Being raised half Filipino, I grew up eating all sorts of traditional dishes like Pancit (Filipino noodles), Kare-Kare (peanut butter oxtail soup), and Sinigang (sour tamarind soup). What I was not exposed to, however, was the Filipino street food that you find only in roadside food stalls or by vendors selling the snacks door-to-door. On our recent trip to the Philippines, I made it my mission to sample as many authentic street food items my stomach could handle. Here is my list of must-try Filipino street foods. How many have you tried?
Tokneneng (Deep-fried eggs)
Tokneneng are hard-boiled chicken eggs that are dipped in an orange-colored batter and deep-fried. It is often served in a plastic cup along with some vinegar, diced onions, and chiles. KwekKwek is a similar Filipino street food, but replace the chicken egg with quail eggs and slap them on a stick. The names are often interchanged whereby one name is used for both versions. The orange color is due to the addition of annatto powder, an ingredient derived from the seeds of the achiote tree (not native to the Philippines).
I tried these at a food stall and found them simple yet satisfying. The batter is not particularly heavy nor does it have much flavor so it essentially tastes like a hard-boiled egg. The majority of flavor is added by the spicy vinegar.
Price – 3 KwekKwek or 1 Tokneneng for 12 PHP ($0.24)
Fish balls/Chicken balls
You can find these little fried balls of deliciousness being sold all over the streets of Manila. The ‘meatballs” actually contain little meat and more flour than anything. When you walk up to the cart there are a variety of balls floating around in the fryer. You can order as many as you like and the vendor will scoop them out into a plastic cup, offering you a number of toppings to finish off the snack. I prefer the spicy vinegar.
I was actually surprised by how much I liked these. In my opinion, the texture is a cross between a Japanese fish ball and a doughy croquette. And at only 2PHP per ball, I can see why it is such a popular and beloved street food by local students and kids, This is something I will definitely crave long after leaving the Philippines.
Price – 2 PHP ($0.04 USD) per ball
Lumpia (Veggie + Meat spring rolls)
Lumpiang Shanghai, also known as Lumpia, was a recipe originally brought to the Philippines by Chinese traders. At the time it resembled more of a typical vegetable spring roll with an assortment of veggies, but over time the Philippines made it their own with the addition of meat and various other ingredients. There is no one recipe for lumpia. Every family, chef, and vendor will have their own version however traditional ingredients commonly include chicken, pork, or prawns, in addition to shredded carrots, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, green onions, and cabbage. The ingredients are rolled up into a wrapper, deep-fried, and then served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. Lumpia is quite possibly the most famous Filipino street food among ex-pats.
You know how in Chinese culture, dumpling making can be a family tradition as a means of passing down a bit of culture through the generations? Similarly, in Mexico families gather together around the holidays to assemble mass amounts of tamales. In Filipino culture we have lumpia. Now I don’t know if this is a tradition in every Filipino family, but at least in ours, my sister and I grew up helping our mom to assemble lumpia for every holiday, get together, and potluck. While there are several variations of lumpia, we always use my mom’s recipe and it will be the same recipe we hand down to our kids one day. Let me know if you want the recipe, I am happy to share 🙂
Isaw and Inihaw (Grilled intestines)
This is a typical afternoon to late-night Filipino street food made from barbecued chicken (Isaw) or pig (Inihaw) or intestines. The intestines are cleaned, turned inside out, and cleaned again to ensure that everything that shouldn’t be there is gone and all that remains is the edible snack. The intestines are placed on skewers and grilled until thoroughly cooked with a nice smoky char. Like most other Filipino street foods, both Isaw and Inihaw are served with your own customized concoction of vinegar, chiles, and onions.
I tried Isaw after a night of drinking in Coron Town. As soon as we walked out of the bar, the streets were lined with vendors grilling all sorts of skewered meats. After deciding it was as good a time as any, I ordered a few Isaw skewers. I found that the chicken version was much milder in flavor, mimicking the texture of a thin sausage. The smoky char added a nice flavor profile. Honestly, if I had spent my partying college years in the Philippines I probably would have consumed many late-night skewers of Isaw.
