I travelled to the Philippines for the first time in October. Being a true food lover as well as an experienced traveller, nothing was more satisfying for me than adventuring in the back streets of Manila in quest for the food the locals eat.
While geographically located in South East Asia, the Philippines is significantly different from countries like Thailand and Indonesia. Colonised by the Spanish for nearly four centuries, Filipino food has also been defined by a melting pot of influences, from Chinese to American. In essence, one could say Filipino cuisine embraces all the common elements of Asian cuisine – sweet, salty, spicy and sour. Ingredients commonly used include garlic, vinegar and soy sauce.
After spending a couple of days in Makati (Manila’s business district) I realised I wouldn’t find what I was looking for there. I mean it was a nice area (except I stayed right near one the town’s red light districts), it reminded me a little bit of Tokyo in the summer, with its steamy sticky city heat.
A day trip to Tagaytay and Lake Taal. was a fabulous way to cool down and discover the country side, where a lot of the farming is done. On the way we came across numerous pineapple plantations, coffee factories and coconut roadside vendors. There I tried a home-made coconut cream pie, with a surprising texture of stringy shredded fresh coconut and a creamy coconut mousse on a crumbly buttery biscuit base. It was served very cold and pleasant to eat. Oh and in case you didn’t know, the Philippines is the world’s largest producer of coconut (buko).
The next day I flew from Manila to Cebu, down south, for a short resort holiday. Except I can’t do resort holiday! I mean I love relaxing in a beautiful luxurious hotel overlooking the ocean, but what I like most when I travel is discovering the country through its people and its food (not through resort food of international buffet). I couldn’t help but get out exploring the streets of Lapu-Lapu on Mactan Island. I was a little bit of an attraction there – the locals didn’t seem accustomed to see many Westerners strolling through the streets of their food markets! But nothing can bring a bigger smile to my face than that type of travel – despite the dirt, heat, humidity and dust, this is WHY I travel to developing countries. I loved the colours, the smiles on people faces and the lively buzz of the Philippines.
Back in Manila, I decided to stay in a different part of town this time around and chose Ermita and Malate as my destinations for my last few days in the Philippines. There, once again, I explored the back streets, the ones non-adventurous travellers may classify as dirty and/or dodgy. This is when I realised, Makati really was not a good representation of Philipines, but really just the face of a huge metropolis. My first encounter was with friendly Saba street vendors (Saba is also called Banana-Ques: banana deep fried in a caramelized sugar coating and then poked with a stick). I’m told Banana-Ques are a sweet treat for a lazy afternoon day. They are sold along side deep fried rice balls (also served on a stick), sweet potato wedges and Turon (also called Banana Lumpia: a Filipino snack made of sliced bananas and a slice of the local fruit known as the Langka or Jackfruit. It is then rolled in a spring roll wrapper, glazed with a sugar coating and then deep fried).
If like me you prefer fresh fruits over deep fried snacks, then you must try the home grown mangoes, bananas and the impressive pomelos (enormous red grapefruits)!
These were only a small selection of Filipino street food and snacks, I came across countless other interesting dishes and drinks during my travels to the Philippines! Oh and the best way to end a stay in Manila is to head down for a stroll in my favourite part of Town, Intramurous – Manila historical centre. I recommend you try the freshly made pina-colada at the very Spanish looking Barbara’s cafe, one of the oldest restaurants in town.
Have you travelled to the Philippines? Do you have a favourite Filipino dish?
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