innards like lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart and snout; all simmered in thick pig blood gravy and vinegar. The dinuguan is another dish that requires a lot of guts (literally!) to try, but if you are willing to overlook the ingredients– this dish is rich and tasty… with a little tinge of sweet and sour from the blood and vinegar. I rather enjoyed it, and managed to lessen the taste with white rice.
It took me 15 long minutes to eat the balut; I was squirming, screaming, shouting, making disgusted faces… and I nearly gave up half way. The balut is a Filipino delicacy and is boiled duck egg that contains a partially developed duck embryo. The egg is usually eaten with salt, or chilli and vinegar. The balut may look revolting and eating it may seem disgusting; but this delicacy is high in protein and calcium. If you don’t think about it and gobble it up without looking, it really just tastes like egg. Never again for me, but at least I can now say, I ate the balut.
Mynn’s Suggested Restaurants in Manila
These are some of the amazing restaurants that I visited to have my fill of some of Philippines’ most awesome dishes. My local friends brought me around, and every one of these restaurants satisfied my palate and fulfilled my appetite.
Pinac serves heirloom Kapampangan cuisine from the province of Pampanga. This casual dining restaurant has a lovely atmosphere and is located in a shopping and restaurant centre. I ordered my Crispy Pata here and it was absolutely delicious– tender meat and crispy skin. Other must order dishes include the Crispy Hito Balls, Mustasa at Buro, Lumpiang Ubod Taquitos and the Cucumber Mint Dalandan Shake drink.
Where: UP Town Center, Katipunan Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, Metro Manila.
My Pinoy friends (and apparently local celebrities too) were raving about this local 24-hour restaurant. Nestled in a row of small buildings, it is rather difficult to spot, so look out for the bright red signboard. It is an open aired restaurant with wooden walls and self-made extensions. The specialty of this restaurant is the Bulalo, as its name indicates. They also serve the best Chicharon Bulaklak and delicious Pancit Kanton (Cantonese noodles).
Where: Plainview Maysilo Circle, Plainview, Mandaluyong City, Manila.
This small unassuming restaurant serves the best sisig in Manila– according to my friends and the local food award plaque proudly hung at its entrance. I have to say, I absolutely agree. It was so good that we ordered a serving each, and wouldn’t share. Other awesome dishes I had at Aysee were Papaitan Baka, Kalderetang Kambing and Dinuguan. The food here is not only delicious, it is served extremely fast too.
Where: Oranbo, Pasig, Metro Manila.
What other Filipino food do you like, and where to find them? Let me know!