Local Filipino Delicacies for Adventurous Eaters
Editor’s Note Sept 2021: Can’t travel these days due to the pandemic? Take a virtual trip to the Phillippines by reading “I Am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook,” which is part cookbook and part vivid visual tour of the Philippines‘ food culture and flavors.
When it comes to food, Filipinos are both daring and experimental, and as a result, a cuisine has evolved that is not without controversy. Especially when it comes to the many exotic foods popular with locals as well as with tourists looking for their next culinary thrill.
Eating in the Philippines is as much an adventure as it is a social affair so don’t be surprised to be offered a seat at the table or a taste of fried crickets.
No matter which island you plan to visit, you’re sure to encounter at least one item on this list of exotic foods in the Philippines, so read up and get ready!
If you’ve been to the Philippines, you must have heard of balut. It’s popular street food, usually sold by roaming vendors in heated wicker baskets. Balut is technically just a boiled egg, but that of a developing duck embryo, and is eaten from the shell. It’s cracked open from the top so you can slurp the soupy substance inside. You then peel the shell to reveal a slightly-formed duck embryo attached to a yolk. Usually dipped in vinegar or with a bit of salt, each bite of balut has to have a bit of the embryo and the yolk to fully enjoy the experience.
In Filipino cooking, nothing goes to waste. In Cebu you’ll find tsulob-buwa, a dish of pig’s brain and liver, simmered together in soy sauce and spices. The result is a slightly gooey dish best eaten with rice balls, locally known as puso. Pig brain and liver may not be your ideal combination, but it actually tastes much better than it looks. The dish is very hearty and flavorful, and, paired with the rice, is a great afternoon snack.
Palawan is a beautiful island with very rich mangrove forests. Here you’ll find another exotic dish called tamilok. Tamilok are woodworms living in the trunks and branches of mangrove trees in Palawan. The dish is so popular, it’s become a traditional “activity” for travelers who go. Nowadays, some restaurants serve tamilok either fried or grilled. Traditionally though tamilok is pulled straight from the tree, dipped in vinegar, and eaten raw.
Many exotic foods in the Philippines are sold on their own or are considered major fare. In Ilocos, however, their main contribution to the exotic food list is actually a common item in any restaurant menu. Abuos is local caviar made with ant eggs, cooked with garlic. Most of the time, you’ll also see bits and pieces of red ants in the dish. The result is a flavorful dish with a slightly chewy and slightly crunchy texture.
Crickets don’t make people squirm as much as it’s probably the most common insect to be cooked in dishes around the world. Pampanga has its own version called Kamaru. Usually cooked adobo style (sautéed in garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce), the crickets are harvested from the rice fields all over the province. It’s commonly eaten as bar food, best paired with an ice-cold beer.
Not all rats spread disease and lurk in the dark and dirty corners of the city. Another dish from Pampanga, field rats are a common dish, simply cooked either grilled or adobo-style. These rats come from the rice fields and eat mostly rice and grain. The rats are skinned and their innards are discarded. Unlike the Kamaru, field rats are mostly eaten by locals as not many people are comfortable having rats in a restaurant menu.
Cooked insects usually have a crunchy exterior and gooey interior, and no other dish will be gooier than uok. Popular street food in Rizal province, uok is beetle larvae usually found in rotting wood. Rizal is known for coconut trees, and that’s where locals typically harvest the larvae. As usual, uok is cooked adobo-style or skewered and grilled.
If beetle larvae are good, then the beetle itself probably is, too. Mostly found in Nueva Ecija, the Salagubang (Filipino word for beetle) is very similar to the taste and texture of the Kamaru. It’s crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside, usually eaten with alcohol.
Chicken is probably the most popular meat in the Philippines, and Filipinos will eat it at different stages. The day-old chick is how it sounds – day-old chicks skewered on barbecue sticks, grilled, and basted with a local barbecue sauce. The sauce gives the chick a red color. Since the chick is very young, the bones are quite soft and made softer by the grilling. The chick is eaten whole, beak, eyes, bones, and all.
Soup No. 5
Aphrodisiacs are pretty common all over Asia, and they can come from the strangest sources. In the Philippines, Soup No. 5 is a hardworking dish – it’s comfort food, beer food, and an aphrodisiac. The soup is made with a bull’s penis or testicles, sometimes both. Locals believe that eating this soup and its meat will give you the physical strength and abilities of a bull, or at least an enhanced libido.
Deep-fried is one of the Philippines’ favorite way of cooking, and Filipinos deep-fry almost anything. A very popular snack in the country is chicharron bulaklak – deep-fried pig intestines. “Bulaklak” is the Filipino word for “flower”, which refers to the shape the dish takes when the intestines are cut into bite-sized pieces. As with many things deep-fried in the Philippines, chicharron bulaklak is usually dipped in spiced vinegar.
Can you guess what animal part would be used for a dish called “Adidas”? Again with the preference for chicken, Adidas is an adaptation of the Chinese chicken feet. As you would guess, there isn’t much meat on the feet. What you nibble on are the skin, tendons, and muscle.
The Philippines is abundant with fresh seafood, thanks to its topography as an archipelago. Salawaki is a fresh sea urchin, plucked straight out of the ocean. These are pretty common in any island destination, but most especially in Bohol, Pangasinan, and La Union. It’s even peddled like street food except the street is the ocean and the vendors are in small boats, roaming around snorkeling areas with lots of tourists.
A close second to chicken in pork as one of the most popular meats in the Philippines. Following the principle of not wasting any part of the animal, dinuguan is a stew made from pig’s blood. Pork meat and offal are simmered in this rich, black gravy flavored with garlic, onion, and vinegar. In terms of taste, it pretty much fits the normal palate. What usually throws people off is the black color of the gravy that pretty much stains everything, including the teeth.
Referencing the ancient form of video entertainment, Betamax is cubed pig’s blood usually sold on the streets. These cubes are skewered and grilled to form a tofu-like consistency. It’s usually dipped in vinegar and commonly paired with alcohol.
With over 7,000 islands and a very storied past, food in the Philippines can be as diverse as its over 1,000 dialects. It comes as no surprise then that there are more than a few exotic foods in its roster.
Are you adventurous enough to try them?
Mike is addicted to both adventure and travel, so decided to combine the two to form TheAdventourist. There he shares his journey from one adrenaline rush to another, always exploring new places as he goes. You can find him sharing his travels on Facebook.