Having been born in the Philippines, I grew up eating traditional Filipino food. Here’s my guide to the best Filipino foods, including dishes, sweet desserts, and drinks. Plus the super popular, Jollibee restaurant.
Despite having lived most of my life in Canada, these foods still give me a sense of nostalgia, even when I was researching the ones with which I’m not familiar.
In the following article, you’ll learn about some of my favorite Filipino foods and some that I would love to try in no particular order, and a couple that I would avoid.
Time to get hungry!
17 Savoury Filipino Dishes
We start this list with arguably the most well-known Filipino dish: Adobo.
Adobo is made with beef, chicken, pork, seafood, or vegetables.
This is then marinated (thus the term adobo, which comes from the Spanish “adobar” = marinade, sauce, seasoning) with bay leaf, black peppercorn, cooking oil, garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar.
Many consider adobo to be the national food of the Philippines.
This is one of my absolute favorite Filipino dishes.
Tapsilog can be broken down this way:
- “Tapa” refers to meat such as beef, mutton, even other meats, then marinated (traditionally smoked or cured). It’s then fried or grilled. I prefer it crispy.
- “Silog” is a combination of words: “Sinangag”, which is garlic fired rice (so good!); and “itlog”, which is egg.
There are many different variations of this type of meal. I prefer beef or pork (to be honest, I’ll usually substitute bacon because I am a Canadian at this point).
Tapsilog is mainly a breakfast meal, but it can be eaten anytime as awesome comfort food.
3. Longaniza or Longganisa
While longaniza is a sausage dish that can be found in various areas of Spanish influence, we’ll focus on the Filipino variety, which is made up of local spices and dyed red.
In the Philippines, longganisa are sausages that are either fresh or smoked and can be made with black pepper, brown sugar, garlic, salt, and vinegar. Other spices can be added for variations and personal taste.
This is also mainly a breakfast food, which can be eaten with silog (see above). I think I may prefer this breakfast to tapsilog. Oh well, time for some taste testing!
4. Lumpiang Shanghai or Lumpia
Another favorite of mine, lumpiang shanghai are Filipino spring rolls.
These are relatively easy to make at home. All I need are spring roll wrappers, some ground meat seasoned with broth or stock cubes, diced-up carrots, and black pepper.
The fun comes in rolling them. I have spent hours preparing lumpia for guests growing up. After being rolled, they’re deep-fried until crispy and cooked well.
5. Bicol Express
This is one meal I haven’t had a chance to enjoy in a while. Bikol express is a type of stew that is usually made with pork, garlic, ginger, onion, stockfish or shrimp paste, coconut milk, and long chilies.
Another name for Bicol Express is Sinilihan. As the name suggests, it comes from the Bicol region of the Philippines.
Pinakbet is a popular dish made with bagoong (fermented fish) or alamang (shrimp or krill paste); vegetables like bitter melon (ampalaya), eggplant, and okra.
Lechon is another national dish of the Philippines. It is made by roasting an entire pig over a fire on a spit.
There are two major ways that lechon is prepared:
- Cebu or Visayas lechon: stuffed with herbs like bay leaves, black peppercorn, lemongrass (tanglad), leaves from native citrus or tamarind trees, scallions, salt. This is then cooked over charcoal made from coconut huusks
- Manila or Luzon lechon: not stuffed with herbs, sometimes with salt and pepper. Cooked over a wood fire, with a sauce made from liver (known as lechon sauce
Both variations rub salt or spices on the skin to make it crispier, and baste it as it cooks (sometimes with carbonated drinks).
While it has a Spanish name, lechon has origins that predate Spanish influence, as pigs are native to the Philippines.
Learn about roasted pork, a popular street food in Ecuador.
Pancit is a name used for many noodle dishes in the Philippines.
The following are just a few:
- Batchoy: soup made with beef loin, chicken stock, crushed pork cracklings, pork offal, and round noodles.
- Kinalas: noodles, with scraped meat from pork or beef’s head, sauce made from cow or pig brains.
- Pacit palabok: This is the one I’m most familiar with. It’s made with a shrimp-based sauce, which include annatto seeds, green onions, ground chicharrón, hard-boiled eggs, smoked fish (tinapa)
9. Arroz Caldo
Arroz caldo is another dish that I haven’t had in a while, but always remember enjoying it. It’s a rice porridge dish served hot, made with chicken, garlic, ginger, pepper, rice, and scallions.
Arroz caldo can also be served with calamansi (a type of Filipino citrus fruit), fish sauce, and a hard-boiled egg. This is another great comfort food.
Sinigang is a sour and savory soup that’s quite popular. It’s often made with tamarind (sampalok), which gives it its distinctive flavor.
Other ingredients include fish sauce, green chili (siling mahaba) onions, tomatoes, seafood, or various meats (pork, beef, chicken), and vegetables.
This Filipino soup is usually made with chicken or fish, green papaya, and leaves of a chili pepper called siling labuyo.
It comes in a broth flavored with fish sauce, ginger, and onions. Tinola is also usually served with white rice.
12. Chicken Inasal
Chicken inasal is prepared by having the chicken marinated in annatto, calamansi, coconut vinegar, and pepper.
This is then grilled over hot coals, and basted with the aforementioned marinade. It’s usually served with more calamansi, rice, soy sauce, and vinegar.
13. Crispy Pata
Crispy pata is a pork dish. More specifically, it’s pig knuckle or pig foot. It’s deep-fried and served with a dip of soy vinegar.
