Street food is BIG in South East Asia and it’s definitely a great way to get to know local culture and taste in each bite. In the Philippines, street food is vital to a local’s day to day as it is a convenient and cheap way to a quick merienda (snack) and an ample source of living to another – heck, some are even able to fund their children’s college education by selling street food. Buying street food can also be a great way to chat with locals especially with the vendor who definitely has tons of stories to tell if you ask them about their day.
Another great thing about Filipino street food is that not only is it delicious, filling, and cheap, Filipino street food can also show how ingenious the hardworking Filipino hawker can be when creating very satisfying street food that is within the budget.
These Manila street food are a definite must-try
1. Lechon Manok
It’s the restaurant version of roasted chicken, only this time made yummier (more savory that the ones in restaurants), more affordable, and made easily available, with some street stalls opening business for 24 hours. Lechon Manok is easily the perfect pulutan (beer chow) that’s why this roasted delight is almost available anywhere, anytime.
2. Chicken or Pork Isaw
Chicken or pork intestines cleaned inside out then barbecued, served with a special sauce made with soy sauce, vinegar, onions, garlic, and chili. The isaw is a must in any street barbecue’s menu so if you see a barbecue stall anywhere, chances are you can get to taste these curly delights.
A popular Filipino shaved ice dessert with a mix of various ingredients, including boiled sweet beans, coconut, sago, gulaman, and fruits such as jackfruit, then topped with shaved ice, creamy evaporated milk, ube, and leche flan (and sometimes they add ice cream on top, too). This cool dessert is perfect for the hot and humid Philippine weather.
4. Kwek-kwek / Tokneneng
Boiled chicken or quail eggs deep fried in an orange batter, paired with vinegar sauce mixed with onions, garlic, and chili. The difference between the two is the type of egg used, and of course the size. The Kwek-Kwek is the bigger chicken egg while Tokneneng uses the smaller quail egg.
A sweet afternoon snack of soft white corn kernels topped with freshly-grated coconut, margarine, and salt (or sugar). The secret to the corn kernels’ softness and creaminess comes from it being soaked in water and salt until puffed, then boiled until the kernel skin almost peels off.
6. Sweet Corn
Steaming hot sweet corn dabbed with salt and/or margarine. Sweet corn might look like a light snack, but it’s very filling once you finish all the kernels up. If you just want the natural goodness and sweet taste of sweet corn, just request to forego the condiments.
Peanuts sold on the streets while they’re being steamed on a wooden cart. Best to enjoy the peanuts while still hot, as they’re very juicy and it’s very to crack open the shell when still hot. They’re very inexpensive and a great way to kill time, or to share with friends while having a chat as eating mani is an activity in itself. 🙂
8. Ginataang Halo-Halo / Ginataang Bilo-Bilo
A sweet and creamy merienda (snack) with glutinous rice balls, tubers, tropical fruits and coconut milk. It’s almost like the cold Halo-Halo dessert, but this time it is cooked so it’s warm and coconut milk is used instead of the regular evaporated milk.
Who knows Filipino street food can also be a great way to start your mornings? You can hear the taho vendors shouting “tahooooo!” very early in the morning until after the morning rush, and when you hear them shout, that means it’s time to again wake up to another beautiful morning. The taho is made of fresh soft or silken tofu, arnibal (caramelized brown sugar syrup), and little sago pearls and then usually served warm in a cup with a small spoon/straw to help you dig in – and since taho’s main ingredient is tofu, it is very rich in protein.
10. Dirty ice cream / Sorbetes
Now don’t be fazed by its name – the dirty ice cream may have “dirty” as its popular first name, but it really isn’t. The “dirty” word just comes from the impression that it’s being sold on the streets and not the usual ones packaged and marketed ice creams sold in groceries, hence for some reason funny patrons started to give it that name to separate and identify it from the other ones.
Dirty ice cream or sorbetes is home made ice cream that usually comes in three, and if you’re lucky to find a bigger cart, six standard flavors: chocolate, vanilla, mango, cheese, coconut, and langka – and except for chocolate and vanilla, the rest of the ice cream flavors are expected to have yummy chunks of the real ones mixed in them. The vendor would usually tag his distinctly colorful ice cream cart along and serve ice cream in three ways: on a sugar cone, on a waffle cone, or sandwiched in between a hamburger bun (you get to mix and match which flavors you like). It’s definitely a fun and yummy experience so this is a must try.
