10 Interesting Facts You Need To Know About Food in The Philippines

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While eating our way through the Philippines, we could not stop noticing some interesting facts about Filipino food.

The Philippines, a country with over 7,000 islands and even more distinct cultures, has a rich food culture. 

The cuisine in every region of the Philippines has its own unique set of tastes and textures.

What makes this country even more appealing is that you can find so many different cultures mixed together on every corner.

From Ilocos to Pampanga, from Cebu to Manila, we spent time exploring the food in the Philippines, tasting the authentic and heritage dishes.

Not surprisingly rice is an important staple food in Filipino culture, served as part of most meals.  

After traveling throughout the country and indulging in the local cuisine, we explore 10 Philippines food facts you may not have known.

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1- Sweet and Sour Flavor Profile in Filipino Cuisine

sauces to accompany the food in the philippines by authentic food quest
Typical sauces with calamansi for flavoring the food.

The two distinct taste profiles that we immediately noticed in the food in the Philippines, are sugary sweet and vinegary sour.

One of the most popular Filipino dishes is a soup called “Sinigang”. We tried various versions (chicken, pork, seafood) and in different regions of the country. 

The most distinctive characteristic of this soup is its sour taste.

A second surprise came when eating chicken and crab cooked in the traditional Filipino style. Both were shockingly sweet and the crab came with a heavy sweet red sauce.

Don’t expect the use of pepper and a variety of spices in traditional Filipino food. 

Instead, use the bottles of spiced vinegar, soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, and calamansi. 

Calamansi also spelled Kalamansi is a citrus fruit found at each table to make your own spicy sauce.

AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Add Calamansi juice to your dishes and bring a taste of the Philippines to your table. You find this natural Calamansi juice on Amazon as a great alternative to the fruit.

2- Pork Dominates The Philippines Cuisine

Bacon fest to celebrate pork in Manila philippines  authentic food quest
Bacon Festival at Mercato Centrale in Manila

The Philippines is a meat loving country and pork seems to dominate. At any party, event or fiesta, lechon, the famous whole-roasted suckling pig, will be the star.

Beyond lechon, you will find pork in many of the local and everyday dishes. From fried pork (chicharones), pork stew, pork blood stew (dinuguan), to pork pieces on a stick, you will find all variations of pork.

Commonly served with boiled or fried rice, pork is part of many Filipino dishes.

If you are a pork lover, you will love the food in the Philippines.

READ MORE:  Cebu Lechon – The “Best Pig Ever” According To Anthony Bourdain

3- No Knives, Just a Spoon and Fork to Enjoy Filipino Food

Plate of half crab in the philippines authenticfoodquest
Attempting to eat crab with a spoon and a fork

When it is time to eat, you will find just a spoon and fork next to your plate. Filipino’s don’t use knives to eat. 

Instead, they push the food using the fork onto the spoon and “shovel” it into their mouths.

Most of the dishes don’t require the use of a knife and the meat is often chopped up. You rarely find beef on the menu, and when you do, it is sliced up.

Nonetheless, sometimes you will want to use a knife with your dish. It might be to eat a whole fish or cut up large pieces of pork. 

That’s when the fork comes handy and it also functions as a knife. These may not be the typical tools you are used to, but they work!

In the Philippines, you realize quickly that a knife is not always necessary.

4- Everything At Once,  No Course Menus

buffet style meals food in the philippines authentic food quest
All dishes brought out at the same time

Be it at a restaurant or a local eatery, dishes are presented a la carte or in pots in front of you to choose from. 

Rarely will you see the food separated by appetizers or starters and main meals.  

On our food quest, we noticed Filipinos tend to eat their food in one course. When you order, your dishes are brought out at the same time or as soon as they are ready. 

The soups come at the same time as the main dishes and everything is laid out on the table.

Don’t expect to take your time eating in between courses. Everything is brought out at once and you had better eat fast while everything is still hot.

One great thing about this approach is that everybody shares together.

RELATED: Filipino Food Guide: 15 Authentic Filipino Dishes You Want to Have

5- Dining Takes Place In The Malls

food court at Ayala center in Cebu city dining at the mall authentic food quest
Dining at the mall is one of the most surprising facts about Philippines food

Malls in the Philippines do not only provide retail therapy, they are also centers for socializing, entertainment and dining.

When we first arrived in the Philippines and wanted to try local Filipino food, everybody kept sending us to the malls. 

Not used to going to the malls to try local and authentic foods, we were very perplexed.

Only after talking to locals and observing the local culture, did we realize that malls provide safe, air conditioned environments. 

Imagine our surprise when we saw a Catholic Mass taking place at the high-end Greenbelt Mall in Manila.

