Philippine Street Food – Part 1
One unifying aspect of Filipino culture is that Filipinos love their food. Filipinos love to eat when they’re happy, sad, angry, bored and even on the rare occasions that they’re hungry. While the usual restaurants are available on every block to satisfy these cravings, there are also an infinite number of street stalls serving up an array of tasty and albeit, strange snacks as well. As there’s so much choice when it comes to street foods we’ll start with the protein section of the food pyramid.
The number one street food that the traveller will always be asked if they’ve tried by Filipinos would have to be balut. Eating Balut is an unofficial rite of passage for any traveller in the Philippines because when you tell a Filipino you have eaten balut you express that you are willing to experience Filipino culture. It took me quite a while to work up the courage to eat it as it sounds so disgusting. Balut is a boiled fertilised duck egg with a partially developed embryo inside. With my first balut I could see the beak and an eye socket but the second one had no distinguishable features. The way to eat it is to crack a hole in the shell, suck the juice out and then eat everything inside. I thought that the white of the egg would be the safe part but it’s really chewy, the best taste is actually the yolk and the chick, and you can feel the protein with every bite. You can find balut from street vendors for 10-20 pesos.
Photo by Panlasang Pinoy
Another great street food surprise for me has to be kwek-kwek. This street delicacy is made from either chicken eggs or duck eggs which are coated in an orangey (food colouring) mixture of flour, baking powder, water, salt, and pepper then they are deep fried. After it has been deep fried you can eat it with vinegar, gravy, or with whatever sauce the vendor has. So get your kwek-kwek for 7-10 pesos. Tukneneng is the quail egg version of this snack and you will usually find 4 Tukneneng on a skewer for about 10 pesos.
Photo by Scott Allford
Many Pinoy street foods have funny names which come from their shape or from what they are such as Helmet (fried chicken head), Adidas (chicken feet), or Walkman (barbecued pigs ears). A must try from these strangely named concoctions has to be Beta Max. This is curdled or dried chicken or pigs blood which is cut into little squares resembling a Beta Max tape. I’m not a big fan of eating blood as in the past I’ve had various types of boiled blood in other countries and it tasted like meaty chocolate mousse. Beta Max has a mild meaty taste but goes really well with vinegar or other sauces the vendors sell with it. I would definitely eat it again and for only 3 pesos a stick it’s not gonna break the bank.
Photo by Sidney Snoeck
On a side note, I have been warned about vendor’s sauces, while some vendors will dish up the sauce and give it to you, others simply have a jar filled with sauce that you dip your food into, however some people dip their food, then take a bite of their food and dip it in the sauce again. And we all know that no matter what country we are in we have to be careful sharing food with strangers if we haven’t had our vaccinations for Hepatitis.
Photo by Scott Allford
Two of the most common foods you’ll find at street food stalls is Isaw, which is also called IUD (like the one used for contraception) and Squid/fish balls. Simply put, Isaw is barbecued chicken intestines on a skewer. I’ve had pig intestines in Korea and they we’re pretty bland but good with sauce and the same goes for Isaw. At about 5 pesos they make a good snack on the run. Squid balls or Fish balls are balls of squid/fish mixed with flour and a mix of other ingredients. They puff up when deep fried and like with most other Manila street foods they go great with the sauces on the vendor’s cart. They range from about 3-5 pesos each (Squid Balls) and 25 centavos a piece for Fish Balls.
In the Philippines I have travelled in luxury and I have also travelled as a backpacker. While eating great food in classy restaurants is nice, I have found that I have more memorable travel experiences when I eat what the locals eat where they eat it. Enjoying any of the street foods I have mentioned here is much more than a culinary experience as you get to interact with the people and experience what things are really like down at street level.
Scott M. Allford has lived and worked in Australia and South Korea and has travelled extensively throughout Asia- Mongolia, China, Tibet, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and Japan – fell in love with the Philippines and decided to allocate at least two years to comprehensively cover the country.
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