11. Bananacue or Banana Q
Since street barbecues in the Philippines are usually served skewered in a bamboo stick, the Bananacue funnily acquired the name having the notion of being a barbecued banana but it’s actually fried plantains with caramelized brown sugar, then skewered in a bamboo stick so there you go. 🙂
And this is one of the best sweet Filipino street snack out there – Turon is sweetened plantains, sometimes added with langka (jackfruit), and then wrapped in rice paper and deep fried. This heavenly snack are available everywhere you can find street food as it’s a very popular choice for merienda.
13. Dried squid
This smoky and chewy delight is a bit hard to find, but if you really want to try it out, your best bet is to get it right in front of Quiapo Church in Manila. The squid is air and sun dried, flattened, then grilled and served with chili onion vinegar, so just imagine its smoky and chewy goodness in each bite.
14. Lumpiang Togue (Spring Rolls)
Ahh, this is one of the most popular street snack in the Philippines! Lumpiang togue is beansprouts with tofu, vegetables, and ground meat wrapped in rice paper then deep fried, served with a special vinegar sauce. Lumpiang togue is so good and filling, it is a very popular afternoon merienda and sometimes could already be a nutritious meal of its own.
15. Buko juice and Pineapple & Watermelon slices
Since the Philippines is in the tropics and is blessed with a bounty of tropical fruits, it isn’t very hard to find a hawker selling these fruits in the streets. Fruit lovers would enjoy the buko juice (coconut water) with its many health benefits and naturally sweet and refreshing taste. You can choose to have it served to you in the coconut shell with a straw – resort style, or in a plain cup if you’re in a bit of a rush.
Pineapple and watermelon chunks chopped open and sliced right in front of you are a big hit, too, not only because they’re really healthy and sweet to eat, but because the peddlers who are masters of their crafts in cutting a fruit are entertaining to watch.
16. Fish balls, Squid balls, Chicken balls and Kikiam
Of course Filipino street food is not one without these fried balls of goodness, and they’re very inexpensive and tasty too, especially when you dip them in the variety of homemade sauces available from the cart. And since it doesn’t take long to cook, you can have these balls ready in a quick minute.
17. Mango with Bagoong (spicy shrimp paste)
These are skewered slices of green mango that comes with a nice spread of bagoong (spicy shrimp paste). The sourness of the crisp mango together with the saltiness and the spiciness of the bagoong creates a perfect mix of texture and flavors, you have to try it for yourself to find out what you’re missing on!
18. Puto at Kutsinta (native steamed rice cakes)
Puto is a fluffy rice cake topped with a chunk of cheese while kutsinta is a sticky rice cake topped with grated coconuts. These sweet and sticky delicacies are a perfect match to coffee or hot cocoa as an afternoon merienda, and both the puto and the kutsinta are usually served as a tandem.
19. Ilocos Empanada
Originally from the northern provinces of the Philippines (Ilocos region), these savory and crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside snacks are so good, they are making noise in the street food scene of Manila. Ilocos Empanada is cooked Ilocos longganisa (garlic pork sausage), eggs, and vegetables including mongo bean sprouts and papaya, wrapped in a distinct orange rice flour shell then deep fried for that extra oomph. Pair it with Ilocano vinegar sauce and bam! Just like that, your day is complete.
Filipino street food reserved to those with an adventurous appetite
Are you gutsy enough? If you are, then gorging on one of these weird yet really flavorful street foods is surely one for the books.
20. Helmet (grilled chicken head)
Grilled chicken head, anyone? It’s tasty and delicious – it doesn’t taste anything close to yucky at all, since it is made of real chicken after all.
21. Adidas (grilled chicken feet)
The usual chicken feet, marinated then barbecued. Not to be mistaken for the famous shoe brand – it’s just a term of endearment coined by grilled chicken feet lovers. 🙂
22. One-day old (crispy fried one day old chick)
The name literally says it all.
23. Betamax (grilled chicken blood)
It got its name from the black and rectangular (and obsolete) betamax video casette, which supposedly looks like the skewered, rectangular-shaped pork blood that turns a bit black when cooked. It has a gelatinous and livery texture when eaten, and it doesn’t taste like blood at all – it instead tastes like the vinegary sauce or barbecue marinade used.
24. Balut (boiled duck embryo)
Notoriously popular among locals and foreigners who are up to a street food challenge, the balut is probably one of the most famous exotic adventure eats out there, having landed many front-page food & travel features and gameshow cameos. Balut is also believed to make one’s knees stronger and is a popular aphrodisiac.
Balut is best paired with a tiny pinch of salt – after cracking the top egg shell, enjoy the broth first then work your way down with a spoon or with your bare hands. See this MNLgo article on how to eat and where to find balut.