After living in the city for 30 years, EC moved to the countryside. He writes about life in the mountains, dogs, plants, and cooking.
The Philippines is a country formed of many islands, big and small. It is no wonder varied influences from surrounding countries reached the islands and seeped into the tradition; then all combined to form the rich Filipino culture. The earlier Philippine cuisine has originated from Malayo-Polynesian and it gradually evolved when other Asian cultural influences mixed in. The western culture was injected strongly when the Spaniards discovered the Philippines in the 15th century.
Cooking styles and names for many Filipino dishes are mostly acquired from the Spanish and the Chinese, such as: lechon (whole roasted pig) and siomai (steamed dimsum). The Americans introduced the fastfood favorites in the country; like fried chicken, spaghetti, and hamburgers. The Japanese brought sushi and sashimi dishes; and the Koreans their kimchi. Other Asian cuisines like the Thai and the Vietnamese have also made an impact. Most Filipino restaurants serve Asian dishes cooked in Filipino style. Even the Middle East’s pita sandwich called Shawarma has been adapted by Filipino food lovers.
The Philippine cuisine is very rich and so versatile. Filipinos love eating and, fortunately, most Filipinos love cooking, too. All dishes are served ‘on one go’. Every meal is like a buffet. The salad, soup, main dish, and dessert (oftentimes) are found on the Filipino dining table all at the same time. And even though pork is obviously the favorite meat choice, there are also lots of popular vegetable and fish dishes included in any Filipino menu.
Top 20 Popular Filipino Dishes
usually pork or chicken cooked in a marinade of vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, and peppercorn plus some sugar to sweeten
usually pork or shrimp cooked in a tamarind-based sour broth with vegetables like long string beans, radish, taro, onion, tomato, and slim green chili
usually beef boiled in onions and peppercorn until tender; then cabbage, string beans, carrots, and sweet corn are added
rice noodles (or egg noodles used 'pancit canton') sauteed in pork or chicken, soy sauce, and vegetables like cabbage, carrot strips, sitsaro, and celery – or thick rice noodles smothered in thick shrimp sauce and garnished with sliced boiled eggs and spring onions, whole shrimps, and crushed chicharon
a popular breakfast consists of beef jerky (‘tap’ short for ‘tapa’), fried rice (‘si’ for ‘sinangag’), and sunny egg (‘log’ short for ‘itlog’)
chicken or fish sauteed in garlic, onion, ginger, and fish sauce with vegetables added – chayote or unripe papaya and chili leaves
assorted vegetables sauteed in shrimp paste and pork or fish – long string beans, okra, squash, bitter melon, eggplant, and tomato
usually lots of green chilies and pork or chicken or dried fish cooked in shrimp paste and coconut milk
boiled mungbean sauteed in garlic, onion, tomatoes, pork or fish, bitter melon shoots or malunggay leaves, and chicharon (pork fat cracklings)
literally mean: ‘to break into many pieces’; a Chinese dish sauteed in bits of pork or chicken meat, giblets, and liver – plus shrimps – and assorted vegetables like cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, snow peas, string beans, bell pepper, and leeks
roasted pork head cut into tiny bits and mixed with chopped onions and chili peppers
usually chicken leg and thigh parts marinated in herbs and spices; then skewered on sticks and basted with annatto sauce and grilled until tender
pork chunks marinated in soy sauce, ground pepper, and calamansi or lemon; then grilled over hot coals
ground pork or chicken mixed with vegetables bits – carrots, turnips and spring onions – firmly rolled in rice wrappers and deep-fried
pork legs marinated and boiled in soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves, and peppercorn; then set aside to drip; and deep-fried until pork skin turns nicely brown and crispy
usually pork belly or pork chop rubbed with salt and pepper before deep-frying; then serve whole or chopped with vinegar dip or ketchup
traditionally ox tail and ox tripe tenderized through boiling; then sauteed in anatto oil, garlic and onion, peanut paste, and vegetables like string beans, eggplant, pechay, and banana heart – sauce thickened with rice flour or cornstarch – served with bagoong or cooked shrimp paste
usually beef sauteed with liver sauce and simmered in tomato sauce until tender; then vegetables like siling labuyo, potato, carrot, and bell pepper are added
usually fish or shellfish marinated in vinegar or lemon, ground pepper, and salt for a few hours; then eaten raw
whole pig stuffed with lemon grass, garlic, salt, whole peppercorn, thyme, soy sauce, and vinegar; then roasted over hot charcoal for many hours – perfectly cooked lechon has crispy skin and moist meat
How to Cook Pork and Chicken Adobo
Top 1 - Adobo
The Spanish term ‘adobo’ means ‘seasoning’ or ‘marinade’. Adobo is a consistent favorite dish among Filipinos because it has a distinctive delicious aroma and the cooking method is very simple. You just put all the ingredients inside a pot and let it boil over medium to low heat until tender. Adobo requires only vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, and whole peppercorns. The adobo recipe is so versatile, any kind of meat and fish can be used as alternative, such as: chicken, beef, goat, fish, and even exotic meats like snake.
