Filipino Foodie : 25 of the Best Filipino Street FoodsBy Aileen Dometita
If you have ever wondered why Filipinos are such happy-go-lucky people, it’s because they know how to indulge themselves – with food. It is a benefit enjoyed beyond the advantages of most. So when their pockets rattle with money, best believe that they’ll fill up the tank with any of these cheap treats. They will invite you for a bite owing to their hospitable nature! Just look at that! Rows upon rows of raw meat that will have you salivating, even before those sticks hit the grill pan. These are best paired with white rice – steamed to perfection with heat rising off of them. Why white rice, you ask? This and that make the perfect combo! It’s delicate, almost bland, and starchy. Trust us, you’ll want to book a ticket to the Philippines just to sample the savory, sweet and spicy dishes!
Calamares and Onions
The seller (tindero) will be at his usual spot at the junction of two narrow alleyways. His fortress is a food cart with a makeshift canopy of tarpaulin. If you’re lucky, you might see the face of a politician shielding you from the heat of the sun. For once, they’re actually of some use. The tindero will be busily coating slices of squid (pusit) with batter. He’ll be dropping those slices unto the wok – have them deep-fried until they’re cooked with an even tan.
How do you know you’ve found the right tindero to buy Calamares regularly from? You’ll know he’s the one if you eat it whole and find it packed with a brothy taste- so good you’ll be saying umami! Just in case, you’re unswayed, dip the calamari fully unto the sauce can. It has to be fully submerged! There are usually two of them – sweet sauce, and the spicy vinegar. Dip in both. Waste no time in devouring that flesh until you’re left with a stick to be broken and thrown into the bin. More, please!
Upon waking up, Filipinos engage in walking meditation on their way to the local panaderia (bakeshop). You might find this there in the early morn or mid-afternoon. Ube pandesal is basically salt bread rolls filled with purple yam and creamy cheese. To balance that sweet, milky taste, enjoy a cup of black coffee with it. Invite some of your friends over for a light conversation.
It can range from $0.10 to $0.20 if you buy it at the local panaderia (bread house), or if you buy it in a restaurant, it’ll be worth a couple times more. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely worth it! You can dunk it in coffee or hot chocolate; probably add more butter atop it or enjoy it as is. You’ll wish you won’t go full so quickly because of its taste.
This is unleavened flaky, sweet bread often served as a dessert or a snack. It may not look like it, but it was formed from a batter – flour, oil, butter and water. The filling may be muscovado (coconut sugar), purple yam or other variants. It will be rolled into a ball, and flattened unto the medium-heat grill, as can be seen below.
Why flatten it? That’s to make sure that there’s a semisolid filling – every inch of it touching the grill. So you’ll have a sweet inner filling with a tinge of bitterness from the grill. The flaky, crust is the perfect carbohydrate to shelve in the sweetness. You can pair this with hot choco, warm water, coffee or any iced beverage. But try it out first, it’s scrumptious on its own!
Sweet Cheese Corn
This time you will find your street peddler selling mais(corn cobs) either steamed and packed individually, or shredded off and placed in a pot to be kept warm. He’ll pour some of those unto a cup, lined with evaporated milk, butter and cheddar cheese. Imagine that – beats that corn cob you feed off on during baseball matches.
The heat from the corn will dissipate upwards and thaw the solid butter or margarine until that butter coats the sides of every corn kernel. Watch it fall down and drag clumps of powdered cheese. Every once in a while it will be met with resistance from the evaporated milk. That’s the perfect time to dig in. But we don’t suggest you mix the contents. Part of the thrill comes with the uneven coating. It’ll mix on its own in your mouth.
Taho is simply silken tofu topped with caramelized sugar and sago pearls. But it’s not as simple to describe once you’ve tasted it. You can either buy these desserts early in the morning, before even having breakfast, or late in the afternoon. Ta-ho taho! You will hear people, kids and adults alike, clambering to get their cups and dimes ready for a serving.
The taho man will ask you your bid price – 20s, 35 or 50; and after responding, he’ll quickly open the hatch to the soft tofu. He’ll layer it unto your cup, then he’ll place the arnibal and sago, then plunge that dipper for a perfect mix. In Baguio City, you’ll have ube and strawberry flavors, as in the picture above; but it’s all delicious whether it be the ordinary kind or the variant.
Tokwa at Baboy
The direct translation is Tofu and Pork. It’s not as simple as it seems when you’re tongue swells with the soy-vinegar sauce infused with onions. You wouldn’t want to swallow that quickly. Enjoy it! Allow the sauce to coat your tongue, and bite into that fried tokwa for a creamy delight. There’s really nothing like it unless you have tried it. We suggest you order some from Pansit Malabon by Country Noodles, when you’re within the area.
