Tourists in the Philippines will never go hungry with the array of Filipino street food available around every corner.
Filipino cuisine is a delicious blend of Spanish, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and American cultures. Food in the Philippines often brings together the three main flavors – sweet, salty, and sour – into a single, delicious dish. Needless to say, there is no shortage of new and exciting meals to try during your stay in the Philippines. Still, it can be daunting picking out exactly what to eat when visiting a new country. That's why we prepared this guide to the best Filipino street food to help figure out which dishes are right for you!
We encourage all our readers to adopt the “don't knock it 'till you try it” mentality when it comes to trying new foods along your travels. So don't instantly turn away if some of these dishes seem a little… Different than what you're used to at home. We promise Filipino cuisine and Filipino street food are some of the most delicious treats you'll have on any of your trips abroad!
Ready? Let's begin.
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Balut certainly isn't for everyone, but it is one of the more commonly known Filipino dishes to American travelers. To put it simply, balut is a fertilized egg that has been incubated for 14 to 21 days, boiled, and is then eaten directly from its shell. Balut is most commonly made with duck eggs, specifically from Pateros ducks, but it can be made with chicken eggs, as well.
If you identify as a daring foodie, then balut is the top Filipino street food dish for you to try. While many people in the Philippines eat this dish as is, it's also common to season balut with salt or a chili, garlic, and vinegar mixture.
This next Filipino street food dish is a little more approachable to most, but certainly not to all. Isaw is a Filipino snack that takes both pig and chicken intestines and grills them over a hot fire. The intestines are coiled around skewers and charred until they have a crispy, smoky flavor. Many tourists find that the pig intestines are chewier with a stronger taste to them while the chicken intestines has a sausage-like taste and texture.
As with balut (and, truly, most Filipino street food) isaw is often topped with vinegar of some kind. Isaw is probably one of the most sought and most popular street food in the Philippines – and it's very affordable for budget travelers looking to try out new, daring snacks.
3. Banana Q
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We'll take a break from the more unusual – and for some travelers, questionable! – Filipino street food and let you in on something sweet. Banana Q, or “cue” as locals call it, is a skewered deep-fried sweet plantain that is coated with caramelized brown sugar. This is a sweet treat that many Filipinos grew up eating at home. It's one of the most popular desserts sought out by hungry tourists.
Banana Q is a common merienda, or “midday snack”, for children to munch on after school. Banana Q falls into the comfort food category in the Philippines. It's also relatively easy to make at home.
Another popular Filipino street food dish that makes use of eggs is kwek-kwek. A dish that is commonly munched on in Manila, kwek-kwek are quail eggs that have been coated in an orange colored battered and deep fried. The batter is usually made of flour, baking powder, salt, and atsuete (annatto) powder to give kwek-kwek its signature orange color. Many people also simply use orange food coloring, as well.
Each order of kwek-kwek is served with a helping of spicy vinegar dipping sauce, which can help balance out the oiliness of the Filipino snack. Another version of this Filipino street food that uses duck eggs or chicken eggs is called tokneneng.
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When it comes to appearance, this is another bit of Filipino street food that tourists are often wary of. Adidas, simply put, is barbecued chicken feet. Adidas has been a popular snack in the Philippines for years, and now they're starting to make their way into the states. Restaurants like Maharlika in New York City and Hapa SF, a food truck in San Francisco, have also hopped on the Filipino street food train.
Adidas isn't the only Filipino street food snack that shares a name with commonly used products. There's also betamax, which is congealed chicken or pork blood, and walkman, a popular snack of barbecued pigs ears.
6. Mango shrimp paste
Okay, we're pretty sure you're going to be eager to try this next one. Mango shrimp paste is a delicious Filipino street food that takes a green mango and covers it in spicy shrimp paste. These usually turn out to be a favorite sweet treat amongst tourists. Think of mango shrimp paste like a candy apple that you get at the state fair; that's how easy to eat and popular mango shrimp paste treats are in the Philippines.
