There are a lot of choices for food where Korean, Chinese and Japanese are popular with locals along with local cuisine. If you are not the type that likes to indulge in the local food, then there are many restaurants that cater to western tastes. But you’re in the Philippines. It would be tragic to not even try some local food.
The Rice Mountain
Filipino food is often served with mounds of white rice. I think that single fact is why some visitors get a food block with local cuisine. I was always used to plenty of rice long before I got here, but I used to be a little overawed by the sheer volume of it they would have with their meal and many places offer unlimited rice and I was astounded they would ask for more when I thought it too much in the first place. Filipinos are used to eating this way and who are we to say that’s too much. It doesn’t seem to bother them; it’s what they are used to. However, to a westerner, it’s a lot of white rice.
Many dishes are saucy but they tend to eat some dishes fairly void of sauce with just a dash of gravy such as fried chicken which of course would be served with a generous helping of rice. For some tastes, that’s a lot of flavour extraction being taken out the food due to mounds of rice. It doesn’t suit a lot of western tastes but I got used to it and now I’m inclined to eat large amounts of rice myself.
Local food is often served with a thin broth which some use to moisten the rice. I prefer to simply drink the soup. The simple way around the dryness you find with some meals is just ask for more gravy which is usually freely available. If it’s too much rice for your tastes, you don’t have to eat it all. I picked my way through standard Filipino cuisine, tried out many eateries and over time, Filipino food grew on me. I simply found what I liked and homed in on it.
I don’t eat pork or seafood, meaning I have had to sidestep some of the food here. However, based on the word of those that do enjoy seafood then it’s worth seeking out at one of the many seafood restaurants scattered around. Local as well as international style seafood is abundant and worth a try as many restaurants specialize in this type of cuisine.
Don’t Be a Poof; Eat the Stuff
Many places are a little rough and ready but that’s the Philippines. Some of the less trendy places serve great food. Many westerners stick to the malls as regards restaurants but beyond malls there are a lot of choices. A meal is inexpensive compared with the west of course but you are going to pay more for western style dishes and eating in malls generally. When you find out how much these poor guys have to pay to have a place in a mall, you will see why.
This is all the more reason to try out the local delicacies and to try looking beyond the malls as you can eat very well and cheaply too if you know how. It’s simply trial and error. Look for evidence that the establishment has at least half decent standards of hygiene. Clues can be found by generally observing. Many places don’t have CRs (comfort rooms is the term for bathrooms and toilet) as people set up food eateries in all kinds of places. Just get ready for such things; it’s no big deal, it’s how the Philippines is and getting too sniffy means you miss much of the real Philippines.
Most places are fine but remember, you’re not in Seattle now; just toughen up a little.
In the more backstreet types of establishments, some don’t have flush toilets which are fairly common in the Philippines, and often not a urinal. The usual way is to throw a bucket of water down the toilet after use. Always carry a little bottle of alcohol or hand cleanser with you just in case you find the toilet facilities a little lacking.
I’m not saying to totally drop your hygiene standards, but the way it is here people sell food from anywhere. Toilets and somewhere to wash your hands are not always available.
You can find many reputable restaurants and not so reputable ones all over. Being someone on limited cash, I became a frequent diner at the less reputable ones. I haven’t died yet so it can’t be as bad as all that.
My advice is to take some risks. It’s the way it is here in that people sell food everywhere and many establishments that serve good food can seem a little rough and ready by the standards a visitor may be used to. Be open-minded as you really could be missing some treats.
Street food again is another matter and many are concerned about the hygiene aspect of eating from a street vendor. Frankly, it may be advisable to avoid but my standard is, if it’s freshly cooked, I will eat it but if it’s left there standing, I don’t bother as often the food is not protected from flies. I have no problem with street food as long as it’s covered. Not all places concern themselves with such details. My advice is making sure that the food is covered, and if so, go for it.
Literal street food meaning food items sold on the sidewalks are chicken, beef, and pork kebabs, as well as fried chicken skin and chicken feet. Commonly sold on the streets are squid and fish balls. Personally, I have my doubts about their authenticity as I’m fairly certain neither squid or fish have testicles but what do I know. #joke
You see various fried banana entities like turon, bananacue and maruja, as well as fried sweet potato chips/fries, and even camotecue, which is sliced sweet potato deep fried in sugar and on a stick. Then there is lumpia, a kind of spring roll which varies slightly by region as regards ingredients that can be vegetarian, you dip them in vinegar, enjoyable and cheap; and there is the pork and shrimp version called shanghai. The other common street nibble is simply peanuts.
I had some confusion when I saw what looked like chocolate on a stick being grilled. Turned out, it’s actually pig’s blood formed into square pieces which really had me thinking they was trying to grill chocolate.
Eating Around Where Food Abound
This is just an intro into local eating. I don’t pretend to be a foodie but I have found quite a few dishes which I enjoy.
I’m not a huge fan of the national dish of Adobo which can be chicken or pork. There again, it depends who has cooked it as I’ve had some delicious Adobo before but sometimes it can taste a little unimaginative and to my taste, salty. When nicely cooked and seasoned, it’s worth trying. As everywhere, you get good cooks and bad ones. I always remember a place where I enjoyed my food and return. I’m rather partial to Beef Kaldereta, which is just a beef stew with tomatoes, carrots and potatoes added; simple but tasty. Similarly, Beef Mechado, I’m rather fond of along with various dishes in Gata, or coconut milk, which may be sometimes spicy like the Bicol Express, and all served with rice. I don’t personally eat pork so that’s a treat I miss out on.
Many Filipinos are a little shy of hot and spicy foods and much of the food tends to be savoury. However, when eating in most street eateries, you may find the choice of cut for the chicken to be a little disappointing. To keep prices down they use the cheapest cuts which unfortunately mean a lot of bone and skin. Personally, I find these cuts of chicken to be false economy. It may cost less but you won’t find too much chicken amongst the bones and skin. It can seem sometimes as if they have just smashed it up. You get what you pay for, I suppose, and the average meal with rice in most eateries is around 60 pesos, around a dollar and a half.
There are places that offer better prepared grilled chicken dishes like Inasal. This is not just grilled chicken; it’s a specialized method originating from Bacolod, better explained here by an expert.
There are many things I don’t go near due to not eating pig, duck or seafood (no, I’m not Jewish). When I’ve been in some provinces, I’ve seen little tiny baby ducks grilled on a skewer, which are newly, hatched baby ducks which are welcomed into the world by electrocution before being marinated and grilled.
Also commonly seen is the Tokneneng, which are Penoys (boiled duck eggs) dipped in batter and deep fried, often coloured bright orange. There is also the Kwek-kwek which is a version of Tokneneng, butt uses boiled quail eggs.
Let’s not forget the famous Balut, duck eggs which are boiled alive and fermented. In fact, the Balut man comes around in the evening and remains popular with locals. It’s alleged to give you fertility. No, I haven’t tried it; I’m not that adventurous. Whenever I’m feeling down, I just remind myself how lucky I am by not being a duck in the Philippines.