The Philippines really holds its own in the world of food. In fact, I am surprised not to see it on more menus and street corners around the world. With my life in Southeast Asia I have only eaten Filipino food once outside of the Philippines.
I was slightly hesitant about the use of Suka (Vinegar) in many Filipino dishes. I was wrong. The vinegar taste is far from overpowering and in most dishes barely noticeable. The suka vinegar is made from sugarcane, then there is Sukang Tuba made from the sap of coconut palm tree flowers. Sharp and acidic. If this is the taste you are looking for try Kilawin Tanique (raw fish in vinegar aka ceviche).
Personally, I would not recommend it and it far from features in my Top 10 Filipino Food.
For this post, I will skip the Philippines’ list of cooked meats. For a taste of their meaty treats check longaniza (sausage), lechon (roast pig), crispy pata (deep-fried pork leg), chicken inasal (grilled chicken) and pork liempo (grilled pork belly). I may look at these at a future date. For now, here is my quick guide to eating in the Philippines. My Top 10 Filipino Food.
1. Chicken Adobo (Adobong Manok)
Starting my Top 10 Filipino Food with the obvious – Chicken Adobo the unofficial national dish of the Philippines. With origins during Spanish colonization Adobo literally translates as ‘Marinade’ in Spanish. Chicken is marinated with vinegar, garlic, black peppercorn and soy sauce before simmering until tender. It is then pan-fried to add a bit of crisp. The image above is the popular CPA or Chicken Pork Adobo.
2. Bicol Express (Sinilihan)
As a sucker for coconut and chili kicks Bicol express is my personal favourite of my top 10 Filipino food. This fiery stew dish originates from the Bicol region of the Philippines famous for a chili fetish. Rumour is Bicol Express is named after the train which runs between Bicol and Manila. Pork slices are fried with garlic, chili, ginger and shrimp paste before boiled to tender in coconut milk. Addictive.
3. Philippine Beef Steak (Bistek Tagalog)
I can’t remember last ordering a beef dish in Thailand or at Thai Street Food. My local roadside restaurants don’t even sell beef. As a big beef eater, a lack of delicious beef dishes in Southeast Asia has me hankering for this delicious Philippine beef steak dish. Bistek Tagalog is a simple dish familiar to the west. Strips of beef sirloin are marinated in soy, garlic and pepper before pan-frying. Result a delicious and saucy steak dish. An added squeeze of kalamansi (lime) for a mild citrus kick Bistek Tagaog comes topped with soft fried onions and is often served sizzling on a sizzler dish.
4. Pork Sisig
As an advocate for the ethical Nose-to-Tail Cooking trends, I have given pork sisig an honourable mention in my top 5 Filipino Food. It is the perfect example of how Nose-to-Tail can be successful. For those new to Nose-to-Tail it is more or less cooking without waste. Eating parts of animals which are normally binned. The delicious pork sisig uses pig head, ears, snout and sometimes brain. Marinated in vinegar and soy sauce before seasoned with spices. Fried with sauteed onions and served sizzling. With origins in Pampanga sisig is now one of the Philippines’ most common snacks. Often accompanied by Filipino beers.
Flavours of Asia in a hearty and filling vegetable soup. Sinigang is easily on par with the Pho of Vietnam and Tom Yum of Thailand. Sinigang is a sour tamarind soup best made with chunky veg including onion, daikon (radish), okra and water spinach. Proper comfort food. While authentic sinigang is tamarind based lazy cooking can use an alternative sour base of guava, calamansi (lime) or sour stock cubes. Above is sinigang na manok (chicken sinigang) but the local favourite is Sinigang na baboy (pork sinigang).
6. Pancit Bihon Guisado
I often get pestered for excluding popular noodle dishes from my top 10 foods. No Pad Thai in Thailand no Char Kway Teow in Malaysia. In the Philippines, the deliciously noodley Pancit Bihon earns its place in my Top 10 Filipino Food. Pancit Bihon is thin rice noodles, stir fried with saute onion and garlic, soy sauce, chicken and a choice of veg. With obvious Chinese influences, Pancit Bihon is not so different from chow mein (pancit canton). I like it good and saucy.
7. Sizzling Gambas
Fresh chunky veg; bell peppers, carrot, onion, cooked with prawns in a thick tomato sauce. Flavoured with garlic and chilli and served sizzling on a cast iron sizzler plate. Another dish pinched from the Spanish to be improved by a Pinoy twist. Mediterranean in style with a fiery kick of chillies. Gambas translates as prawns in Spanish but the sizzling gambas dish does come as other meats (chicken above).
With Christmas just over a week away, I am throwing a festive dish into my Top 10 Filipino Food. In the Christian God-fearing country of the Philippines Christmas is kind of a big deal. Found sold outside church Mass services during the festive season is a delicious rice cake known as bibingka. Bibingka is made from rice flour, egg, coconut milk and butter. The mix is wrapped in banana leaves and baked in an oven. Bibingka is served hot or warm often topped with salted duck egg and accompanied by Puto Bumbong (sweetened sticky rice).
Shaved ice and milk with a mix of local fruits and beans. ‘Halo Halo’ translates as ‘mix mix’ and can come as all sorts. Often fun trying to pick out what the hell you are eating. Some popular local ingredients include macapuno coconut, saba banana, sweetened beans, kamote sweet potato, sweet corn, jackfruit and pastillas (sweet milk candies). Halo-Halo comes best topped with another popular Filipino dessert called ‘Leche flan’. I have cheated a bit here lumping two Filipino desserts into one. Leche flan is not so different from cream caramel and flans of the west. It is made from condensed milk and egg yolks.
Found at the bottom of my Top 10 Filipino Food only because I pilfered the above image from Wikipedia. I went to town on this dish before remembering to photograph it. Can you blame me? Just look at it. I jumped in face first. Even the words ‘oxtail and peanut stew’ turn me on. Another Nose-to-Tail addition the delicious Kare Kare is a stew of tender oxtail with onion, peanuts and peanut sauce. With long preparation time it maybe hard to find on quick restaurant menus. Buy it when you see it.