While other countries have similar dishes (think Germany’s Schweinshaxe), the Filipino version first appeared in the 1950s, when the son of the owner of a restaurant north of Manila called Barrio Fiesta decided to deep fry scrapped pork legs.
Kare-kare is a stew made with peanut sauce. Various meats can be used, like oxtail, beef tripe, or pigs feet. Vegetables like eggplant, okra, green beans are also added, among others. Kare-kare can be served with bagoong on the side.
The name kare-kare comes from the word “curry”, and this meal is a favorite wherever there’s a celebration.
15. Ensaladang Lato
Ensaladang lato is a type of seaweed salad. The seaweed used is known as Caulerpa lentillifera. The first known commercial cultivation of this seaweed took place in the Province of Cebu (where I was born).
The seaweed used for ensaladang lato is usually eaten raw and mixed with bagoong, raw shallots, tomatoes, and a bagoong and vinegar dressing.
Escabeche is a dish popular in the Philippines. While it has a similar sounding name to ceviche, (which is usually raw seafood marinated in something acidic like vinegar), escabeche is prepared differently.
In the Philippines, the term refers to sweet and sour fish. The fish is lightly fried first, then marinated in a sweet and sour sauce.
Pandesal was always a staple at my house whenever we had people over for food.
These Filipino bread rolls are slightly sweet, small, and fluffy. They go well in all sorts of situations, be it for snacking or as a side during a meal.
With simple ingredients like flour, oil, salt, sugar, and yeast, they’re fairly simple to make, as well.
5 Filipino Desserts and Sweet Snacks
Ube is also known as purple yam. It’s used for a variety of Filipino desserts.
One of this is ube halaya. Boiled purple yam is mixed with coconut milk, butter, and condensed milk. This then is usually served cold after being refrigerated.
Ube halaya can also be used as the base for ube ice cream.
These ube dishes can often be found in the next dessert on this list, halo-halo.
Probably the most popular Filipino dessert or snack, the name “halo-halo” means mixed together. You can probably guess that it’s a bunch of ingredients mixed together.
The main staples that usually go into halo-halo are milk, shaved ice, sweetened beans, and ube ice cream.
Then other fruits can be put in to flavor it to your liking.
Durian is a fruit that can be found throughout Southeast Asia, and are native to Borneo and Sumatra. In the Philippines, durian trees are mainly found in the Mindanao region, in the southern tip of the country.
Durian is known to have a distinctive prickly exterior while having a very strong odor (one that divides people; some like it while others find it overwhelming).
It can be used in savory dishes, or in desserts.
Some say that durian has a sweet taste like custard, while others describe it as tasting like almonds, caramel, cheese, and garlic.
Biko is a sticky rice dish, also known as kakanin. Main ingredients include brown sugar, coconut milk, and sticky rice. I always enjoyed having this, especially freshly made.
22. Treats: Peanut Browas, Choc Nut, Polvoron
These are some of the treats that I still love to this day. As you’ll see, I have a major sweet tooth.
Peanut browas are essentially Filipino ladyfingers. They are made from ground peanuts, eggs, sugar, and yeast, then formed into bite-sized portions.
Choc Nut is a chocolate candy made with cocoa powder, coconut milk, and crushed peanuts, and served (once again) in bite-sized portions.
Polvoron in the Philippines is another bite-sized treat.
Made with butter or margarine, dry powdered milk, sugar, and toasted flour, polvoron can then be flavored with a variety of flavors, though my favorite were always the nutty ones, like cashew.
5 Filipino Drinks
Basi is an alcoholic drink made from sugarcane, with around 10 to 16 percent alcohol. It can also be called sugarcane wine.
24. Buko juice
Buko juice is a cold drink made from chilled coconut water. While not exclusive to the country, this is still a refreshing drink in the Philippines.
Depending on what you like, buko juice can also be served with meat from the coconut, milk, and sweetened to taste.
25. Kapeng Barako
Kapeng Barako is a coffee grown in the Philippines. Coffee is very popular among Filipinos.
This type can be found in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite. It’s strong in flavor and is considered to be an endangered heritage food.
Kapeng Barako is a variety of the Liberica species, one of the 4 primary types of coffee.
26. Calamansi Drink
Calamansi drink is Filipino lemonade. Made from a hybrid citrus fruit from the Philippines, it’s best served cold to beat hot days.
Lambanog is a liquor made from either coconut or nipa (mangrove) palm. It can be up to 45 percent alcohol and originates from the region of Luzon.
Fast Food in the Philippines
28. Jollibee / Jolly Spaghetti
This list wouldn’t be complete without talking about Jollibee, the famous Filipino fast-food chain.
You can get standard fast-food items there, like fried chicken and burgers, but the one item I wanted to highlight was the Jolly Spaghetti.
This spaghetti is unique in its sweet sauce, with meats included like hotdogs, ground pork, and ham.
This spaghetti with sweetened sauce is actually quite popular in the Philippines, not just in the restaurant.
As of July 2021, there are 69 Jollibee stores in North America.
Ones I would avoid
The following foods I would avoid for personal reasons. I’ll put them here since they’re popular in the Filipino community. You may choose if you want to try them.
- Balut is fertilized egg duck that’s served with the embryo semi-developed.
- Dinuguan is a pork blood stew, with chili, garlic, pig blood, pork offal, and vinegar.
I can’t wait to try some of these dishes again! There are also lots of different variations for many of these dishes, so you can enjoy them in many different ways.
These are the foods that came to my mind or were popular when I searched for ideas. Which ones do you like? What other Filipino foods come to your mind? Let us know in the comments below!