Price – usually about 5 PHP ($0.10) per skewer
Chicharon Bulaklak (Pork Mesentery)
Chicharon Bulakak is a savory snack often consumed with a cold beer or other adult beverages. To be clear, Bulaklak is not the actual intestines but rather the fatty folds of tissue that attach the small intestines to the back of the abdominal wall. Bulaklak literally translates to flower, named for its ruffled quality resembling a flower.
I tried Chicharon Bulaklak because it accompanied our order of Lechon (delicious roast pig). I can definitely see why it is a “bar” snack. It is crisp and salty like a potato chip, and when dipped in the vinegar, it tastes almost like salt and vinegar chips!
Price – 100 PHP per order ($1.97 USD)
Lugaw, Arroz Caldo, Goto (rice porridge)
Not all Filipino street food comes on a stick and rice porridge is the perfect example. You can find vendors serving up bowls of porridge in the street markets, in the mall, and also at home as a comfort food. In the Philippines, rice porridge goes by many names each with some noticeable differences.
Lugaw, also called Congee, is the most basic version of the porridge. Rice is cooked in water until it disintegrates into a thick consistency. What differentiates it from the Chinese version is the use of patis (fish sauce) and ginger for added flavor. To this day, I crave my mom’s homemade Lugaw when I am feeling sick and in need of comfort food. During the Spanish occupation, the recipe was adapted into what is now Arroz Caldo. This version is characterized by a slightly yellow hue due to the addition of Kusubha, a local version of saffron. The main flavor and ingredient (aside from rice) is chicken. Goto, is a third variation of Lugaw that draws its flavor from tender pieces of intestine and tripe (either pork or beef).
All three versions use similar garnishes (calamansi or Philippine lime, spring onions, fried garlic, and a hard-boiled egg) therefore based on appearances alone it can be confusing to tell them all apart. I made the mistake when I ordered Goto at a market (meaning to order Lugaw) and ended up with a mouthful of honeycomb tripe.
Price – 15 – 30 PHP ($.29 – $.59 USD)
Mami is Chinese-Filipino noodle soup made with egg noodles and a rich chicken broth. It is typically topped with chicken, egg, and scallions. Like the rice porridge soups mentioned above, Mami is often sold in the markets or at home as comfort food.
Price – 30PHP ($.59 USD)
The Filipino Empanada is popular in the northern provinces of Ilocos, although you might be able to find it elsewhere if you know where to look. In contrast to the typical empanadas of Latin America which might be filled with ground beef, tomatoes, and peppers, Ilocano empanadas are filled with green papaya, bean sprouts, carrot, and longanisa (Filipino-style sausage). The dough is made with a touch of Annato powder which gives it the rich orange hue.
Price – 25 PHP ($.50 USD)
Ukoy (Shrimp fritters)
Ukoy, or okoy, are deep-fried crispy shrimp fritters. There are a number of variations that exist however most are made with unshelled shrimp and a combination of vegetables including sweet potato, scallions, bean sprouts, carrots, and green papaya. It can be served with banana ketchup, tomato ketchup, sweet and sour sauce, or…you guessed it…vinegar.
Price – 20 USD ($.40 USD)
Balut (Duck embryo)
No article about Filipino street food would be complete without mentioning Balut, the fertilized duck embryo. After the egg is hatched, it is left to incubate for anywhere between 14-21 days before it is boiled. The length of incubation impacts the size and development of the embryo inside. A fully developed embryo will have the feathers, bones, and beak visible, but still soft enough to consume in its entirety. To consume, crack a small opening at the top of the shell and sip the rich broth from the egg. Continue peeling the shell to expose the embryo. Use salt, vinegar, chili, and garlic liberally and eat to your contentment.
