So you’re in the Philippines for a few days, and you’re curious, excited and very hungry. You’ve heard so much about Filipino cuisine, and you just can’t wait to sample the fantastic food the country has to offer. But before you start making those restaurant reservations, be sure to sample these iconic street foods, too.
Fishballs and squid balls
Both of these snacks can usually be found swimming in a pan of boiling hot oil. While they are similar taste-wise, they each have distinctly different textures. Fishballs are usually smaller, flatter and crispier, while squid balls are larger, meatier and chewier.
Eating them is an experience: take a wooden skewer and poke through the balls you want to eat. Then, stick them in some sweet and spicy home-made sauce before tucking in.
Also known as tokneneng, these are either hard-boiled chicken eggs or quail eggs that are coated with an orange batter. They are deep-fried, with crunchy exteriors that give way to soft, gooey centers. Kwek-kwek are best eaten warm and doused with lots of spicy vinegar, or paired with an ice-cold beer.
Dirty ice cream
Around three in the afternoon, you may hear a metal bell ringing, followed by the sounds of children clamoring to greet a certain street vendor and his metal push cart. Inside this cart lies the colorful, truly Pinoy treat that is dirty ice cream.
Perhaps the only reason why this ice cream is called “dirty” is because it’s sold on the streets. But on a hot and sunny day, vats filled with ice creams that come in flavors like ube (yam), queso (cheese) and chocolate are a welcome treat. Have some in a traditional sugar cone, or sandwiched between pan de sal (bread roll).
Isaw (chicken or pork intestines) makes for a good introduction to Filipinos’ love for offal. These innards, which come coiled and skewered on barbecue sticks, are grilled, then served with either sweet or spicy sauce. A word of caution: only dine at reputable stalls to ensure that the isaw you’re eating isn’t contaminated. Try the isaw sold on campus at the University of the Philippines for the real deal.
Fried, caramelized and skewered, banana cue is perfect for those with a sweet tooth. Bite through its crisp, sugary shell and you’ll find warm bananas laced with a smoky-sweet flavor (thanks to brown sugar and heat from the grill).
For a delightful play on texture, try it in turon form, where it is wrapped in an egg roll, deep-fried then caramelized. Perfect with some creamy vanilla ice cream.
These rectangular snacks — named for the obsolete videotape format — may look like tofu gone bad, but they’re actually blocks of coagulated chicken blood. Think of betamax as the local version of morcilla (blood sausage), which can also be found on the streets of the Philippines. It doesn’t have a distinct taste of its own, but it absorbs the flavors of vinegar and other dipping sauces perfectly. You don’t really judge a vendor’s betamax based on its taste, but on the vinegar it’s served with!
Of course, no list of Filipino street foods is complete without balut (boiled duck embryo). This exotic snack tastes like a highly concentrated egg, and pairs well with salt and vinegar. But if you can’t stomach the thought of balut, consider trying penoy (unfertilized duck egg) instead. Its texture resembles chawanmushi or egg custard, and is best eaten with a dash of salt.
Also read: 8 unusual foods to try in Asia – if you dare