Home Asia Philippines Food Culture in The Philippines: 7 Must-Try Dishes

Food Culture in The Philippines: 7 Must-Try Dishes

Photo of Filipino food.

The Philippines is an increasingly popular destination in South East Asia. Not only is it made up of over 7,000 islands, to rival the likes of Thailand and Bali, it is also home to incredible wildlife and beaches. Perhaps one of the most popular attractions is the Filipino food culture.

In the Philippines, food is not just about eating. It is a whole culture of enjoying quality time with friends, family and even strangers, and the memories that come from this.

There are a number of dishes that are commonly enjoyed across the Philippines. Each has multiple variations with the individual islands often preparing it in their own way. Many of these dishes have been influenced by neighboring countries and their cuisines. Dishes often involve a combination of rice and stewed meat. We’ve put together a list of the top 7 most popular food dishes in the Philippines that you have to try if you’re lucky enough to travel there!

Tapsilog

Photo of Filipino tapsilog, usually eaten for breakfast.
Mak via Unsplash

Tapsilog is a dish that is often eaten for breakfast in the Philippines. Its key ingredient is the cured meat, known as Tapa. This is often beef but can also be mutton, venison or even horse. The meat is cured using salt and seasoned in a sauce of soy sauce, pepper, sugar, garlic and lime juice. Many in the Philippines will marinade this overnight.

The meat is cut into thin strips and the texture resembles that of beef jerky. The Tapa is served with garlic fried rice (Sananag), fresh salad like cucumber and tomato, an acidic dipping sauce, and topped with a runny fried egg. What makes this dish so popular in Filipino culture is the combination of complementary flavors like sweet, sour, saltiness and garlic.

Pancit

Photo of Pancit noodles in the Philippines.
Lili Liu via Unsplash

Noodles are a staple dish across many Southeast Asian cultures and the Philippines is no exception. Pancit refers to traditional Filipino noodles. Pancit comes in many different variations with names usually based around the meat, noodles and other ingredients used. Noodles might be made from egg or rice and popular meats include chicken, pork and shrimp.

Pancit is often a dish served at Filipino feasts celebrating occasions such as weddings, birthdays and graduations. Not only is it a dish that can be made to feed the masses, but it also has a symbolic meaning with the nature of the noodles alluding to longevity and future happiness. The name of the dish itself refers to food that is fast and conveniently cooked, making it ideal for a party.

Adobo

Photo of famous adobo in the Philippines.
Sam Moqadam via Unsplash

Adobo is often nicknamed the unofficial food of the Philippines and it is for that reason that it sits at the top of our list of popular dishes! Adobo refers more to the method of cooking rather than the dish itself. It describes the process of marinating and then cooking meat or fish in a combination of vinegar, soy sauce and a variety of herbs and spices. This mixture not only gives the dish a delicious tangy texture, but also acts as a brine-like preservative that dates back early into Filipino history.

There are many different variations of the dish. Though coconut vinegar is the most commonly used in the Philippines there are alternatives of which can affect the flavor. The popular choice of chicken can also be swapped out for any other meat or seafood.

Kare Kare

Photo of Filipino kare- kare.
Ryan Kwok via Unsplash

Stewed meat makes a regular appearance throughout Filipino culture, often with some variation or other. Kare-kare is slightly different in that the stew sits in a thick peanut sauce (similar to satay). The meat in a kare-kare is usually oxtail or various cuts of pork. The stew is thickened with brown rice and also includes vegetables such as eggplant and bok choy.

Kare-kare is often served with rice and a helping of shrimp paste known as Bagoong. Kare-kare is often served on special occasions, cooked and served in a large clay pot. The recipe will vary depending on where you are in the Philippines and there are conflicting stories of where the dish originated from, with some claiming it was created by the Kapampangans, and some saying the Tagalog people.

Buko Pie

Photo of buko pie as eaten in the Philippines.
David Holifield via Unsplash

Buko might seem like an unrecognizable word, but it is actually just the Filipino name for a young green coconut. Like many other tropical islands, there is an abundance of buko’s available fresh on the beaches and at stalls dotted through the streets.

