March 13, 2013

Filipino Food: A Basic Guide

The only way to truly get a feel for what Filipino food is like is to try it, but for those of you who haven't had the opportunity yet, I'll do my best to describe the basics.  Like in most Asian countries, rice is the staple food, so almost every meal will consist of steamed white rice and some type of meat dish. Filipinos love meat. Even the vegetables have meat! If you're a vegetarian (especially if you're vegan), good luck; you'll have a hard time finding dishes that let you stick to your diet.

Like the Filipino people themselves, Filipino cuisine is influenced by an eclectic mix of primarily Chinese, Malay, and Spanish heritage, and if you're familiar with food from other parts of Southeast Asia, you may find a number of similarities. The Chinese influence, for example, is especially apparent in various noodle dishes.

This list is by no means complete.  The cuisine of the Philippines is as diverse as its people (did you know over 170 languages are spoken in the Philippines?).  I just want to present you with a few of the most common Filipino entrees, side dishes, and desserts. If you ever have the good fortune of being invited to a Filipino party or traveling in the Philippines, this guide will (hopefully) come in handy, either in knowing what it is you're chowing down on (are you really ready for the pork innards with blood sauce?), or just to impress some Filipinos with your knowledge of their culture.

Adobo {via}

This is one of the most popular Filipino dishes. It contains meat (usually pork or chicken) and sometimes vegetables (often it's potatoes). The meat is marinated in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, and bay leaves and other seasonings are added when cooking.

Bistek {via}

Named for the spanish word for steak, beef is the main ingredient in this dish, although pork is sometimes used instead. The meat is marinated, usually overnight, in soy sauce, lemon (or calamansi) juice, salt and pepper. Then the meat is pan-fried and served with grilled onions.

Lechon {via}

Lechon is roasted pig. Think of a huge pig with an apple in its mouth rotating on a skewer over a fire.  That's lechon. This isn't a dish you're likely to see everyday, but at Filipino parties, when there's something to celebrate, the whole roasted pig is often set in the middle of the table, as much for show as for deliciousness. It's roasted to perfection for several hours over open flame, which makes the meat tender and juicy--but the best part is the crunchy and flavorful skin! 

Pinakbet {via}

This is a mostly-vegetable dish. The basic vegetables that are used are bitter melon, string beans, okra, eggplant, squash, and winged beans. The vegetables are often cooked in pork fat for taste and mouth feel, and bagoong (a fermented shrimp or fish paste) is added to give a salty flavor. 

Pancit refers to noodle dishes. There are a wide variety of pancit dishes; most are similar to other southeast Asian noodle dishes (like chow mein in China). Here are three of the more popular varieties:

Pancit Bihon {via}

Pancit Bihon- This is made with very thin rice noodles, fried with soy sauce, lemon juice, patis (fish sauce), and meat and vegetables are added (usually pork or Chinese sausage, cabbage & carrots).

Pancit Canton {via}

Pancit Canton- The noodles used in this dish are chow mein noodles, so they are thicker than the ones used in pancit bihon. It's stir-fried with vegetables, such as snap peas, cabbage and carrots. Meat can also be added, such as pork or shrimp. 

Pancit Palabok {via}

Pancit Palabok- This is made of thick rice stick noodles. Unlike bihon and canton, palabok isn't stir-fried. Instead, it's garnished on top with a gold, thick shrimp (or other flavored) gravy, chicharon (pork rinds), green onions, hard-boiled eggs and shrimps.

Sinigang {via}

Sinigang is a sour and savory soup. The soup has a sour taste due to a tamarind base, and consists of meat and vegetables stewed together. Typical meats include pork, fish or prawns. Vegetables often include tamarinds, onions, garlic, kangkong (a vegetable in the brassica family, sometimes known as water spinach), okra, string beans, and eggplant.

Kaldereta {via}

This dish is mainly comprised of meat, vegetables, tomato paste and liver spread stewed together. Traditionally, goat meat is used, but beef is often substituted. Vegetables used include peas, carrots, garlic, onions, and bell peppers.

Lumpia {via}
If you've ever had any Filipino food, chances are you've tried lumpia, the Filipino version of egg rolls. Every respectable Filipino cook has their own special recipe (my mom's is the best!), but the basic ingredients are ground meat (usually pork or beef) and shredded or chopped vegetables (like onions, carrots and garlic), which are wrapped in egg roll wrappers and deep fried (or, less often, baked) before being served with sweet and sour sauce.

Dinuguan {via}

Dinuguan is a savory stew. It's usually made of pork offal (intestines, liver, and kidneys) and is cooked in a thick gravy of pork blood, garlic, chili, and vinegar.

Filipino Spaghetti {via}

Filipino Spaghetti
Filipino spaghetti is like Italian-style spaghetti, but sweetened to suit Filipino palates. Spaghetti noodles are served with a sweet tomato based sauce  (often banana ketchup) cooked with onions, garlic, hot dog, and sometimes ground meat. The dish is then topped with shredded cheese.