How to Cook Adobo
Top 2 - Sinigang
As one of the most popular everyday dishes in the Philippines, the Sinigang recipe is as easy as the adobo—almost. The cooking method is boiling, too; but there are various vegetables added. The sour taste is derived from tamarind or other unripe fruits like mango and kamias; however, guava and tomato are more sour when ripe. Common sinigang vegetables are sitaw (long string beans), kangkong (water spinach), okra, labanos (radish), gabi (taro root), onion, siling pansigang (Mexican green chili), and sampalok (tamarind). Alternatives for pork are fish, shrimp, and beef.
Nilagang Buto ng Baka (Beef in Broth and Vegetables)
Top 3 - Beef Nilaga
Nilagang Baka or beef soup is also known as Bulalo, when beef shank with bone and marrow was used instead of beef chuck or bricket. Even though cooked with lots of clear broth and can be classified as soup, beef nilaga is considered as main dish and often served for lunch with fish sauce and calamansi as table condiment. The beef nilaga often has vegetables like cabbage, potato, and string beans. The beef bulalo is popularly served as hot soup in roadside eateries, accompanied with crush siling labuyo, calamansi, and fish sauce.
How to Cook Beef Nilaga
Top 4 - Pancit
Pancit Bihon and Pancit Canton are cooked in almost similar way. Both include sauteing garlic, onion, pork cubes or chicken flakes, ground pepper, and soy sauce. Pancit bihon uses thin and transparent rice noodles; while pancit canton uses semi-thick egg noodles. These two pancit dishes are sometimes combined together, maybe just to mark a special occasion like birthdays. Garnishing may be stir-fried slivers of pork or chicken liver, boiled quail eggs, chicharon, and chopped kinchay stems and leaves.
How to Cook Pancit Bihon or Pancit Canton
How to Cook Pancit Palabok / Pancit Malabon
Pancit Palabok (also called Pancit Malabon) is made of softened thick rice noodles smothered in very thick shrimp sauce and garnished with sliced boiled eggs and spring onions, whole shrimps, flaked smoked fish (tinapa) and crushed chicharon. Thin rice noodles can also be used. This pancit dish is usually served with white rice muffin (puto). For a mouthwatering presentation, pancit palabok is placed on a large bilao (a shallow round tray made of native materials and lined with banana leaves) with an artful arrangement of egg and shrimp garnishing.
How to Make Tocino
Top 5 - Tapsilog
Filipinos have nicknamed their favorite breakfast dishes with appropriate codes. Tapsilog was spelled ‘tap-si-log’: tapa (beef jerky), sinangag or sinaing (fried rice or steamed rice), and itlog (egg). In ‘to-lo-si-log’, tocino (sweetened pork) and longganisa (chorizo). It is ‘ho-si-log’ with hotdogs and ‘bang-si-log’ with fried bangus belly. Since everything is fried, sliced ripe tomatoes or peeled cucumber are added.
How to Cook Tinola
Top 6 - Tinola
Chicken Tinola is considered as comfort food to most Filipinos. During rainy season, a bowl of piping-hot tinola is always welcome because it soothes soreness of the throat and protects the body from cough and cold. This belief is not surprising because the most important ingredient of the tinola recipe is the ginger. Ginger releases a mouthwatering aroma and gives spicy taste to the chicken broth.
Fresh Vegetables for Pinakbet
Top 7 - Pinakbet
Pinakbet is one of the most popular vegetable dishes in Philippine cuisine. It is a versatile recipe because its ingredients can be changed. Pinakbet is usually sauteed with shrimp paste and pork cubes. When fish paste and grilled fish bits are used, it is called Dinengdeng. Some vegetables are replaced and some are added. The original pinakbet consists of squash, bitter melon, okra, eggplant, long string beans, and tomato. In some parts of the country, different leafy vegetables are added.
How to Cook Pinakbet
Top 8 - Bicol Express
Bicol Express is well-known for its ‘hotness’. Made of lots of long green chilies – plus several pieces of the fiery siling labuyo – the bicol express can easily burn the tongue. The brave Filipinos who concocted this recipe live in the Bicol region, where acres of land are covered with chili plants. Pork or chicken are often used but the shrimp paste and the coconut milk are the important ingredients.
Top 9 - Monggo Guisado
Monggo Guisado is the usual partner for any fried fish, and is almost often served for lunch. Monggo is also known as mungbean, which is boiled until tender before sauteing. Young shoots of bitter melon or malunggay leaves are usually included. Smoked fish and pork cracklings are also added. Sweetened monggo is also a favorite snack, especially when toasted first before cooking with glutinous rice in coconut milk.
How to Cook Chop Suey
Top 10 - Chop Suey
Chop Suey (or ‘to break into many pieces’) is originally a Chinese dish but became a well-liked vegetable dish in the Philippines. Most ingredients are available in both countries. As an everyday dish, the chicken giblet and liver, and shrimps are omitted. Oftentimes, only the cabbage, carrots, and chayote are included because the other vegetables are expensive. cornstarch is added when thick sauce is desired.