Not surprisingly food courts and restaurants at malls, are foodie destination havens. You will find a range of restaurant options. 

From casual restaurants all the way to high-end restaurants, the mall can be your destination for food in the Philippines.

6- Filipino Cuisine Would Not Be Complete Without Merienda

Filipino pastries for merienda by authentic food quest
Filipino pastries for merienda

Filipinos love Merienda or “snacks in between meals”. The perfect excuse to eat several times during the day. 

In the Philippines, there are typically two meriendas. One in the late morning, and the other one in the afternoon.

A large variety of sweet or savory dishes can be eaten at Merienda. Sweet delicacies might be pastries, mango pies, sticky rice, rice cake and more. 

And for the savory options you might have empanaditas (small savory pastries), noodles, fish balls, and the famous local delicacy balut (developing duck embryo).

With so many opportunities to eat, you will not go hungry in the Philippines!

7- No Culture Of Lingering Over Meals

Groupe of people eating around a food cart Eating culture food in the philippines authentic food quest
Filipinos eating on the go around a food cart

So far, as we have observed, Filipinos don’t have a culture of sitting and lingering over meals for a long time. 

This is very different from what we observed on our quest in Argentina, where long lunches or dinners were a favorite, especially on the weekends.

As we mentioned previously, Filipinos eat all their dishes at the same time. With no set courses, it feels like people are racing through their meals. 

Very often, we found ourselves eating slower than most of the people at the table. In addition, lunch or dinner rarely lasted more than one hour.

When in the Philippines, be prepared to pick up the pace at mealtimes.

8- Food In The Philippines Is Not Very Vegetarian Friendly

Pinakbet "Vegetarian dish" by authentic food quest
Vegetable dish pinakbet served with shrimp and pork

One of my favorite experiences was sitting at a restaurant and ordering a side of vegetables. 

After eating a lot of pork and very little vegetables, we were excited to try a local vegetable specialty called “pinakbet.”

When the dish arrived, the waiter announced “here is your vegetable dish.”  We were so surprised to see pork and shrimp sitting on top of a bed of vegetables.  

We ate pinakbet several times in different regions, and each time this tasty vegetable dish was accompanied with pork and shrimp.

Purely vegetable dishes are hard to come by in the Philippines. While eating food in the Philippines, look carefully at the ingredients in the “vegetables” section of any menu.

READ MORE: 11 Unforgettable Ilocos Food to Delight Your Palate in the Philippines

9- Food in the Philippines Influenced By Multiple Cultures

lumpia food in the philippines authentic food quest
Chinese influenced Lumpia or spring roll

As we made our way through the country discovering the food in the Philippines, one thing that struck us was the complexity of the Filipino cuisine. 

The food has been shaped by Chinese, Malaysian, Spanish, Indian and Western influences. In addition, each region and island has adopted their own unique cooking style.

Popular dishes like pancit (noodles) and lumpia (spring rolls) have Chinese heritage. The presence of the Spaniards brought with them lechon and flan dessert. 

And Indian soldiers who settled in the Philippines during the British invasion, are said to have introduced kare-kare (traditional oxtail stew).

These cultural influences and the diverse cooking preparation methods from the 7,000+ islands makes the food from the Philippines surprising and complex.

10- Jollibee The Fast Food Chain You Cannot Miss

Jollibee Filipino fast food chain food in the philippines authentic food quest
Most popular fast-food chain in the Philippines

You can’t help but notice the jovial Jollibee mascot at literally every corner of the streets. This fast-food Filipino chain is predominant and loved by Filipinos.

With over 900 stores in the Philippines, Jollibee dominates the local fast-food market. To the point that the giant McDonald’s cannot compete in the Filipino market.

The popular staples from Jollibee are Chicken Joy (fried chicken) and a sweet-style Jollibee spaghetti. 

And for dessert, you can’t miss the peach mango pie.

On your travels to the Philippines, get a feel for the sweet and salty taste at Jollibee!

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In Summary

For our first time in the Philippines, we didn’t have many expectations about Filipino cuisine prior to the trip. 

We have found the food from the Philippines to be full of contrasts. Pork dominates the cuisine, and most dishes are sweet and sour in flavor with rice as the staple food.

While we have enjoyed some delicious dishes, at other times, the sweet taste, especially in savory dishes, has turned us off. 

Lacking consistency, we found the quality of the food to be very dependent on the cook or chef.

Our biggest surprise has been in discovering the different cultures and their influences in the food from the Philippines. 

These influences are historically based on the trade routes and colonial masters. Today, we find Filipino cuisine continuing to evolve based on Western and American influences. 