We prefer them without the pork. It’s perfect enough as is. To us, it’s the tofu that should be the highlight of the dish. But just in case, you want a little break from time to time, munch in on that lechon kawali(simmered pork belly). Other stores will offer chewy pig ears as an alternative. That’s a must too! It doesn’t grab your attention from the sauce and the tofu, and it’ll even heighten the flavor.
This is a favorite during the Christmas season. If you have a Filipino describe the dish, they’ll almost always place it within the vicinity of a Catholic Church on a misty, cold morning. By the side, you’ll see the tindero preparing the glutinous rice treat in a regular steamer. Every kid will be wanting to have that mass done and over with, just so they can buy one of these, bundled in a dahon ng saging (Banana leaf).
Watching the tindero cook it is riveting. They’ll deftly turn the hollow cones to cook the rice and purple sweet potato within it. Afterward, they’ll slide a narrow spatula around the hollow of the tube, so that the kakanin (rice treat) will fall out and unto the serving platter. They’ll coat the top with butter and place grated coconut and coconut sugar over it. In this case, you’ll have to do it yourself.
The staple ingredient to every variant of fried lumpia is the fresh spring roll wrappers. If you’re accompanied to the local market, you’ll find that the wrapper is soft and crepe-like, bought in bulk and consumed as soon as possible because of its short shelf-life. They’re really just made of rice or corn starch and egg whites. Filipinos will line the end of this wrapper with meat or vegetables or both. Then they’ll roll it like the Japanese do with sushi, and seal the stuffing by moistening the marginal end with water.
Vegetable ingredients could include green beans and carrots, or sprouted monggo. It differs really, so it’d be great to ask your tindero what the filling is made of. They’ll fry it in medium heat because no Filipino dish is complete without hearty cholesterol, then they’ll let it drain on a wire rack set. You can bite into it as is, or dip in spiced vinegar dip before taking a plunge.
You’d have to be quite the risk-taker if you’re munching on these. Just in case, you’re not, order one of those Buko Pandan juices your tindero will be selling by the side. It has milk in them. It’ll wear off the spice of finger chili peppers. Filipinos often pair this with iced cold beer – cases of them. It’s the perfect kick to the night’s festivities.
If you’re lucky, the tindero will prep larger-sized peppers. It’ll be less spicy. They’ll fill the insides with some meat and onions, then roll the finger peppers in lumpia wrapper. Some may simply roll it in the wrapper without any filling. Eitherway, it’ll be fried to perfection in medium heat of two-inches of oil. You can eat it bare, or dip it in sweet and sour, or spicy vinegar sauce.
In every gathering, expect the head of the family to have this dish prepared. Adapted from Chinese settlers, this dish has several variants depending on the region you find yourself in. This Pansit recipe is the most common – being the easiest to cook and the most affordable for a family gathering. Filipinos believe that by eating this, you will be blessed with long life and abundance.
Filipinos prepare the vegetables – dicing and slicing them to pieces most suited to their taste. Then they will saute onion, garlic and the viand. It could be pork, sausage, shrimp or chicken. Afterwards, they’ll toss in a cup of water, and the noodles. If the noodles are salty enough, they won’t add much soy or oyster sauce. Last, they’ll pitch in the vegetables so it’s half-cooked.
Isaw is made from the barbecued intestines of either a pig or a chicken. The one you’ll see below is taken from a chicken. Don’t worry, Filipinos buy their food sources from trusted food retailers. They’ll clean the intestines by soaking the insides in salt and rice flour. Then they’ll squeeze it with their fingers- pushing the grime from one end to the other.
Some food vendors open the intestines with scissors then inspect the insides. After a thorough cleanse, they’ll boil the intestines in vinegar, salt, then marinade them in barbeque sauce. We know it’s a risky treat, but it’s chewy and cheap. If you find yourself eating one and wondering if you’re munching on shit, it’ll taste just like unrequited love – bitter.
No, don’t say it as if you’re going somewhere; say it in staccatos – GO-TO! It’s basically rice cooked in a disproportionate amount of water. They’ll stir it until it becomes a porridge, and they’ll mix in some pieces of garlic, onion leeks, chicharron, and egg. It’s perfect for when you’re nursing a cold, or when you find yourself having digestive problems. It’s bland enough to keep your stomach from reacting, but it’s tasty enough for you to devour.
The key is to maintain energy levels. If you find yourself healthy, you’d be able to smell the brothy steam emanating from the bowl. It should remind you of home – whatever that looks like, when you were safely tended to by your mom. It’s best paired with water. Just rinse that all down and feel the fullness in your belly as you order another carb-infused dish!
