Roasted Pig or Lechon!
Lechon makes a regular appearance in every filipino party or celebration. Anthony Bourdain claims this is the best roast pig he ever tried!
I have completed my blogs on Indonesia, to include some kind of a guide on what food to eat around there from Jakarta through Yogyakarta through Bali. So, why not one in my own country? I have been reading up on blogs about the Philippines and what you guys are eating, that I thought I should do this blog to guide you where to go and what to order.
Feasting On A Lechon
The celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once visited the Philippines and tried our lechon
. He then declared it is the best he has ever tried in all his travels.
This roasted pig adorns almost every buffet table as families and friends celebrate occasions from birthdays to anniversaries to graduations to weddings to baptisms to fiestas. It is the equivalent of a royalty dish. It is our Filipino equivalent to the American turkey, or to the roast beef. When lechon adorns a buffet table, every Filipino starts thinking of having a feast. And almost always, the roasted and crunchy skin is the first to go. Some stuff the roasted pig with various herbs and serve lechon without any dips, like the lechon from
Don't even think of leaving the Philippines without trying our mangoes! There are mangoes from different places, each claiming to be the best. Served "split" into 2 meaty sides and the middle part with the seed.
the Visayas, a group of islands south of Manila. Others serve lechon with a dip of liver sauce (some sweet, some a little spicy), or with a vinegar and soy sauce dip. We have heard of many tales of fatal heart attacks in many parties where the victims indulged of this cholesterol load. You may say you can savor lechon and enjoy it at your own risk
. The health hazards are however set aside in favor of this savory meal.
Many restaurants serving Filipino dishes include lechon in its menu, but if you want to see the whole pig chopped up into half kilo or one kilo servings, you may want to try going to Baclaran Church in Pasay-Paranaque along Roxas Boulevard (lining Manila Bay), or just try your luck in supermarkets with food stalls (like in SM Supermarket, Cash and Carry Supermarket) where lechon is available for take out .
After that cholesterol treat, don't forget to end your meal with our local fruit, fresh mangoes! You'd be amazed how some Filipinos eat them raw , dipped in bagoong
, but I still prefer them yellow ripe, served split into 3, iced!
Stewed in a broth made from ground peanuts and rice, with eggplants, stringbeans thrown in. The meat may include any or all of tripes, beef, ox's tail.
Kare-Kare , Crispy Pata, Bistek and Tinola
For the carnivores, you may want to try Kare-Kare
. This dish is either made of tripe slices, ox's tail and/or some beef slices stewed in a peanut and rice mixture to thicken the broth. This local dish is usually served with eggplants, stringbeans , and other veggies thrown in. It is never eaten without the famous bagoong
, which is shrimp paste. Many foreigners balk at the smell of this shrimp paste, but believe me, Filipinos living abroad would welcome this smell anytime. No Filipino would dream of eating kare-kare without the requisite bagoong side dish. Crispy Pata
is pig knuckles deep-fried to a crisp. It is equivalent to the German pig knuckles or to the Chinese ti pan
. Eaten best soon after deep frying, it is hard to enjoy it cold. The skin is real crispy, and served with a dip made of vinegar, soy sauce and diced onions. Bistek
translates to beef steak. Another Filipino favorite, it is beef slices cooked till its tender in some soy sauce and citrus marinade, and served with onion slices or onion rings. My family usually serves it with
Lato or Seagrapes
Not many restaurants serve this as they easily spoil. But if you are eating somewhere near the bay or sea, the resto may likely offer this. Lato or seagrapes are as fresh as can be. Try it!
potato slices as well. Tinola
is chicken stewed in ginger slices, papaya slices and leaves from sili (local pepper) or malunggay leaves. In many rural areas in the Philippines, Chicken Tinola is served really fresh as native chicken is used versus dressed chicken available in supermarkets, and papaya slices and ginger root as well as malunggay or sili leaves
are typically freshly picked! Go easy on the fish sauce as this can be salty. By itself, chicken tinola is both a soup and a viand eaten with steamed rice.
Our National Dish, Adobo
The national dish is admittedly adobo
. Either chicken adobo or pork adobo, or in some instances, a combination of the two. There are many ways to cook it. But the basic procedure calls for stewing pork and/or chicken cutlets in vinegar with lots of garlic, then fried, then stewed in the same marinade again. Twice-cooked adobo is best. Some fry it with more garlic, others splash some soy sauce into it, quite a few add mashed liver into the adobo to thicken it, and some others even add coconut milk . From region to region, the procedure varies. For sure, this
Chicken and Pork Adobo
Adobo can be either chicken or pork or both. We are an adobo republic -- we eat adobo anytime of day, with rice of course. (Thanks for the pic, Mhel)
dish won't work with vegetarians. But trust every Filipino to hanker for it once they are out of the country for some weeks.
