The Philippines is a melting pot of different cultures from both its Asian neighbors and colonization from the West. You can find many delicious food with different influences all around the Philippines. As with the country and its people, its widely-beloved street food is diverse and has a rich, colorful history. These comfort foods are often delightfully sinful with sweet or savory flavors. And you can find them almost anywhere as street vendors roam around or sell near schools, hospitals, local attractions, and more. So here are 20 must-try street food to look out for when in the Philippines!
Isaw (Barbecued Animal Insides)
Isaw(saw) meaning “to dip” can refer to many different barbecued food made of meat parts that would have otherwise been thrown away. This can includes animal insides, ears, and even feet. The inventiveness that brought about these unique and flavorful street foods served on sticks was the economic downturn that came about in the early 70’s. You can find them often being sold with barbecue and hotdog by street vendors. They are popularly dipped in sweet and spicy sauce or in spiced vinegar, provided by the vendor. They are also a popular choice of “pulutan” or food that is served best with alcoholic drinks. Because of this, they are often sold at night, mostly from 5pm onwards, (but it could also depend on the vendor). Each stick costs about Php 5 to Php 15, depending on the kind (as well as the area where you get them, but the prices are more or less similar.)
When referring to isaw, the most common one that would come to mind is the “IUD”, often also just called “isaw”. These are chewy chicken small intestines that are cleaned out twice. It’s cooked “adobo style” which means being marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic. It is then grilled on-the-spot when you order it. It is named “IUD” because it looks like the birth control device.
This is dried pig or chicken blood that is grilled and cut into cubes. It is named like that because it resembles Betamax cartridges, which were widely popular in the 80’s.
Named after the popular shoe brand’s three stripes, Adidas are marinated and grilled chicken feet. This is a highly Chinese-influenced street food since chicken feet are served at Chinese restaurants.
Just like what it says on the tin, atay (meaning “liver”) is usually chopped up pieces of pig liver.
Named after the music player also popular in the 80’s, this street food is made of bite-sized grilled pig’s ears. They’re very chewy and have a nice texture.
These donut-shaped isaw are grilled pork large intestines. Like the other barbecued food items, they are rubbed in spices (after being cleaned out) for flavor.
If you see a vendor with a wok filled with oil, chances are it’s going to be selling a variety of the following: squidballs, fish balls, kikiam, and chicken balls. They come from Chinese culinary tradition but the recipe for the Filipino street food version is often quite different. They often come with sweet and sour and spiced vinegar sauces, that you can dip in much like the isaw.
Made of shredded squid meat, squidballs are round and white. There is usually more flour than meat to cut down on cost. But nevertheless, squidballs are a delicious and affordable snack. It’s like a Filipino version of the Japanese Takoyaki.
8. Fish Balls
Very similar to squidballs except made with fish flavor, fish balls are much flatter disc-shaped “balls”.
Named after que-kiam, the Chinese dumpling, the street food kikiam we know today is very different from its Chinese counterpart. It’s made with fish meat, elongated and browned to perfection. In Visayas, it is called “tempura” because of how much it looks like the Japanese food.
Just like how barbecued snacks and the deep-fried snacks are sold together, you can also often find bananas or sweet potatoes (kamote) being sold together by a street vendor. These sweet snack are often sold during merienda (snack) time — both in the morning and afternoon.
Banana Cue are bananas coated generously with caramelized sugar, almost or sometimes actually burnt. They are very popular snacks. They are named this way because they are sold on a stick just like barbecue. They are sold between Php 10 to Php 15 per stick, depending on the size of the skewered bananas.
11. Camote Cue / Camote Q
Sweet potatoes (camote) coated in caramelized sugar, much like banana cue, is often sold alongside it. The different flavor of the kamote makes it a sharp contrast to the taste of banana cue. Sweet potatoes, along with mais (corn), have been a popular alternative to rice since the Spanish colonization. Rice is highly preferred but the ready abundance of sweet potatoes has made sweet potato snacks very popular. They are usually sold at the same price as banana cue.
