Food is a defining part of Filipino society. The various races and cultures that have contributed to the nation’s identity and sense of self all put a great deal of focus on mealtime - especially when the family is involved. Filipino cuisine - especially in Metro Manila - is as much of a melting pot as Filipino culture itself.
Filipino meat dishes are typically fried or grilled, while the vegetable dishes are most commonly stir-fried, served fresh, or used to accompany rice and meat. Pork, chicken and fresh seafood are the most common meats consumed in the country, as these animals tend to be far easier to raise, catch or hunt than bovines, though beef is still used in many recipes. The vegetables most commonly used in the country are, naturally, ones that grow most easily in the Filipino climate. Certain varieties of corn, beans, greens and several unique root-crops all find their ways into Filipino cooking. Fruits - especially tropical fruits - are very popular in the Philippines. Indeed, the nation’s fruits are some of the best in the world, and are used to make shakes, juices, desserts and mid-day snacks.
Rice is as much a staple in the Philippines as potatoes and wheat are elsewhere, and is almost always found on the table during mealtime. However, rice is not the only primary grain found in Filipino cuisine. Spanish influence has brought an appreciation for bread to the Filipino palate, while centuries of trade with China and mainland Asia has integrated noodle dishes into national cuisine. Rice is still king, however. The grain is used to make everything from desserts to main course meals.
Filipinos are notorious for their sweet tooth and tend to use sugar, or integrate sweetness into any dish they might adapt from other cuisines. Desserts and pastries are all very popular in the country. Rice is particularly popular as a dessert-grain, and glutinous rice is used to make a variety of sweet confections that are popular throughout the country, and even throughout the world.
Cassava Cake is a slightly sweet dessert and snack pastry made from grated Cassava, the same crop used to make tapioca. Cassava cake is made throughout the Philippines and is a comfort food to many Filipinos. Cassava cake possesses a natural sweetness and a pleasant aftertaste, allowing it to be appreciated by nearly anybody.
Buko Pie is effectively coconut pie. But unlike the cream pies popular throughout the United States, Buko Pie has neither cream filling nor meringue. Filipino Buko Pie is made with slices of young coconut meat and sweetened condensed milk, making it far healthier and thicker than coconut cream pie. The most famous and best tasting pies are made in the province of Laguna, south east of Metro Manila
‘Adobo’ is a term used in Filipino cuisine to denote that a certain food is marinated and simmered in its own marinade. Squid, pork and chicken are all popular dishes for adobo style cooking. The dishes are often very savory and are commonly cooked in soy sauce or vinegar. However, squid adobo is typically stewed in its own ink, giving the dish a very unique flavor.
‘Halo-Halo’ literally means ‘mix-mix.’ Halo-Halo is a dessert dish served on top of a bed of ice and often integrates sweet beans, fruits, coconut, ube sweet potatos, fruits, gelatin, flan and ice-cream. Halo-Halo is the quintessential Filipino dessert.
Sisig is a form of preparing meat. The meat is first boiled, then broiled, then finally fried with onion and garlic and served on a boiling plate, with a raw- and quickly frying- egg cracked overtop. It’s typically served with rice, and very popular throughout the city of Manila.
Lechon, especially Lechon Baboy, is a dish prepared by roasting a whole pig over an open fire. The pig is prepared in such a way that its skin becomes paper thin and extremely crispy. Lechon is very popular throughout the country, and is often served during major celebrations.
Kare-Kare is a peanut-sauce based stew cooked with a variety of vegetables, and, often, oxtail, beef or tripe. The stew is cooked until the oxtail is tender enough to fall off the bone. Be sure to not consume Kare-Kare if you have peanut allergies.
Pancit is the catch-all term for Filipino noodle dishes. Nearly every district in Metro Manila has its own variety of Pancit, but each and every one incorporates a wide selection of meats and vegetables, and are cooked in some sort of soup stock or sauce, and then served dry.
Bibingka is a form of rice cake that is often cooked and served fresh and piping hot. The pastry has a soft and spongy texture, and is most often prepared using coconut milk. Bibingka is another sweet enjoyed by Filipinos, and can be served plain, or stuffed with a variety of additives, including salted egg and coconut.
Sinigang is a sour (asim) soup made with pork, beef, chicken or seafood. Tamarind is often used as the soup’s base, but calamansi, unripened mango, and other souring agents are also popular. Despite its sour taste, the soup is actually very refreshing and light, and is a typical staple for many Filipinos.
