There are must-try street foods in the Philippines that you can enjoy from delicious desserts to treats that dare your taste buds.
One of the things we enjoy when traveling, especially on a road trip, is getting to enjoy the local food delicacies. These must-try street foods can be found in most cities in the Philippines. Some have even made their way on the menus of many popular restaurants.
Street Foods to Cool You Down
These cooling treats are good for a snack after you’ve been exploring the sights and sounds of the town. These street foods are popular snacks or breakfast items in the Philippines.
A refreshing treat to any thirsty traveler, buko juice (juice from young coconut) is a popular item in the carts of most street food vendors. A deep ladle is used to scoop up a serving of the buko juice. The serving does not only contain the coconut juice but also shaved slivers of the coconut meat. It is a refreshing drink to cool you down and give you energy for your next activity.
If you have no time for an actual sit-down breakfast, then taho is a go-to morning fix. Taho is made of fresh, soft or silken tofu, topped with a few scoops of arnibal (sugar syrup) and sago pearls. The sago pearls are tasteless and just add texture to the whole thing. Some people prefer to consume their taho without sago pearls and just drink it like a smoothie. It’s a good protein energizer to start your day.
Sorbetes is a Filipino ice cream. It is usually sold from colorful, wooden carts with wheels. It’s also referred to as “dirty ice cream” for being sold in the streets and not because it’s not clean. You can choose from popular flavors such as chocolate and even vanilla. Or try out Filipino flavors like ube (purple yam), queso (cheese), mango and coconut. You can have it served in a regular cone or cup or even a bread bun.
If you want layers of textures and sweetness in a glass, then go for a serving of halo-halo. Halo-halo is usually served in a tall glass or bowl and consists of crushed ice, sweet beans, jelly, tapioca pearls, sweetened fruits (usually banana and jackfruit), milk, ice cream, leche flan, toasted rice and purple yam.
Aside from how colorful it looks, the ingredients are supposed to be mixed together and then enjoyed. There are some variants with less ingredients. These are perfect when you want to cool down on a hot day.
Made from Bananas
Ripe, saba bananas are main ingredients in many must-try street foods in the Philippines. They are then deep-fried and sweetened with caramelized sugar.
Turon is a popular food for on-the-go office workers. It is made from ripe, saba bananas cut in half and slivers of jackfruit wrapped in lumpia wrapper, deep fried until crispy. This is similar to an egg roll without the egg. The treat is sweet and creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
You will usually find the banana cue or banana q sold right next to the turon. Banana cue is made from ripe, saba bananas and deep fried with brown sugar. Once bananas are cooked and sugar is caramelized; these are then skewered. 2-3 bananas can be on a stick depending on the size of the bananas.
The sweet banana and burnt sugar coating is what you will appreciate in this treat. An alternative is the camote cue made from sweet potatoes.
Maruya are banana fritters made from mashed or sliced ripe, saba bananas. The banana is usually sliced to make it fan out. These are then dipped in a flour batter and deep fried. Traditionally, they are served dusted lightly with powdered, white sugar while still warm.
Kakanin Street Foods
Kakanin are Filipino delicacies made from glutinous rice. These street foods are popular in the Philippines for their different textures and sweetness. The ingredients usually include coconut milk and sugar.
Carioca are round, sweet and chewy delicacies usually covered with a sugary syrup. They are made from sweet, glutinous rice flour, shredded coconut and coconut milk. The dough is shaped into small, round balls and deep fried until golden.
They are usually skewered and can be served plain or smothered in sticky caramel sauce. Another popular sauce is the creamy glaze of coconut milk and sugar known as latik.
Puto is a steamed cake snack which is usually made from ground rice, steamed and served with butter or grated coconut. Alternative recipes make it with cake flour. Variations also include ube (purple yam), pandan and even matcha. It can also be topped with cheese or salted egg. Some have even made ones topped with ham and/or bacon similar to an egg frittata.
Kutsinta or puto kutsinta is a rice cake with a jelly-like texture. It is made from a mixture of rice flour, brown sugar and sodium hydroxide (or caustic soda also known as lye). Yellow coloring or annatto extract is added to give it its color. The puto is then steamed in small ramekins and topped with grated coconut or added syrp (latik) for more sweetness.
Holiday Street Foods
Some street foods are usually made during holidays and festivities. Make sure to note them down in your bucket list of must-try street foods in the Philippines. But occasionally, a street vendor may be found serving up some of these treats. These are mostly kakanin but they deserve their own section.
Biko is made from glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk. The cooking process is quite tedious and needs a lot of muscle to mix the the ingredients as the coconut milk becomes thicker and the brown sugar caramelizes.
The biko is usually served with latik on top. Latik is the crispy bits of coconut meat that was leftover from the coconut cream. This is usually taken out when the coconut cream has started thickening and before the glutinous rice is added for cooking.
Bibingka is usually eaten during the Christmas season. It is a popular street food for church-goers who are on their way back home after attending the Simbang Gabi (night mass). Thus, they are usually sold outside churches.
