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The Philippines is home to over 7,000 tropical islands and form part of the Malay archipeligo stepping stones from Southeast Asia to Australia. Often referred to as the original fusion cuisine, Filipino food and drink embraces a rich cultural heritage. This means plenty of familiar dishes, like slow-cooked stews and Asian favourites, with flavours and textures from local produce.
Check out even more local travel guides and essential foodie tips for your next adventure in our travel hub.
Don’t leave the Philippines without trying…
This dish epitomises the vibrancy of the Philippines. At its heart it is shaved ice drenched in evaporated milk with colourful ice creams and adornments, such as boiled sweet beans, leche flan (like crème caramel), fruit jelly, ube (purple yam paste redolent of vanilla and pistachio), coconut gel and exotic fruits like lychee. In Tagalog, halo-halo means ‘mix-mix’, as each spoonful offers a new blend of flavours and textures.
As you’d expect of this island nation, fresh seafood is in bountiful supply. Kinilaw is raw fish (often tuna or wahoo) cured in kalamansi (a tiny aromatic lime) juice or suka (vinegar), with ginger, onion, fiery indigenous chillies and coconut cream.
In the Philippines, pulutan is the tradition of sharing finger foods and drinks with friends. Sisig, which is a sizzling platter of shredded pork cheeks, ears and tail that’s made salty and crispy, is a typical sharing dish that attests to the national ardour for nose-to-tail eating.
4. Locally produced rum
Generous, hand-poured measures are the traditional culture and abundant sugar means you can buy a bottle of local rum for less than a bottle of water. However, insiders seek smooth, sipping premium rums, like local Don Papa, with its vanilla, warm honey and candied fruit notes.
5. Chicken inasal
Al fresco eating is a national pastime and Filipinos are kings of the barbecue. Inasal is chicken (or pork) marinated in kalamansi, pepper, sugar cane vinegar and annatto seeds (for their peppery nutmeg flavour), then repeatedly basted with the marinade as it sears over hot coals.
Carbs are the foundation of each meal, and are accompanied by seafood, meats and veg. Rice is the mainstay, but noodles are adored, too. Pancit is noodles stir-fried with seasonal ingredients, such as Chinese sausage, seafood and fresh vegetables.
No Filipino feast is complete without lechon. Soy, garlic, and seasoning are massaged into pork skin to give succulent slow-roasted meat in a crisp crackling. Decadent variations of this showstopper are stuffed with sticky rice, chestnuts, salted egg, Chinese sausage, mushrooms, cashew nuts, ham, and truffles. Truly a bucket-list delicacy.
8. Kare kare
Oxtail is braised and added to a thick savoury peanut sauce with banana flower or aubergine and seasonal veg. For seekers of authenticity, the dish is made punchier with bagoong, a condiment of fermented fish and salt.
9. Inihaw na pusit
Try squid stuffed with seasoned tomatoes and onions. Enjoy it dunked in toyomansi – one of the plethora of sawsawan (dipping sauces) loved by Filipinos for adding personalised flavour. Mixed to taste from soy, kalamansi and chillies, toyomansi brings zest, heat and umami to grilled dishes.
Filipino cooks prize puchero (old Spanish for a large, clay pot) for its nourishment and thrift. Recipes contain mixed meats, tomatoes, garlic, garden veg and carbs like potato and plantain. A light stew served on successive days, soup and meat components are served separately; with the soup sometimes drunk as a consommé or even chilled to gazpacho, until all is used.
Local travel tips
1. Use your contacts
Such is the generosity of Filipinos that even a tenuous connection will welcome you to the best places to eat and shop. If you’re invited to eat in a local home, accept. They’ll likely have the inside track on pop-ups and festivals during your visit, too.
2. Visit the wet markets
Head to the culturally immersive ‘dampa’, selling every conceivable seafood. Ideally, go deep into the market with a Tagalog speaker to haggle, then select a restaurant to cook your purchases to your taste. For a small fee, you can choose a restaurant first and employ the negotiating skills of your waiter to buy your feast. (You’ll find Seaside Dampa at Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay.) Also in Manila, visit the markets at Salcedo and Legazpi.
3. Island hop for regionality
If you appreciate Europe’s regional richness, you’ll love the diversity of the gastronomic provinces here. Internal flight deals mean you can explore the soul foods of Pampanga, Ilocos, Bicol, Zamboanga or Cebu in their native, awe-inspiring landscapes; or have lunch on Luzon and nightcaps on Negros. (Philippines Airlines, Manila to Bacolod from £29.)
Enjoyed these travel suggestions? Discover more must-try local foods and restaurant hotspots…
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Travellers are advised to read the FCO travel advice for the country they are travelling to.