Crispy Pata is deep-fried pork knuckle. The knuckle is first lightly salted, seasoned and boiled, before being deep fried until the skin is crispy. Crispy Pata is a classic Filipino meat dish, and is traditionally served with rice, and with a mixture of soy sauce, chili and citrus to dip, though others enjoy using the sweet sarsa (liver-based sauce) to season their Pata.
Diniguan is a stew of meat and various pig parts (lungs, kidneys, heart, etc) in a dark gravy of pig’s blood, garlic, chili and vinegar. The dish is served piping hot, and is very similar to blood pudding or sausage in German cuisine, but with a taste that is distinctly Filipino.
Inihaw is a catch-all term for the wide variety of grilled food served in Filipino cuisine. One of the most popular forms of Inihaw is Inihao na Pusit, which means Grilled Squid. Another is Inihao na Liempo, or grilled pork-belly. Inihaw is typically seasoned with salt, pepper and calamanci juice- a citrus native to the Philippines.
Puto is a form of sweet, steamed rice cake served as desert or as a mid-day snack. The cakes can be large or small, but are always sweetened. They are sometimes cooked in the leaves of the pandan plant, giving them a unique, but mild and natural sweet flavor.
Chicharron is the Filipino answer to the American pork rind. Chicharron is dried and deep-fried pig skin, and is often salted and seasoned with a squeeze of citrus.
Pan de Sal
Pan de Sal literally means salted bread, but in the Philippines, it is anything but. Individual rolls of Pan de Sal are cooked enmasse in ovens throughout the country, and are always soft, fluffy and sweet. They’re often stuffed with corned beef, fruits, and other toppings and can be found in bakeries across the country.
Arroz Caldo is Filipino rice porridge, cooked with ginger, chicken, and often seasoned with other spices and ingredients. Arroz Caldo is a perfect example of Filipino comfort food - its lightness and the hearty and healthy ingredients make it the Filipino equivalent to Chicken Soup. The ginger in the dish can soothe an upset stomach, and as a result, it is often eaten by the sick as a sort of home-remedy.
Sapin-Sapin is yet another Filipino rice cake and dessert. Sapin-Sapin looks like a massive target, with concentric rings of flavored glutinous rice expanding from a central point. Anything from mango, to ube (Filipino Sweet Potato) is used to flavor the rice. It is often sprinkled with dried coconut shavings, adding flavor and texture to the dish.
Restaurants in the Philippines are about as varied as the nation’s native culinary culture. Filipinos love to eat, and they especially love to eat with family and friends. The value of a given restaurant is often easy to determine simply by looking at how many people happen to be dining at any major mealtime. Naturally, restaurants catering to specific culinary tastes should be watched for the presence of people from that particular ethnic group. Good Japanese restaurants are often filled with Japanese diners, and so on- but if there’s also a large number of Filipinos dining at any given restaurant, it is almost always a sign of great value.
Unless you’re paying at a window or a counter, you’ll almost always need to ask for a check. Lingering for a short while after dining for idle conversation tends to be expected, and waiters are typically very tolerant, so long as there isn’t a line waiting for a table. An easy way to fetch a bill is to catch a waiter’s eye and draw a rectangle with the middle finger and thumb. You start from the narrow rectangular face with both fingers meeting at the tip, then you pull them apart to ‘draw’ the line of the face. The longer lines are drawn by moving the arm and ‘dragging’ the tips of your fingers across. Finally, the fingers are brought together to ‘draw’ the last, shorter face. Naturally, this is acceptable only in less formal settings. Asking politely for the bill is far better in more formal restaurants. Tipping is expected and welcomed, though some restaurants add a service charge to their bills. The customary amount is anywhere from 10% to 20% of the total bill. Thankfully, most restaurants in Metro Manila take international credit cards like Visa or MasterCard, but some smaller chains and barrio restaurants will need you to pay in Filipino Peso.
Reservations are only necessary in the most formal and busy of restaurants. More common ones turn tables so quickly that you can easily walk in and expect to be seated within a few minutes. Lunch and dinner are the most popular times to go out to eat, with lunch slightly edging out over supper. Most Filipino dayworkers eat out at noon, and then dine in with the family in the evenings. Filipinos take mealtime as a very important time for family bonding, and try to avoid missing the opportunity to eat with the family.
Lastly, most restaurants in Metro Manila are serviced by workers who understand and speak English, so for many American and British guests, the language barrier will be very minor.
These restaurants are very well known among travelers for either food, atmosphere or historic significance
Greenhills Shopping Center, Service Road, San Juan, Philippines
Gloria Maris is one of Manila’s premier Chinese restaurants. The establishment serves anything from dimsum to hotpot to fine dining. Southern Chinese cuisine is favored above others, and the dimsum is some of the best in Manila. On Sunday, they sell specialty dimsum. Plan accordingly!