It is usually made from galapon; a slightly fermented, soaked glutinous rice, ground into paste. It is then combined with coconut milk or water. In modern variations, regular rice flour and secondary ingredients such as eggs and milk are used.
The cooking process is quite tedious involving a specially made clay container and banana leaves for cooking. The result is a soft and spongy flat cake which is usually slightly charred on both sides and infused with the aroma of toasted banana leaves.
This is another street food delicacy served during the Christmas season. It is a rice cake made from black, glutinous rice (puto) called “pirurutong”. It is then cooked in bamboo (bumbong). Usually, it is served with margarine, grated coconut and granulated palm sugar. Puto bumbong and bibingka are usually sold together by street vendors during the holiday season and on other special occasions.
Suman is another rice cake made from glutinous rice, cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves for steaming. It is served sprinkled with white sugar or with latik. A variant of suman uses cassava instead of glutinous rice.
Cassava cake is similar to a rice cake, except that it’s made from cassava (yuca) root. The cassava is already starchy so some recipes use little flour or none at all. The ingredients usually include grated cassava, macapuno or sweetened shredded coconut, coconut milk, condensed milk and eggs. The cassava cake can be eaten at room temperature or cold.
Savory Street Foods
Of course, savory street foods are must-try street foods in the Philippines. These are grilled or deep fried foods that you can eat alone or pair with rice for a hearty meal. If you prefer to tusok (skewer) them straight from the pan; remember not to double dip on the sauce jars. Get a separate container for your own dipping sauce instead. Observe proper etiquette when traveling to another place.
Kwek-Kwek & Tokneneng
Kwek-Kwek are quail eggs while Tokneneng are chick or duck eggs. They are coated in an orange colored batter (annatto seeds are used for color) and deep fried. They are usually dipped in vinegar with chillies and onions before eating to get the savory taste. Another popular dipping sauce option is a sweet, soy dipping sauce.
Fish & Squid Balls
As the names suggest, fish balls and squid balls are usually deep fried together in the same pan. Customers use a skewer to pick-up as much of balls as they want to eat and pay the vendor afterwards. They can also be served skewered or not, in paper containers. Choice of dipping sauce include sweet or sweet and spicy made from caramelized sugar, garlic and fish stock or the plain vinegar dip.
Kikiam & Dinamita
Kikiam usually have fish meat, flour and spices and are about the size of a finger. Dinamita (dynamite) are green finger chillies stuffed with processed cheese and rolled in spring roll wrapper. They are both deep fried to a golden brown and share the same dipping sauce options as the other savory street foods.
Chicken skin is covered in batter and deep-fried until crispy and golden brown. This is one of the popular choices to eat with rice. You won’t be able to skewer these though. They are usually served in cups with your choice of dipping sauces in separate containers.
Grilled Street Foods
Grilled street foods are mostly different meats with different marinades or basting sauces but usually sharing the same dipping options as savory, deep fried, street foods.
If you want a chewy snack, then grilled, dried squid is one of the must-try foods you should search for in the Philippines. It is a chewy treat that is delicious and filling when dipped in the usual vinegar with chillies and onion cocktail.
Isaw (Pork or Chicken)
Isaw refers to barbecued pig or chicken intestines. These are thoroughly cleaned, then boiled, skewered and grilled. It is typically served with the spiced vinegar dip.
Helmets & Adidas
Helmet and Adidas is used to refer to chicken heads and chicken feet. Just like isaw, they are skewered and grilled over charcoal. The ever popular spiced vinegar is the dip of choice for this street food.
Walkman refers to marinated pieces of sliced pig’s ears which are also grilled. The name is in honor of Sony’s iconic cassette player as this street food became popular as the same time as the said device.
Not for The Faint of Heart
As if grilled innards are not enough of a challenge, some must-try street foods in the Philippines take more courage to try out than others. If your motto is to try something once; then level up your street food experience with these items.
This is chicken gizzard prepared and grilled just like isaw. It has a chewier, more rubbery texture than isaw which is almost similar to that of fresh, grilled squid.
Betamax got its name after the black tapes of the 70’s (before VHS) that it resembles. It is grilled, coagulated pork or chicken blood. Your read that right, but it doesn’t have any foul taste or smell. The taste mostly depends on the dipping sauce that you choose.
Balut is a fertilized chicken or duck egg incubated for 14-21 days, boiled and eaten directly from its shell. The ideal incubation time is 17 days where the embroyo is completely soft. Those who are regular customers of this fare like the “soup” and yolk part. Others won’t touch the embroyo. It is often seasoned with salt and/or a chili, garlic and vinegar cocktail. It can be eaten on its own if you don’t chicken out.
A version of this is the “penoy” which are eggs that don’t properly develop after 9-12 days. This is like a hard-boiled egg with no separation between the yolk and egg white.
These are just some of the must-try street foods that you can explore in the Philippines. A food trip to explore these local food items can be considered a worthy travel goal. Street food culture is continually evolving so there may be new delicacies to explore that are not on this list. What street foods have you tried?