To make this snack, simply take a mango (usually an Indian mango,) cut out the seed, poke it onto a skewer, and spread shrimp paste all over it. The mango combined with the shrimp paste creates a taste that is equally as sweet as it is salty and spicy, with a hint of fishiness to it. Didn't we tell you Filipinos like to mix their tastes and textures? This is a must-try Filipino street food that you're sure to enjoy.
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Buko is a simple, delicious, and hydrating treat you'll find all over the Philippines. A Tagalog word that means “young coconut,” buko refers to both the juice and the meat of a young, immature green coconut. You'll find carts of coconuts being pushed around all over the streets in the Philippines. If you order buko from a street vendor or in a restaurant, the server will skillfully split open the shell just enough for you to be able to drink the coconut water and scrape out the meat when you're done.
Buko is an excellent drink to get on a hot day in the Philippines. It's also extremely healthy and revitalizing and makes for the perfect merienda to get you going again.
8. Fish balls
One of the tamest and most popular Filipino street food snacks you'll find are fish balls. This snack is made of deep-friend fish paste and are often eaten off a stick, though you'll find some vendors also serve them on a plate or in a cup. The brown, crispier fish balls tend to have a chewier bite to them. Locals often feast on this snack with a variety of dipping sauces, including spicy vinegar, sweet and sour sauce, or a mix of it all to get every flavor in possible.
It's said that double-dipping is a common trend at Filipino food stands, so keep that in mind when you're trying your fish balls out in different sauces. Similar Filipino snacks are squid balls, chicken balls, and kikiam, which is made of pork and vegetables.
Though this next item on our list is more of a meal than a Filipino street snack, it's something that you absolutely must try during your trip. Lugaw is a thick Filipino rice porridge made from boiled strips of fresh ginger, scallions, fried garlic, and other seasonings. While you're easily be able to find lugaw being sold by street vendors, this is also a very popular dish for locals to eat at home.
Rice, water, and salt are the three main ingredients of lugaw, however it's common to add chicken to the recipe, as well. This is a hearty meal that is best for tourists to dine on while visiting the Philippines during the colder, off season months.
Palabok is another popular Filipino dish that is usually eaten as a meal rather than a snack or a dish that falls into the “Filipino street food” category. Palabok is a beloved noodle dish commonly found in manila. The base is made of rice noodles that are topped with a thick, creamy sauce made form shrimp, minced pork, and chicharon, or fried pork skin.
As you already know, Filipinos love their eggs. Therefore you'll often find that palabok is topped with a hard boiled duck or chicken egg. Palabok definitely takes the cake for being one of the tamest dishes you'll find being sold by Filipino street vendors.
This next Filipino street food snack shouldn't be too hard to figure out. Unlike Mexican Street Corn, which is grilled until nearly charred and topped with a creamy sauce, Filipino mais is simply boiled corn. There isn't much more to this snack that makes it an exclusively Filipino delicacy, however you will find that it's sold so frequently by street vendors that it can easily be considered Filipino street food.
If you find you need a break from the more adventurous snacks like chicken feet and fertilized eggs, mais is a safe bet for you to munch on.
12. Lechon manok
Lechon manok, or roasted chicken, is considered to be more of a Filipino main dish than Filipino street food. Still, you'll find lechon manok being sold all over the Philippines by street vendors, in addition to various other delicious smelling (and tasting) rotisserie meals. To make lechon manok, all you do is stuff a chicken with lemongrass and rub it with a marinade mixed with soy sauce, sugar, and kalamansi. All that's left to do is slow roast it until it's a delicious crispy, golden color, then eat it up!
There are so many options to try when snacking on Filipino street food, so we advise not eaten an entire serving of lechon manok if you're trying to get a taste for as many local snacks as possible. But if you don't try it at least once while you're there, you're doing your journey through the Philippines all wrong.