210 Nicanor Garcia Street, Makati
Caruso sports what is probably the best fine Italian dining in the city. It carries a full selection of fine wines, delicious desserts and the best steak you’ll find for miles. Don’t be fooled, the pizza they serve is actually so thin and light that they can be served as appetizers and still leave room for the main course.
Festejo Building, 816 Arnaiz Avenue (formerly Pasay Road), Makati City
Kashmir serves some of the best Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine in the city. The interior is beautifully decorated and the food is top notch. I suggest their leg of lamb with garlic butter naan bread. The restaurant can run a bit pricy, but it’s worth the cost.
Meralco Avenue, Pasig City, Metro Manila
Yedang serves the best Korean food in the city. It’s also very out of the way, tucked secretly in plain sight along a major thoroughfare. Still, Yedang’s authentic charcoal table-grills and fresh meat and vegetable dishes mean for an extraordinary dining experience.
The cost rating of these restaurants is relative to other prices in the country
|Gerry’s Grill Throughout Metro Manila||Moderate||Gerry’s Grill is one of the most popular Filipino restaurant franchises in the Metro. It serves a wide variety of high quality Filipino dishes at excellent prices. Be sure to try the crispy pata and the inihaw dishes they have for sale!|
|Dencio’s Bar and Grill Throughout Metro Manila||Moderate||The other major Filipino restaurant chain in the Metro. Dencio’s strives to maintain an authentic barrio atmosphere and serves a wide variety of traditional Filipino cuisine. Prices are affordable, and the food is more than worth it.|
|Googel Bar and Grill Liberty Center 312 Shaw Blvd., Pleasant Hills Mandaluyong||Budget||A fairly new addition to Metro Manila’s culinary array. Googel is a bar and grill that is open for lunch and dinner services, and typically hosts bands on Saturday nights. It is also one of the few restaurants in the city to serve authentic Bicolano Laing. Be sure to check it out.|
|Café Mary Grace Ground Floor, Serendra Plaza, Taguig City||Moderate||Café Mary Grace is a Filipino-Spanish Fusion cafe that specializes in gourmet baked goods and pastas. The Café is perfect for lunch or breakfast, or for an afternoon snack.|
|Hap Chan Teahouse Throughout Metro Manila||Budget||Hap Chan is one of the many Chinese restaurant franchises in Metro Manila. They specialize largely in dimsum and southern Chinese cuisine. The prices at Hap Chan are much more affordable than those at Gloria Maris, but there is a noticeable difference in variety and quality.|
|Mien San Noodle House New Manila Granada St Valencia, Quezon City||Moderate||Mien San opened in 1995, and ever since then, it has served some of the best and most affordable Chinese food in the city. Their noodle dishes are particularly amazing. When you visit, try the Beef with Tendon noodle soup. It’s a bit spicy, but it’s also extremely addicting.|
|North Park Throughout the Metro||Moderate||Another Chinese food franchise. North Park serves a variety of Chinese dishes at affordable prices, but is particularly good about serving noodles. Though not as excellent as specialty restaurants, it’s still a good buy.|
|Mei Lin Teahouse Jupiter Place, Jupiter Street, Makati City||Moderate||Mei Lin is a Chinese restaurant that specializes in noodle dishes. The noodles at Mei Lin are all hand-pulled and served fresh.|
|Charlie’s Grind and Grill Ronac Bldg., Madison St Greenhills, San Juan||Moderate||If you want the best tasting burgers in Metro Manila, look no further than Charlie’s. Not limited to burgers alone, Charlie’s also serves wings and Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches, but the burgers are what you visit for. Be sure to try one of their specials- the San Miguel is particularly great.|
|Outback Steakhouse Glorietta 4, Makati City, Philippines||Moderate||Standard American fare if you’re looking for a break from the local cuisine|
|Fridays Throughout the city, mostly in malls||Moderate||Standard American fare if you’re looking for a break from the local cuisine|
|Cyma (Greek) Glorietta 5, Makati City||Moderate||Famous for its flambé cheese and Greek cuisine, Cyma is the most popular Greek restaurant chain in the Philippines. Whenever someone orders their flaming cheese, the service crew yells ‘Opa!’ as the dish is ignited and cooked right at the table. Don’t be too surprised if you hear it!|
|Italianni’s (Italian) Throughout the city||Moderate||Italianni’s is one of the most popular Italian dining chains in the country. They have restaurants throughout Metro Manila that sell moderately priced Italian cuisine.|
