Ask any Filpino, and they will say that their nation’s cuisine is so incredible that it really must be the best in the world. They’ll go on and on about how delicious and savory their different dishes and specialties are, and especially proclaim their town’s/mother’s cooking as the best.
However, ask any traveler or backpacker who’s been around Asia what they think of Filipino food, and their opinion probably won’t be so glowing. In fact, some (like me) think that food in the Philippines is seriously lacking…or worse, is so unhealthy that it will lead to serious health problems for their populace a generation from now.
So who is right? Let me lead you through my experiences with the good, the bad, and the tastey of Filipino food:
Like most Asian nations, the main staple in the Philippines is rice. Big pots and dishes of white rice are ubiquitous, and they serve it at every single meal, including breakfast. There are even plenty of desserts made with sticky rice, sweet rice, or rice infused with coconut or sugar or other delicacies. Rice in the Philippines is usually always white and doesn’t really have any flavor except for the taste of the dish that’s on/with it, but Filipinos will swear that rice is sooooo good and actually crave it if they miss it just for a meal or two.
In fact, Filipinos even use rice as an implement to consume their other food. They don’t use chopsticks like most Asian neighbors, but usually a knife and spoon these days. However, traditional Filipinos and those in smaller towns and the countryside eat with their hands, using two globs or rice to pick up some other food in between, a practice called “kamayan.”
The most popular dishes in the Philippines are usually adobo, a pork or chicken stew, lechon (roasted pig), longganisa (sausage – more on that later), kare-kare (a meat or oxtail stew served with vegetables), and other meat dishes like fried chicken. Additionally, pancit, a noodle dish, and lumpia, fried eggrolls, show traces of Chinese culinary influence.
In some areas of the country and especially the cities like Cebu, you’ll find meat dishes everywhere but very few fresh or any vegetables. They have so many grilled, fried, and mystery meats wrapped into sausages, but very little healthy food – and a real salad is almost impossible to find.
There are also plenty of eggs served, including questionable delicacies like balut, a semi-fertilized duck embryo.
But in smaller islands and coastal areas, you will find plenty of fish served, often grilled or deep fried with the head and tail left right on it. There are also plenty of squid dishes, and some clams, octopus, and other shellfish.
For festivals and celebrations, a roasted pig is the usual fare, with the whole family, community or village taking place.
While the Philippines may be way too short on fresh vegetables, they are big on fruit in certain areas, with amazingly delicious bananas, mangos, star fruit, passion fruit, Durian (which they say smells like hell but tastes like heaven) and others. In fact, the Philippines is the top producer of coconuts (buko) in the world.
In modern society, you’ll also see evidence of a SERIOUS national sweet tooth. There are bakeries and cafes EVERYWHERE, and Filipinos love their pastries, donuts, cakes, pies, cookies, muffins, and pandesal – bread.
They also love their coffee almost as much as their cheap Red Horse beer.
But no matter what you’re eating or where, meal time in the Philippines is all about sharing and spending time with others, as it’s such a social event that you’ll rarely see a Filipino eating alone.