These are probably your kainuman‘s (beer buddy) favorite. There are no health protocols breached or safety standards to keep in mind, unlike the previous items. Just make sure that you’re uric acid is within normal levels because apart from nursing a hangover the next day, you’ll be crippled by pain and swelling around your kasu-kasuan (joints). Now what would cause gout flare-ups? Nuts – the tough kind.
The tindero may offer them with skin on or skin off – as can be seen above. But the main ingredient to which we can attribute this pulutan‘s success is garlic – LOTS of it! Your tindero will be slicing them as thinly as possible, so that the juices pour off and hiss in medium-heat oil. If you want a little kick to the crunch – order the spicy kind with Cayenne or Red Thai peppers. You’ll be feeling full with only a packet of these nutty treats! Mani (nuts), anyone?
Mangga at Bagoong
Mango and Shrimp paste, specifically Indian Mango peeled before and served during the summer season. Not like this treat is served cold, but that’s when this fruit is ripe and abound for consumption. You could tell the tindero your taste preferences. Do you want it overripe, sour or the perfect combo of sweet and sour? Watch him scour through the pile, inspect and squeeze the fruit, then unpeel it without fear of that sharp blade.
He can serve you the mango on a stick or in a plastic bag. You can choose to eat it bare, or add a little bit of seasoning – either shrimp paste or salt infused with Hot Thai peppers. Trust us, trying both is worth it! For a meager dollar, enjoy the sensation of eating sweet bagoong in contrast to the prickly sour mangga. But beware, for people who are allergic to seafood, best skip the bagoong. You might enjoy the treat for the first few minutes but you might be heaving and itching by the end of ten.
It’s not a Filipino snack if it’s not replete with cholesterol, grease and salt. The main ingredient in this snack is chicken skin. This is another favorite appetizer because it’s cheap, delicious and readily available. All you have to do is walk to the nearby corner, buy heaps of it, then return to base. Some, who are tight on money, would even use this as their ulam(main dish), and pair it with steamed white rice.
In a pot, your tindero will prep the chicken skin by marinading it in salt, flour, or cornstarch and pepper. He’ll add it a bit of water, and have the oil simmering by then. He’ll toss the bunch unto the wok pan, leave it for a couple of minutes then transfer them unto a draining set. Before handing you your order, he’ll have it cool a bit. That’s to keep moisture from building up in the paper bag.
Squidball, Kikiam, Fishball and Hotdog
Why do Filipinos love this? Back when the internet was operating on a dial-up plan, gamers would dash off unto the street, and waste idle time loading their sticks with any of these, and race back home to a fully loaded page. There’s much history in these fried singlets – much of it was spent on how they consumed their allowance for the whole week.
These are only $0.02 a pop so it’s easy to lose track of money spent when you’re gobbling up and chatting away with other game friends. Unlike other appetizers, this needs a sauce. It’s often sweet with soy, brown sugar, garlic, pepper, and a bit of flour for a thick consistency. This treat won’t be going away soon. It has survived the dial-up phase of the internet, and it will probably stick around for a couple more decades.
Pejoratively called “dirty ice cream”, this is a traditional varitiation of mass-produced, tub ice creams. Your tindero will be peddling his ice cream cart midday until after lunch, with the wafer or sugar cones in sight. In case you’re wondering if it’s a health risk, it isn’t. It’s just that instead of using cow’s milk, Filipinos used a cheaper alternative – carabao milk.
More people could afford the icy treat, and there’d be more people to sell it too. It comes with the wooden spoon. Ice cream wouldn’t be complete without it. Flavors include mango, ube, vanilla, chocolate, cheese and avocado. Some peddlers even wedge the iced cream unto two pieces of bread – carbs upon carbs, just because. It makes for an extraordinary surprise! Make sure to eat it before it melts. That would ruin the fun.
Ice Candy is a summer treat enjoyed by kids as they run about the yard playing tagu-taguan(hide and seek). This is the perfect timeout when the game is getting intense, and when the players are losing their cool. Natatalo na e(They’re already losing). They’ll ask for loose change then speed about to the moving cart and inquire about the flavor of the day.
It could be mango, buko pandan, avocado, melon or chocolate. Basically, anything you could put in a smoothie, is placed in a columnar plastic bag and frozen overnight. Nibble at the end and extrude that plastic corner. You can bite the frozen fruit juice or wait for it to melt and sip the contents. Nothing tastes better than happiness at the cost of meager change.