How to Cook Chop Suey
How to Cook Sisig
Top 11 - Sisig
Sisig is considered as the most famous ‘pulutan’ for beer-drinkers. The cooking method for this dish is quite long but the end result is always tasteful and satisfying. Made from chopped roasted or boiled pig ears and snout, sisig is mixed with chopped onion, chili, salt, and pepper. Aside from pork, beef, chicken, and fish are also used to make sisig. Get Recipes Here.
How to Cook Chicken Inasal
Top 12 - Chicken Inasal
Chicken Inasal is an authentic Filipino recipe. The Spaniards discovered the dish in Bacolod and called it ‘asar’, which means roasted. The term evolved to chicken ‘inasal’. The recipe preferred the chicken leg and thigh intact. There are several variations in the ingredients but the chicken is always marinated in herbs and spices and grilled over hot coals until tender. The red-orange color of cooked meat is acquired from annatto basting sauce.
Top 13 - Pork Barbecue
Pork Barbecue is not an original recipe in the Philippine cuisine but because the Filipinos love to marinate anything they cook over hot coals, several marinade recipes for pork barbecue have been concocted. Pork barbecue are often sliced thinly and skewered on sticks. The meat is sometimes semi-boiled in its own marinade before grilling. The favorite dip is the spicy-sweet vinegar with chopped onion and chili. The preferred parts of pork for any barbecue recipes are the meat found in the belly, on the neck, and the shoulder. Marinade often include calamansi or lemon juice, soy sauce, salt, ground pepper, and crushed garlic cloves. Get recipe here.
How to Cook Lumpiang Shanghai
Top 14 - Lumpia Shanghai
Lumpia Shanghai is also known as spring rolls or egg rolls. As part of an everyday fare, ground pork or chicken is used and mixed with chopped carrots, turnips and spring onions. For special occasion, chopped shrimp is used. Roll a small mound inside a rice wrapper and seal both ends. Deep-fry until crispy. This dish can be made in large batch and stored inside the freezer for future cooking.
Crispy Lumpia Shanghai
How to Cook Crispy Pata
Top 15 - Crispy Pata
Crispy Pata is also a favorite ‘pulutan’ in most beer-drinking occasions. Like the Sisig, the recipe is considered as a ‘labor of love’ because it requires long preparation and cooking time. The pork leg is marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves, salt, and ground pepper for several hours. It is boiled until semi-tender; then placed in a strainer to drain. Oil must be very hot when frying the pork leg. To make the pork skin crispier, splash small amount of water in oil while cooking – but beware.
Deep-Fried Crispy Pata
How to Cook Lechon Kawali
Top 16 - Lechon Kawali
Lechon Kawali is not so meticulous in preparation. Just rub salt and ground pepper on both sides of pork belly or pork chop; then set aside to let the flavor seep into the meat. Oil must very hot, too. And, yes, water is also splattered while deep-frying. The dip can be the spicy-sweet vinegar and soy sauce or just the simple ketchup. On special occasions, achara (pickled unripe papaya flakes) is served as a side dish to the crispy pork. 'Kawali' is Filipino term for 'wok' or frying pan.
How to Cook Kare-Kare
Top 17 - Kare-Kare
Kare-Kare is an old recipe that traditionally requires ox tail and ox tripe, along with an assortment of vegetables. Since beef requires long boiling time to be soft and tender, pork, chicken, and fish for also used for kare-kare dishes. When annatto is not available, food coloring is used to get the brownish color of stew. Peanut butter is a good alternative for peanut paste and sauce thickener can be ordinary flour or cornstarch, instead of the rice flour. Bagoong (shrimp paste) is always a partner for kare-kare but served separately.
How to Cook Caldereta
Top 18 - Caldereta
Caldereta is obviously of Spanish origin but the Filipinos had made lots of changes in the way the dish is cooked. Caldereta also uses annatto but tomato sauce is the preferred alternative. Beef is the traditional meat for caldereta but goat meat is also a popular choice. Sauteed in liver spread and siling labuyo, the dish acquires a richness of taste that is unforgettable. Potato, carrot, and bell pepper may be added.
Goat Meat or Chevon Caldereta
How to Make Kinilaw
Top 19 - Kilawin
Kilawin is like ‘cooking with vinegar or citrus juice alone’ -- without using heat. Like the Japanese, the Filipinos have a penchant for raw fish or shellfish. Usually, the fish or shellfish are cleaned and washed very thoroughly and drained well before marinated in vinegar and seasonings. The kilawin recipe is also used on scorched skin of goat to make ‘kinilaw na kambing’. Some vegetables like eggplant, cucumber, and ampalaya are also used to make veggie kinilaw.
Clam Meat Kilawin
Goat Skin Kilawin
How to Cook Lechon
Top 20 - Lechon
Lechon is the Spanish word for ‘suckling pig’ but in Philippine cuisine, ‘lechon’ is ‘any meat roasted whole’ like the pig, cow, and chicken. Filipinos love to serve lechon to celebrate big and special occasions like weddings and town feasts. Several restaurants are serving the special dish everyday so lechon lovers can have a taste of it whenever craving for crispy lechon skin -- which is loved by most Filipinos. Chicken Lechon is more affordable. The Lechon Baka is also available but a bit expensive.