If you come to Manila, you will find many food chain and/or small canteens or cafeterias offering adobo with rice. That is how it is eaten here. For that matter, every dish here is eaten with rice. Either simply steamed rice or garlic rice called sinangag
(rice sprinkled with some salt and then sauteed in garlic). Some servings are accompanied with a side dish of atchara
, which is pickled julienned papaya with some onions and peppers. Adobo may be ordered for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Some Filipinos even eat rice with adobo for mid-afternoon snack. Oh yes, we have a knack for eating as many as 3 meals +2 mini-meals a day. The mini-meals are eaten mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and they are called meriendas
Food Chains: Max's Fried Chicken and Jollibee
I am willing to bet that every Filipino around metro manila and suburbs knows where to eat the best Fried Chicken in town. Max's has outlets all around Metro Manila, and even in some key cities around the
"Adobo" typically refers to a meat (either chicken or pork) dish, but it may also refer to a squid dish similarly cooked in vinegar-garlic marinade and its squid ink. Eaten with loads of rice, it is very similar to the Spanish "calamares en su tinta".
country. Most of us grew up on Max's fried chicken.
Before, each of us would order a half-chicken, but these days, Filipinos would either share a whole chicken with the family or order the budget meals which include a quarter of a chicken plus a choice of a vegetable dish which is either chopseuy
, a dish of stir-fried vegetables, or fried or fresh lumpia ubod
which is fried or fresh roll with julienned pith from the trunk of a banana tree. Jollibee
is a food chain which started as a hamburger joint competing versus the giant McDonalds. And it did beat McDonalds in its own field here in this country. Jollibee offers not only hamburgers, but also hotdogs, spaghetti, and the now famous breaded fried chicken called Chicken Joy
. It is now a toss up between this Chicken Joy and the Max's in the fried chicken department. Both Jollibee and Max's also offer many other dishes which are just as equally good. There is the pancit luglug, lumpia shanghai (fried spring rolls), adobo, sago at gulaman (a drink with tapioca balls),
and the Filipino's "sweet" spaghetti with sliced sausages!
Eating in Max's or in
This is chicken barbecue with a local twist. That twist lies in the marinade. Many local fastfood chain offer it: Mang Inasal, Chicken Bacolod, Bacolod House, etc
Jollibee won't burn a hole in your pockets. Max's combo meals which includes a quarter chicken, a drink, a caramel bar should cost slightly more than US $2. Same amount should afford you a decent meal in Jollibee too. And both outlets allow you to hobnob with many locals who patronize these 2 food brands in the country. Some of these food outlets serving combo meals include free sinigang soup
is a sour broth which may include either pork, shrimps or milkfish (called bangus
) or any other fish. This soup dish has local vegetables thrown in , such as kangkong, gabi or yam, okra,
radish. To sour the dish, we use either mashed tamarind, guavas or simply our local tomatoes and lemons.
Another foodchain is Mang Inasal
where one can enjoy meals for less than US$1. Snacks include the not-to-be-missed "halo-halo" or 'guinomis'
. Equivalent in price range is Andok's
which is found scattered all over the metropolis. I know there is one in Boracay Island as well. Cheap eats. Mainly roasted or grilled meat dishes.
And speaking of food chains, don't hesitate to order breakfast items anytime of day around the Philippines.
Seafood like crabs , shrimps, scallops and other shellfish go for a price, but always make for a splendid meal.
What serves us well for breakfast, serves just as good for lunch or dinner. Tapsilog
stands for tapa, sinangag and itlog
which means beef slices, fried rice and egg. There are many small eateries serving tapsilog. You will find there are many variations for this dish, some with quite amusing titles.
I promise to do a sequel to this blog, specializing on these cheaper joints where one can have good meals for under US$2.
Some Specialty Dishes
You can't find it just anywhere. And when you do find them, be sure that they are fresh. Your best bet is to eat these in restaurants specializing in seafood, normally located by the beach or coastline.
Crabs or alimango
can be steamed or fried in butter and garlic, or in some special sauce and garlic combination. Either way, it is good so long as it is fresh. Same with clams, shrimps, lobster, squid and prawns. And then there is the rare lato or seagrapes
. I love lato served with radish, wansuy or cilantro, tomatoes and onions , with a vinegar/pepper dressing. Lato has a very short shelf life, so be warned to eat them
Lato as a Salad
Served real fresh, with slices of tomatoes, onions and sometimes wansuy and radish slices.. then sprinkled with a dressing of vinegar, ground pepper and a dash of sugar.
