Wednesday, April 12, 2023

4 Things to Know About Street Food in the Philippines

If you're wondering which Filipino street food to try first, let local insider JB guide you through the delicious options. In the Philippines, like its Southeast Asian neighbors, street food is abundant and offers a wide array of flavors. JB shares his insights to help you navigate the vibrant street food scene.

Must-Try Filipino Street Food

When asked about the first street food dish to try in the Philippines, JB recommends starting with "inihaw." Inihaw refers to a variety of grilled dishes, often skewered meats basted with sauce and cooked over charcoal.

Common choices include marinated pork, chicken, pork intestines, and pig ears. These savory and smoky treats are typically served with a vinegar chili dip and make a perfect accompaniment to a cold beer. For a less adventurous option, JB suggests trying "kwek kwek" (hard-boiled quail eggs dipped in orange batter and deep-fried until crispy) or "lugaw" (rice porridge).

    Banana Q. Photo credit: JB Macatulad

Fish balls, iconic Filipino street food, are made from flaked fish meat formed into skewered balls of flour. They are served with a savory sweet sauce or spiced vinegar dip. On a rainy day, nothing beats the comfort of a bowl of lugaw. And for dessert, indulge in Banana Q, skewered deep-fried sweet plantains coated in caramelized brown sugar. To add a unique twist to your street food experience, don't forget to try banana ketchup—a sweeter variation made with bananas, perfect for pairing with fried chicken.

The Origins and Fun Food Names

Popular street food dishes like inihaw have interesting origins. During an economic crisis in the 1970s, Filipinos looked for ways to save money. Less popular animal parts, such as pigs' ears and intestines, were carefully cleaned and skewered for grilling. To make these cuts more appealing, vendors came up with catchy names that have endured to this day. Rectangular blocks of congealed pigs' blood became known as "betamax," skewered chicken heads were referred to as "helmet," and grilled pigs' ears were playfully called "walkman."


BBQ Pork Skewer. Photo credit: JB Macatulad

Best Places to Indulge in Street Food

For an authentic street food experience, head to the bustling roadside stalls. Urban areas with high foot traffic, like Quiapo and Divisoria Market in Manila, are hotspots for street food vendors.

The vibrant atmosphere, accompanied by the noise, smells, heat, and grit, creates an immersive Filipino street food experience. However, if the crowds and hygiene factor are a concern, fear not. Street food has become mainstream, and you can find it in cleaner venues such as bars and food parks. Food parks resemble outdoor food courts, housing various vendors selling different types of cuisine. Many food parks feature specialized street food vendors. Bars are another great option, as they often offer street food as bar chow, providing a more comfortable setting for newcomers to try Filipino street food.

Balut. Photo credit: JB Macatulad
A Local's Perspective

When faced with unfamiliar food, it's natural to feel apprehensive. In the case of Filipino street food, the most intimidating dish is balut—a boiled, fertilized duck egg incubated for up to 21 days.

Even many Filipinos find it challenging. JB advises keeping an open mind when exploring Filipino street food. What may seem unpalatable at first could turn out to be a delicious surprise. Don't close yourself off to new experiences; embrace the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

After all, street food, no matter how unfamiliar, is an essential part of the journey.


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