In all transparency, I still haven’t tried Balut. My mom eats these things like pop tarts, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I have been told that the unique mix of flavors and textures is what makes this street food such a delicacy. Unfortunately, I can’t say that from experience, but maybe one day…one day.
Price – 15 PHP ($.29 USD)
Taho (Sweet tofu)
Taho is a sweet Philippine snack made of fresh silken tofu, brown sugar syrup, and sago pearl (similar to tapioca). The amount of sugar syrup can be modified to alter the level of sweetness. Taho can be enjoyed with a spoon, straw, or by simply drinking it straight from the cup.
We were sitting inside the house where my mom grew up when we heard the faint cry of “Taho!”…..”Tahooo!” I had no idea what that sound was or why someone was shouting things in the street, but my aunt popped out of her seat and yelled “Oh Taho! You must try it!” We followed her out into the street where a Magtataho (or Taho peddlar) was carrying 2 tin buckets over his shoulder. After placing our order, he knelt down and started assembling the Taho. First the soft tofu, then the sago pearls, finally the delicious brown sugar syrup. The silkiness of the tofu is soft on your tummy while the subtle sweetness is enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Price – 20 PHP for a medium-sized cup
Halo Halo (Shaved ice)
Halo Halo, one of the staples of Filipino culture, is a layered dessert consisting of sweetened beans, jellies, and fruits piled high over shaved ice. Countless variations exist with toppings ranging from ube (purple yam) ice cream and flan, to cornflakes, and condensed milk.
I grew up on Halo Halo..or as Scott would say “Holla Holla”. I never liked it as a kid because I couldn’t get over all the unidentifiable brightly colored items in the cup. That and the fact that it was all over flavorless shaved ice and not ice cream. I decided to try the authentic Halo Halo while in the Philippines and found that I am still not the biggest fan. With that being said, everyone else seems to love this traditional dessert. With the hodgepodge of vibrant colors, ingredients, and textures, Halo Halo is a one-of-a-kind dessert that everyone should experience.
Price – Starts around 45 PHP ($.88 USD)
Buko (Young coconut)
Like most island nations, Buko, or young coconut is easy to find. Rich in natural electrolytes, Buko is a refreshing treat to keep you hydrated while lounging on the beach and soaking up the sun. After you have sipped up all the water inside the fruit, bring it back to the vendor who will chop it open for you to scrape out the tasty coconut meat. As a side note, be careful not to drink too many buko in one sitting as the extra potassium may cause an upset stomach and diarrhea.
Price – 50 PHP ($0.98 USD)
In the Philippines, ice cream sold on the street is referred to as “dirty ice cream”. Of course, there is nothing actually dirty about it. I peeked inside the vendor’s cart and its just store-bought gallons of ice cream. I know, it burst my bubble too. Although finding that secret out was a little disappointing, the variety of unique flavors make it worth seeking out these vendors. You can try anything from avocado and coconut to ube (purple yam) and cheese flavor with little bits of cheese in it.
Price – 20 PHP ($.40 USD)
Turon and Banana Cue
Turon consist of thinly sliced bananas dredged in brown sugar and a few slices of ripe jackfruit rolled together in a Lumpia wrapper. Before they are placed in the deep fryer, sugar is poured into the hot oil to melt into a sticky caramel. When the Turon is added to the oil, the caramel envelopes them to achieve a perfect sweet glaze. The finished product is a Filipino snack that is sweet, crispy, and oh so satisfying.
Banana Cue, short for Banana barbecue, are normally found right next to Turon on the vendor carts. Bananas are dusted in brown sugar and thrown into hot oil with melted sugar. The fried bananas are then placed on bamboo skewers for ease of eating.
Prince – 15 PHP ($.30)
This list focuses more on street foods found in the Luzon region of the Philippines and just touches the surface of all possible street foods found in the country. Every island and province has its own recipes and dishes so I am interested to learn about your top Filipino street foods. Comment below with your favorite eats so that other foodies and myself can fully enjoy the best street food that the Philippines has to offer!
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