Halo Halo {via}

As the name suggests ("Halo" means "mix" in Tagalog), this popular dessert is a mixture of several different things. It's main component is shaved iced. On top of that, you might find condensed milk, sweet beans (like red beans), corn, shredded young coconut, tapioca balls, nata de coco (coconut jelly cubes), jackfruit, cheese, puffed rice, leche flan, ube (purple yam) and ice cream. Mix everything together and this cool treat is an excellent remedy for the hot, tropical sun.

Puto {via}

This is a small steamed rice cake (and has nothing to do with the identical Spanish word). It can be eaten on its own or as a starchy side to a main dish. Puto is usually white, but sometimes shows up different colors and flavors.

Cassava Cake {via}

Cassava Cake
Cassava cake is a dessert made from cassava (also called yuca- a starch-filled root), coconut milk, condensed milk, strips of young coconut, and egg. It has a firm, custard-like texture and is topped with a creamy milk mixture.

Suman {via}

Suman is a rice cake usually eaten as a dessert. It's made of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk, then wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. It can be eaten on its own, but is often served with sweetened coconut flakes, brown sugar or white sugar.

Buko Fruit Salad {via}

Buko Salad
Young coconut, or buko, is the main component of this fruit salad, a staple at Filipino gatherings. Other ingredients include condensed milk, fruit cocktail, nata de coco (cubed coconut jelly), and cheddar cheese.

This short list barely even begins to skim the surface of the incredibly rich and diverse world of Filipino cuisine.  In fact, these are only the most common dishes, and the ones that appeal to the widest audience.  But if your mouth was watering reading about these foods, and you can't wait until you get the opportunity to try Filipino cooking, you might be well on your way to a whole world of delicious new culinary adventures.  If so, the best advice I can give you is this: follow your heart and (more importantly) follow your stomach!


  1. Thanks Leia, now I'm hungry and craving at least 6 dishes here...pancit canton. bistek, adobo, the filipino spaghetti( one of my favs) and yuca cake (casava) yumm...Thanks for the post. I shared it on my Google feed!

    1. lol, I was super hungry after I typed this post up! Thanks for sharing-- I really appreciate it!

  2. Love pancit!!

    Through the years I have made pancit, but some day I would love to have authentic pancit.

    Take care!!

  3. Hey there!

    New follower from the GYB hop!

    Anni //

  4. I love trying new foods! So happy to stop by your blog from the GYB hop!

    Would love for you to stop by!

    Laura @ Mice In The Kitchen

  5. Found you on SITS! Now following! :)

    Reading your post was like a stroll down memory lane! My mom made a lot of those dishes and my "lola" used to make Suman and I was craving it a few weeks ago!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Suzanne! I LOVE suman. And lolas always make it the best =)
      Following you back!

  6. I'm your newest follower via GFC . Please stop by and check out my blog. I'm still new, but trying to get my name out there.

    These foods sound great!

    1. Thanks for following & I'm returning the favor! Always glad to help a fellow new blogger. =)

  7. Oh My, when i see your post about food. I can't wait to come home, lol... I miss food in the Philippines. Nothing like home

    1. When are you going to be able to go home? The food in PI is definitely the best. =)

  8. For the Super Bowl my friend brought over adobo. It was great! The rest of this food looks amazing too!

    1. You can never go wrong with adobo, for sure.

  9. Love it! I think it's time to make some adobo again :). I'm a new follower from the Thursday Blog Hop. I'm also new with the blogging and a fellow Pinay. I will definitely be by your page often!

    1. Thanks, Jessica! I've added you on Google+. Glad to get to know another fellow Pinay! =)

  10. This all looks fabulous! My son dated a girl from Guam for a few years. I don't know if their food is similar or not, but they had wonderful food. I enjoy many different tastes and I like trying everything. I am visiting with LWML blog hop.

    1. Hm, I don't think I've ever had Guamanian or Chamorro food. Thanks for visiting!!

  11. Thanks for this great guide to beautiful food!! I think I would LOVE Pancit Canton!!

    I am now following you on Google+!

    Joy @

  12. Visiting from Travel Tip Tuesday - I've never had Filipino food, but it looks delicious! Now I'll have to try it!

    1. Yes, I highly recommend that you do! Thanks so much for visiting!

  13. This all looks amazing. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Filipino but didn't really know much about it. Now I am truly dying to try it! Thank you for a great post :)

    1. I'm glad this post was helpful! Thank you for stopping by!!

  14. I found you from Travel Tip Tuesday - I just finished lunch and now I'm hungry again!

    1. lol, I know-- when I was typing this post up I was hungry the entire time! Thank you for stopping by!

  15. The food looks delish
    Now I want to travel to Cebu even more

  16. Thank you so much for this guide. I love Filipino food!

    hugs x
    Crystelle Boutique

    1. My pleasure-- glad you love Filipino food, too! Thanks for stopping by!

  17. I had lumpia for the first time tonight! Very excited to come across your blog. Stopping by from Semi Homemade Mom :)

    1. Awesome! Thank you for stopping by, Andrea!

  18. Hi! I’m new follower of your blog and would like to invite you to join me at my weekly Clever Chicks Blog Hop:

    I hope you can make it!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

    Yours in poultry,
    Kathy Mormino
    The Chicken ChickTM

    Join me on Facebook
    Follow my blog:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...