13. Pwet ng Manok
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This next chicken dish certainly falls under the “Filipino street food” category. To put it bluntly, pwet ng manok is Tagalog for “chicken ass,” and that's pretty much all this is. This Filipino street food snack is made up of skewered marinated pieces of chicken bums. This part of the chicken is particularly fatty, some, and chewy with a soft strip of cartilage that runs right through the middle.
Pwet ng manok isn't for everyone, as the fattiness of the texture can be a little off putting. Still, it's an extremely popular Filipino street food dish that you'll find being sold by vendors everywhere. It's also an easy-to-eat dish the munch on while walking through the streets of Manila. Think of it like kabobs on the go – and try not to think about the fact that you're eating an animal's a** while you're at it!
As you probably know by know, Filipinos love their eggs, chicken, and shrimp. Ukoy is a Filipino street food that falls into the latter of the three. This delicious dish refers to Filipino shrimp fritters, which as basically small shrimps – usually with the head and shell still on – that are mixed in a thick batter and deep-fried to crispy perfection. It's kind of like fried shrimp appetizers you'll find back home in America, only better.
Are you a vegetarian? No problem. There are similar snacks to ukoy that use vegetables – most commonly mung bean sprouts and squash – that are fried in the same fashion. All of these Filipino street food snacks are delicious and, if you're one of the readers who still can't get past baluk, very safe to try.
15. “Dirty” ice cream
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Though “dirty ice cream” is a common name for this sweet snack in the Philippines, there's nothing dirty about their ice cream at all! There isn't much of a difference between ice cream in the Philippines and ice cream you'll find back at home, but it's still a Filipino street food and delicious local dessert you'll find being sold everywhere.
The biggest difference between Filipino and American ice cream comes down to the flavors. Particularly, there's one Filipino ice cream flavor that tends to stand out: cheddar cheese. That's right, cheddar cheese ice cream is extremely popular in the Philippines. Remember how we told you about the crucial “don't know it 'till you try it” mentality when it comes to trying foods abroad? Definitely adopt that mindset when it comes to this ice cream flavor. It sounds strange, but it's surprisingly quite good. Besides, if the locals love it, then you it's worth it to at least try!
Another Filipino street food that could be slurped up as a dessert is taho, the Filipino version of douhua, or soft silken tofu found in Malaysia. The base is a bland, silky tofu mixture that is then sweetened with arnibal, a caramelized sugar syrup, and topped with sago, which are little gum balls made from the sago palm plant.
Taho is usually served in a cup with a spoon, though the texture is so soft and smooth that it could easily be sipped with a straw. Taho is another great example of the many influences Filipino food has from other countries in Southeast Asia.
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There are few desserts more beloved in the Philippines than the famous halo-halo. This classic Filipino dessert is made up of shaved iced, sweet beans, coconut, sweet milk, syrups, tubers, jellies, fruit – basically anything you wan to mix in is good to go when eating halo-halo!
A similar version to this dessert is ginataang halo-halo, which is a combination of sweetened coconut milk, crunchy rice balls, tapioca, purple yams, and again, basically anything else you want to top it with. While halo-halo is served at room temperature, ginataang halo-halo is served warm, similar to a rice pudding.
Both of these sweet treats can be found all over the streets in the Philippines. They're both a delicious must-try Filipino street food that you're sure to order more than once!
Filipino street food is a diverse range of salty, sweet, sour, and strange. Still, we think you should try it all.
In conclusion, you're likely to try Filipino street food that you'll both love and never eat again. This country is full of such diverse dishes and flavors that you'll find it hard to choose between them all. So… Why not try them all? We know that some Filipino dishes can be daunting, but hey, peanut butter can seem pretty weird to visitors coming to America from abroad, and they still give it a go.
Just because food is different doesn't make it bad. One of the most important parts of traveling is experiencing another culturally as authentically as possible, and what better way to do that than to try as many of their dishes as you can? If all your favorite travel bloggers can do it, then you can too.
That being said, promise us that in-between all of your sight seeing and island hopping, you'll try at least Filipino street food that scares you. After all, that's part of the adventure of traveling somewhere new!