Kutsinta or brown rice cake is a type of kakanin(sweetened rice treat) that’s chewy, compact and stickier than most. It’s less sweet than the other rice treats and has a distinct aftertaste that will have you inquiring, around the same time you find your fingers plucking another one off the plate. You could eat it with grated coconut on top, or take a pass. Kutsinta is delectable on its own.
This takes quite some time to prepare – around 90 minutes to 120 minutes for every 6 servings. Just to allay your concern over the distinct aftertaste – its ingredients include rice flour, brown sugar, water, and anatto seeds. Those seeds are often used for food coloring. You might have found yourself playing with them when you were a kid. They’re entirely harmless, so there’s no reason for you to take a pass at trying out kutsinta.
Deep-fried pork belly. You’d be lucky if you find this during your casual walk. They’re usually served in restuarants, but more and more evening food galleries cater their customers with this dining option. It is prepared by first boiling the pork belly then deep-frying it. That way you have enough juices locked in the raw meat, before cooking them. It’ll be crispy on the outside, but soft and seasoned in the inside.
After cooking the meat, they’ll place the slab unto a wooden board where the butcher will hack away at the pieces – delivering an even bite-sized lechon perfect for a plate of rice. They may include vinegar sauce or atsara as a side viand. That papaya relish will counter the grease flowing out of the lechon kawali. A rice meal is never complete without a vegetable viand.
Ice Scramble. But kids would be scrambling away once they hear the tindero ring his bell and invite you to come hither. This is the third-world version of an ice slushie. But instead of serving you a snow cone and then pouring the liquid flavouring unto it, this ice scramble already has a base banana essence.
Peddlers will place shaved ice unto individual glasses. Halfway through, they’ll puffer it with powdered milk, then place more shaved ice and top it with marshmallows, and syrup. It’s a childhood treat, easily bought with loose change and a few seconds of whimpering. If you’re lucky, they may even add some candy sprinkles for a dash of color.
KamoteCue, Banana Cue, Turon
Basically every main ingredient in this list is caramelized. It can be sweet potatoes – camote quo or banana – banana cue. If that banana is wedged inside a lumpia wrapper, then caramelized, you’d have a turon. Sometimes, a turon, may have a piece of langka(jackfruit) inside. That makes for the perfect sweet and slightly sour taste.
On the left side, you’ll find Carioca, sweet rice balls. It requires a bit more effort because flour and shredded coconut is mixd thoroughly with coconut milk. This dough is then fried over medium heat then caramelized. These are perfect for your afternoon snack, after you’ve taken your siesta nap. You could drink milk with them, but we usually take them with sago’t gulaman (a sweet beverage with brown sugar syrup and almond jelly).
On their last weekday, Filipinos would typically cook monggo. We don’t know why either, but it beckons the nearing weekend. The main ingredient are mung beans. You can include pork, chicken or shrimp. That’ll have to be sauteed first with the onions and garlic. Afterwards, a cup of water with the mung beans are poured into the pot.
Toss in a a couple tomato halves, then wait for the mung beans to boil. It has to be tender to bite into, but depending on your preferences, you could boil it further until it has thicker consistency. Filipinos will add a spoonful of patis – fish sauce, or they’ll pair it up with tuyo (salted dried fish). Once you’re done, you could toss in ampalaya leaves, spinach and malunggay. You only need them half-cooked. Delish!
Balut is fertilized duck egg incubated for about two to three weeks. It tastes like scrambled egg, but with a creamier texture and a slightly, appealable, fishiness. The tindero will come ringing his bell around 6 pm until midnight with a large steamer pot in place on his cart. Inside it will be hard-boiled eggs, kept warm to your craving satisfaction.
After handing around $0.36, you’ll be given an egg. Smash an end by the cart’s handle- this is a baptismal rite. Slowly unpeel it until you have an inch of working room. Place a pinch of salt and have the juices dissolve it. Take a sip and enjoy the warm broth from your balut. Work your way downards, eating the pieces and repeatedly placing a pinch of salt or a spoonful of vinegar to heighten the taste.
If you’re wondering why they’re called that way, it’s because chickens might have run faster if they wore some. To our benefit, they hadn’t. And instead of throwing chicken feet away, expect that they’ve been cleansed, marinated and grilled for another risque treat. Now you know, what those extensions are and who they’re lifted from. But you don’t know how delicious they taste!
It’s really just tendons. There’s minimal bone near the shank, but within the claw end, expect a chewy texture. There’s much nutrients there – protein, collagen and calcium. And before you shrug off your shoulders claiming you can get these elsewhere, remember that you can get these for around $0.08 – $0.20 per stick. That’s a big deal for the average Filipino working at minimum wage, or beer buddies unwinding for the weekend. Keep the pulutan(finger foods while downing liquor) coming. Told you there’s a reason for their resilience!