fresh. You feel it "pop" in your mouth if served fresh. In Manila, there is this place called "Dampa"
which literally means hut, serving fresh seafood . Be sure to ask first if they have lato (I usually find them in "Aling Tonying's"). Dampa is a place where you can buy fresh seafood from the market, go to any one of the restaurants who would then cook the seafood to your liking. If you are too lazy, you can skip the marketing and simply let the restaurants buy what you like, and serve them to you cooked. Dampa is located by the Manila Bay along Diosdado Macapagal Avenue near Westin Plaza Hotel , within the Cultural Center Complex. You can eat here, then stroll around the area to check out the Cultural Center, Folk Arts Theater, and catch the breeze. You may even wish to get inside the Westin Plaza Hotel and order some "halo halo" --- a dessert of sweetened fruits served with shaved ice. Some top it with ice cream and a sliver of leche flan (custard) and ube (yam). Very refreshing! OR you may simply go to the Mall of Asia, touted the biggest in Southeast Asia,
Stewed in a broth with papaya slices and sili (pepper) or malunggay leaves, spiked by ginger bits for flavor. Usually served with fish sauce called "patis". (Thanks for the pic, Jules )
and check out the many branches of the same Dampa restaurants lining the Manila Bay , right behind the Mall of Asia.
Many Filipinos would recommend you try our balut
, which is unfertilized duck embryo. This "egg" is not for everyone. You need an acquired taste for it, or perhaps some try it just for adventure much like the barbecued scorpions in China, or the snake blood from Thailand. I admit I do not enjoy it particularly, but many Filipinos like it by itself, or eaten with salt and rice.
Among the vegetable dishes you can order here are: Pinakbet or Pakbet
: this came from Northern Philippines but has somehow become a mainstay vegetable dish in many Filipino homes. Vegetables include ampalaya
(bitter gourd), squash, stringbeans, eggplant, and okra. Some cook it a tad dry, others soupy, flavored with the very Filipino bagoong
or shrimp paste. If you are a vegetarian, be sure to tell the waiter to have it cooked WITHOUT pork or any meat slices. Laing and Bicol Express
[: From Bicol Region some 8 hours drive south of Manila, this spicy dish
Pinakbet, Pakbet. Same Same.
Vegetable dish from Northern Philippines, but served almost everywhere in the country. Some included meat slices, others are all vegetables cooked in shrimp paste.
is cooked in coconut milk. Taro leaves are used for the laing
and again, some cook it a bit dry or saucy. Either way, it is spiced up enough to make it a dish hailing from Bicol, which is famous for its peppery dishes. Chopsuey
: If you are familiar with Chinese cuisine, this is the same chopsuey which has become another Filipino favorite.
I live near the area of Greenbelt Makati where many trendy and gourmet restaurants can be found. Italian, Greek, Spanish, American, Chinese, Thai, Indian..........take your pick. Among the Filipino restaurants , you can try the very established, not that expensive "Via Mare" . Here, one finds the very Filipino rice cake called bibingka
served either with our local buffalo cheese or salted egg, fried noodles served with eggs, shrimps, squid, pork rinds called pancit luglug
and again, the halo halo
. Our local bread called pandesal
is also available here, served with kesong puti
which is the equivalent of the Italian mozzarrela, but way cheaper! There are other rice cakes and desserts like puto bumbong (colored purple!
which are all priced
A very Spanish (or Portuguese) dish, handed down from generations.
so reasonably I have to insist you try them all! Most rice cakes are served with shredded coconut meat. Still in Via Mare, you may want to try pricier bacalau
. This must be a dish passed on to us by the Spaniards. Shredded salted cod, cooked with diced potatoes , chickpeas and pimiento or pepper, it is a dish we have come to love especially since it makes an annual appearance on our dining tables during the Lenten season. The Philippines is the only Catholic nation in Southeast Asia and we do observe fasting and abstinence during Lent especially on Good Fridays. Abstaining from meat dishes, many Filipinos serve bacalau if they can afford it.
Still in the Greenbelt area in Makati, there is Fely J, Lorenzo's Way, and Mesa Grille.
In Mesa Grille, try the pritchon
. This is lechon
served like the Peking Duck , wrapped in thin pancakes with your choice of sauces. Fely J and Lorenzo's Way both belong to the Larry Cruz chain of restaurants which include Bistro Remedios and Cafe Adriatico in Malate, Manila. If you are in the area, try them too.
An exotic find would be to find
Called "bihod", this is fish roe. Very rarely found, but tops my list of favs.
our local "bottarga" or fish roe. In Davao and General Santos Cities in Mindanao in Southern Philippines, they call this "bihod"
. Some grill it, some drop it in their "sinigang" (sour broth cooked either with pork or fish, soured by tamarind , guava or kalamyas), while the more enterprising serve them sliced up, slightly sauteed in garlic and parsley. Cooked any which way, I love it! Happy eating, everyone!
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