|Hossein’s Persian Kebab (Middle Eastern) Throughout the city||Moderate||Hossein’s Persian Kebab is a restaurant chain that specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine. As the name suggests, Hossein’s serves particularly good kebabs.|
|Caruso Ristorante Italiano 210 Nicanor Garcia Street, Makati||Moderate||Caruso sports what is probably the best fine Italian dining in the city. It carries a full selection of fine wines, delicious desserts and the best steak you’ll find for miles. Don’t be fooled, the pizza they serve is actually so thin and light that they can be served as appetizers and still leave room for the main course.|
|Kikufuji 2277 Pasong Tamo Legazpi Village, Makati||Moderate||The rich seas of the Philippines make for delicious seafood- such as the sushi served at Kikufuji. This Japanese restaurant specializes in sushi and sashimi, but also works in partnership with Shinjuku next door to serve a complete menu of delicious Japanese food|
|Shinjuku Ramen House 2277 Chino Roces Ave. Legazpi Village, Makati||Moderate||There are a number of Shinjuku restaurants in Manila, but the best one is Legazpi Village. Located right next to Kikufuji, Shinjuku specializes in ramen, udon and other Japanese noodle dishes at affordable prices.|
|Nihonbashitei 806 Arnaiz Ave., Pasay Rd. San Lorenzo, Makati||Expensive||Located along Arnaiz Avenue (formerly Pasay Road), Nihonbashitei serves authentic Japanese cuisine at higher-than-average prices. However, as the perpetually crowded restaurant proves, sometimes you do get what you pay for. Nihonbashitei serves a wide variety of Japanese dishes and can be found right on the edge of Manila’s Little Japan.|
These are local drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) if you want to drink like a local
|Non-Alcoholic||Buko Shake||The Buko Shake is one of the most refreshing beverages you’ll ever have the pleasure of drinking. There’s nothing better than one of these during a hot, Manila day. They’re often sweetened, always cold, and are filled with enough electrolytes and fluids to completely rehydrate a body in need.|
|Assorted Fruit Shakes||The Philippines has some of the best tropical fruits in the world. Filipinos take advantage by rendering them into delicious, refreshing fruit shakes. Many different combinations exist, and they’re easy to acquire in most restaurants across the city.|
|Black Gulaman||Black Gulaman is one part dessert, one part drink. Shaved ice, sugar water and black, seaweed-based gelatin make for an interesting and refreshing drink that is common in most Filipino and Chinese restaurants.|
|Baraco Coffee (Kapeng Barako)||Baraco Coffee is grown in the mountains of Tagaytay. The coffee has a rich, deep flavor, full body, and strong aroma. It is considered superior to most other forms of coffee by many Filipinos.|
|Salabat||Salabat is a word for Ginger Tea. Salabat tends to be served hot, and stings slightly on the way down, but it is also very refreshing, and its strength can easily be adjusted by adding or removing ginger.|
|Beer||San Miguel Beer||San Miguel is a world-renowned brewery in Metro Manila. San Miguel is the oldest brewery in Southeast Asia, and produces a wide variety of beer and spirits that are popular throughout Southeast Asia|
|Asia Brewery||Asia Brewery manufactures everything from shandy to beer, and is known for its brew, Beer na Beer. It is also responsible for bringing in a large number of foreign brews to the local markets.|
|Spirits||Tanduay Rum||Tanduay Rum The Tanduay Distillery company is one of the most prolific in the Asia-Pacific region for the production of fine spirits. Tanduay brews have rich, golden or amber hues and produces a wide range of products for the rich, the poor, the strong, the weak, the stout, and the downright unsinkable drinkers across the country.|
|Lambanog||Lambanog is a strong spirit with a taste somewhere between rum and whiskey. Lambanog can be taken straight, or mixed to make a variety of cocktails. There has been a trend in recent years to artificially flavor and sell Lambanog, with mixed results. Still, Lambanog is one of the most famous indigenous drinks in the Asia-Pacific region, and can be found in groceries throughout Manila.|
|Tuba||Tuba is booze prepared fresh. If unprotected and left to sit for a few days, the drink quickly becomes sour. However, fresh Tuba, which is derived from coconut sap, has a sweet flavor and goes down smoothly and easily. Don’t be mistaken though, this can quite easily knock you for a loop. Lambanog is, effectively, refined Tuba. The drink can easily be said to be the Philippines’ equivalent of Moonshine, but good Tuba is coveted as rare, vintage wine.|