It is banana with langka (jackfruit) wrapped in lumpia wrapper. It is then deep-fried until crispy and golden brown. Turon sold may vary in size, so their prices are between Php 10 and Php 20.
There are so many different kinds of eggs and so many ways to cook them. Hence, the Philippines has many kinds of egg street foods. From fertilized eggs to eggs dipped in batter, there are so many ways to enjoy this very versatile of food.
Penoy is an unfertilized duck egg, kept warm for a period of time before being boiled. If it is incubated up to 12 days, it will be soft and have some “soup”. If it is incubated beyond 12 days, it will be dry and resemble an ordinary boiled egg. It is your choice to put how much salt or vinegar you like for seasoning. They are sold at night along with balut but are cheaper, usually at Php 11 to Php 15 each.
Balut is an often infamous Filipino street food and delicacy. In neighborhoods, sometimes balut vendors pass by calling out with “Baluuuut” to attract potential buyers. Traditionally, balut is sourced from Pateros because of its once abundant duck farms. It is incubated between 16-21 days before boiling. The more days it’s incubated, the more lifelike the duck chick inside. The 21-day version has a beak, bones, feathers, and all. Much like Penoy, it is eaten with salt and/or vinegar. It is sold between Php 13 and Php 20.
15. Kwek Kwek
These are boiled quail eggs wrapped in orange batter. You’ll find them everywhere, and are sometimes only sold with tokneneng or with squidball, fish ball, and kikiam. They’re sold in groups of 3 or 4, skewered on a barbecue stick. It’s usually sold for Php 10.
Made just like kwek kwek, tokneneng is chicken egg so it’s much larger and is usually sold at the same price as a bunch of kwek kwek, around Php 10.
Kakanin (Rice Cakes)
Kakanin have always been a delicious staple for merienda. These sweet rice-based treats have different flavors and textures sure to excite the senses. They are often sold together by a rice cake vendor (magkakanin), either in stalls or roaming the streets. They have another popular name which is “malagkit”, meaning “sticky”, which describes the consistency of many of these dessert snacks.
These rice cakes are flavored with caramelized coconut milk (called latik). The grains of glutinous rice are highly visible. This rice has been mixed with coconut milk and brown sugar, which gives it its distinct brown flavor. It’s usually Php 5 to Php 10 per piece.
These are bite-sized steamed rice cakes that resemble cupcakes, often topped with cheese, salted egg, coconut shavings, or butter. It is made by mixing rice flour with coconut milk and sugar for flavor. It is popularly paired with the dish, Dinuguan. They’re usually Php 3 to Php 5 each although bigger puto may cost more. There’s also a mini-puto which is creamier, and are sold in packs of 10 or 20.
Much like biko, suman is made with glutinous rice, brown sugar, and coconut milk. However, suman is wrapped in buri or banana leaves, which gives it its distinct flavor. Suman can be sweetened or unsweetened. In the case of unsweetened suman, it is often dipped in brown sugar or latik to give it more flavor. Each suman is sold between Php 10 and Php 15. A piece can be bitin, so it’s more commonly bought in bulk.
This treat is often sold near churches during the Christmas season, so it’s known as a Christmas food, loved by December churchgoers. It is made with similar ingredients to puto: rice flour, coconut milk, cow’s milk, butter, and baking powder. It is topped with margarine, butter, and sliced cheese (and sometimes, sugar). To really have the best experience, eat it hot. They’re sold from Php 15 to Php 25; more expensive if you buy them at a mall.
These are just 20 of the many kinds of Filipino street food there is. There are so many more that you can encounter on a culinary hunt around the streets of the Philippines. For whatever your tastes buds crave, there is a Filipino street food that packs quite a punch in deliciousness. Most, if not all Filipino food has that distinct pop of flavor that is unmistakably Filipino. If it’s sweet, it’s really sweet. If it’s savory, it’s likely to be sinfully good. And for cheap prices too! Indeed, the Philippines is a great venue for food trips.
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