Buko pie is a staple sweet dish in Filipino culture, consisting of young coconut meat cooked in condensed milk and sugar and encased in flaky pastry. Due to its availability, buko pie is often a favored choice as a Pasalubong. This is the Filipino tradition of bringing home something sweet after a trip. The buko pie is said to have originally been influenced by the American apple pie and its birthplace is said to be the province of Laguna.

Kinilaw

Photo of Kinilaw, a raw fish dish.
Pirata via Unsplash

Kinilaw is essentially the Filipino version of ceviche, a popular South American dish. The word Kinilaw translates in English to ‘eaten raw’ which helps to describe what is ultimately pieces of raw fish, marinated with vinegar, herbs and spices. Though it may seem odd to eat raw fish, through this method it is safe in that the acid from the vinegar breaks down the protein in the fish, which is a similar occurrence to when fish is cooked.

In the Philippines, this vinegar often comes from fermented coconut juice and is called tuba. With fresh fish readily available all over the Philippines, this dish can be adapted to include your favorite. This dish dates back to hundreds of years ago and is thought by the Philippines to be the best way to enjoy fresh fish.

Halo Halo

Photo of halo halo ice cream dish eaten in the Philippines.
Jeswin Thomas via Unsplash

When it comes to desserts, there isn’t anything quite like a halo halo. Similar to an ice cream sundae, halo halos are a rainbow of colors with multiple layers of various ingredients. The name translates to ‘mix-mix’ and that is very in describing all the weird and wonderful things that go into this concoction.

Usually, the halo halo will include ingredients such as condensed milk, crushed ice, fruit, gelatin in some form and is topped with things like sweet beans, coconut strips, and just about anything you fancy. The halo halo is often deemed the unofficial dessert of the Philippines and has been previously described as a cross between ice cream, milkshake, fruit parfait and a boba tea. The halo halo is on the menu in most restaurants across the Philippines and many have even been known to top theirs with savory items like cheese.

What is the most popular food in the Philippines?

If there is one food ingredient that could be deemed the most popular in the Philippines it is undoubtedly white rice. There is actually a belief across Filipino culture that no meal is complete without it. It is commonplace that rice will take up half of the plate when serving a meal. This is often due to the fact that many Filipino dishes are stew based.

Some restaurants even have the option of upgrading to unlimited rice throughout your meal. Not only is rice so widely available, it is also very versatile. It can be cooked on its own alongside various ingredients such as garlic or egg and can also be used as an ingredient in things such as cakes or pastries.

How does Filipino food reflect culture?

Food plays a huge role in Filipino culture. It is not only about the food itself but also the memories that come with a meal, and the time spent with friends and family. Food is not about eating on the go or having a quick snack, but more about taking the time to sit and enjoy something to eat with company.

A ‘Fiesta’ is commonplace in Filipino culture. This is ultimately a celebration that could be related to where you live, your religion, or occasions such as birthdays and weddings. A large feast is a staple for any fiesta and will see Filipinos come together to enjoy their favorite dishes. 

Is Filipino food healthy?

There is no denying that the Filipino food culture is full of a huge range of delicious and interesting dishes. Unfortunately, it is not always deemed the healthiest of cuisines with many Filipinos suffering from chronic diseases related to diet. This is due to a number of elements present in Filipino food including the amount of sugar and salt, the use of pork and fatty meat as well as animal organs, and the presence of white rice in pretty much every dish.

The problem with Filipino food is less the ingredients and more the frequency in which these are enjoyed. Like all foods, Filipino food can be a healthy option when eaten in moderation or part of a wider balanced diet.

What is a typical breakfast in the Philippines?

A typical breakfast in the Philippines is less a specific dish, and more about the combination of ingredients. This will include fried rice, eggs, and a salt-cured meat like beef pork or even fish.

There are many variations of this including the type of rice which could be cooked in garlic or even more egg. This dish is believed to have the balance of all the nutrients needed for long-lasting energy to take on the day ahead. It is often served with bread and a black coffee. Other dishes available include a chocolate-style porridge usually served with salted fish and omelets.