In the Philippines, friends would usually greet each other with: Kumain ka na ba? (Have you eaten?) as substitute for Kumusta ka na? (How are you?), especially if they often see each other. Sometimes asking whether one has eaten is a rhetorical question, one that does not require an answer. This is an exemplification of how Filipinos put food at the center of any social scene.
Indeed, food must not be seen as means solely for physiological fulfillment but, more so, an embodiment of culture. Walking through the streets of Manila would give one a glimpse of how Filipinos communicate and send body signals to each other. A typical Filipino does not simply enjoy the flavor of what he/she eats, but also radiantly feels the social experience which he/she deems more valuable than just filling his/her stomach.
Through this article, I would walk you through the streets of Manila and give you a glance of the most famous street foods in the Philippines.
The most common street foods are found on skewers! Barbeque is the all-time favorite of most people, even among foreigners who visit the country. This is marinated and grilled chicken or, most of often than not, pork meat served in sticks. A stick usually costs around Php 8-10 ($0.17 – 0.21). Filipinos sometimes couple it with a few bottles of beer and a meaningful conversation with peers.
We Filipinos also do enjoy grilled chicken feet which we fondly call adidas. That’s right! This term actually originated from the name of a prominent shoe brand. Creative people, huh? Adidas’ gooey texture is perfectly matched with a bit spicy taste.
Some do like the taste of betamax or coagulated chicken or pork blood. It is called as such as its rectangular shape resembles that of a Betamax tape. Betamax is carefully prepared by combining the animal blood with pepper, salt, and boiled water, and then draining the water as the blood coagulates. The thickened blood is then cut into cubes and skewered, and then sold for about Php 5 ($0.11). However, not everyone is fond of it due to religious restrictions that bound some Filipinos.
My personal favorite is isaw which could either be chicken or pork intestines. Its chewy taste is achieved my simmering it with salt and vinegar for about 30 minutes and then grilling it for a short period of time. And, tadaaah, ready to serve!
If you do not find your personal favorite among the enumerated marinated goods on skewers, then maybe you could try some from the frying pan. Fishball is the most famous among young people. It’s simply pulverized cuttlefish meat formed in round paste. Fishballs are usually eaten with squidballs which are puréed squid.
Kikiam, on the other hand, has its Chinese origin. It is bean curd-wrapped ground pork and vegetables. Just like fishballs and squidballs, kikiam is usually served with various types of dipping sauce to choose from: spicy vinegar, sweet brown gravy, or sweet and sour brown gravy. Occasionally, Filipinos like it with rice.
Kwek-kwek are deep fried quail eggs covered in orange batter. It is colored orange because of the atsuete or annatto seed used as natural food coloring, mixed with flour and water. Eating kwek-kwek isn’t complete without a short dip on (spicy) vinegar sauce usually homemade by the sellers. Kwek-kwek is best eaten freshly-cooked to taste the crisp of the batter and the softness of the egg inside.
These deep fried goods are usually sold by mobile stalls nearby schools and within universities, or business complexes.
If neither skewers nor fried goods excite your appetite, you might want to go fruity! Banana Cue is for the sweet tooth. It is fried banana coated with caramelized brown sugar. Sometimes banana cues are covered with lumpia wrappers. It just never gets old! Everybody loves it!
People usually try to find it in small stores during merienda time, i.e. a simple meal in between lunch and dinner. A dollar could feed you about 4-5 sticks of banana cue.
Banana cue’s sister, maruya, is commonly enjoyed, too, during hot afternoons. Maruya or banana fritters are also widely known in other neighboring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Children love this snack because it is very soft as it is usually prepared by mashing the ripe Saba, a kind of banana, and then mixing it with flour, sugar, and egg, and finally frying it. Filipinos, ever-having sweet tooth, couple this with a plastic of sugar.
These are only some of the most cherished street foods Filipinos enjoy and willingly share to foreign visitors. The experience of the Filipino food culture is as valuable as the taste of the flavors itself. Be sure to put this list on your must-try agenda when you visit the Philippines!
By Loren Daryl R. Sarenas, ASEAN Correspondent from Philippines