Have you had food in the Philippines before? In the comments below, share with us what has surprised you the most about Filipino cuisine.

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67 Comments on “10 Interesting Facts You Need To Know About Food in The Philippines”

  1. Loved my time in the Philippines – one thing I did notice about the food was the melting pot of different cultural influences. Really loved experiencing the country for the first time

    • That’s interesting Alex. It’s true there are some aspects of Filipino cuisine we did not enjoy such as the sugary aspects of the food or the fast food chains. However, did you try some of the local specialties like “lechon” or “Sisig”? Did you try desserts like Halo Halo? The idea is to get off the tourist path and explore the local delights. Our articles about the best dishes from a local’s perspective – The Most Popular Filipino Dishes You Want to Try with Anton Diaz is a great place to start. Thanks for reaching out Alex!

  2. Wish you could have tried Ilonggo and Negrense cuisine because it’s different from what you get anywhere, particularly La Paz Batchoy, pancit molo, kadyos baboy langka in Iloilo, and authentic chicken inasal, kansi in Bacolod (Negros Occidental hence the negrense adjective) and the variety of seafood especially molluscs. These two cities are like twin sisters, very similar cuisines but with some slight differences. Savory foods that are supposed to be savory are generally savory, desserts are sweet (both cities used to be home to highly lucrative sugar plantations). The only exception: the batchoy in Bacolod is sweet, unlike the original one in Iloilo, and the chicken inasal in Iloilo is sweet compared to the original coconut vinegar marinated version that originated in Bacolod. I noticed that provinces with vast sugar plantations (home of former sugar barons) have some of the best or most elaborate cuisines in the country. It could be the vast amount of wealth and trading encouraged the growth of lots of eateries and preference for good quality food. Both towns also have a lot of Chinese population and this might be one of the reasons for why many foodies come from here. That said, Bacolod has better quality Western style food than Iloilo, probably due to the number of rich locals who studied in expensive schools in Manila or abroad.
    Another cuisine that will challenge your conception is Bicolano cuisine which uses lots of coconut milk and chilis.

    • Wow, thanks so much Kay for adding your perspective on the foods of the Philippines. We did get a chance to eat authentic chicken inasal and loads of seafood that we will be writing about. We wish we had more time in the Philippines, we’d absolutely love to explore the food from lloilo and Bicolano…it all sounds absolutely delicious! Thanks so much for sharing this delicious information!!

  3. One of my work colleagues has recently returned from business trip to Manila. She said the food was OK but had to forget her diet – Filipinos just love meat and sea food.
    I do wonder how vegetarians (not to mention vegans) manage in Philippines 😉

    • Great question Joanna about vegetarians and vegans in the Philippines. The good news is that there are vegetarian and vegan options available, the bad news is that they are not easy to come by. With a little research and making specific requests from the cooks, one can find what they are looking for 🙂 Cheers!

  4. I love this, learning about food cultures in different countries is one of my favorite things when I travel. Filipino food doesn’t get the best connotation when you’re comparing it to other cuisines in Southeast Asia so I’m glad to learn a bit more about it. I’m hoping to head to the Philippines later this year. I heard TBEX Manila was awesome, glad you had a chance to go! Was it your first TBEX or have you been to a few already?

    • Yes Mimi, it was our first TBEX and our first time in the Philippines. It is truly a beautiful country and you will enjoy discovering it. Do you know where you are going? How long will you stay? Glad you loved reading our observations about the food in the Philippines. Please let us know if you need any tips. Cheers!

  5. Wow thank you for sharing so much about food in the Philippines! It’s amazing finding out about the different sauces you’re likely to find on a table like different or that lingering over your food is not the norm.

    • So glad you enjoyed reading about the food from the Philippines. It’s always interesting to observe the cultural differences when traveling. Yes, we were surprised by how harried the meals are, and of course the different sauces. A tryly unique experience 🙂 Thanks for your comments.

  6. My sister in law is Filipino and has a large Filipino family in Australia. I have to say the foods at their family gatherings haven’t inspired me greatly as I find it heavy on purchased products like sauces, sausages and a lot of things made with condensed milk. They are wonderful friendly people though!

    • That’s really interesting Sue. However, before you dismiss Filipino cuisine as too heavy, it would be great if you could try it in the Philippines. My guess is that they buy packaged products because they cannot easily get fresh produce in Australia. It is true, somethings are heavy, but not everything 🙂 Hope you can visit the lovely country soon. Cheers 🙂

  7. We have travel here on our list, so thanks for great information.
    In Chiang Mai we were also encouraged to eat at the mall food courts and got some great and affordable food in a clean and air conditioned space!

    • That’s interesting Laurie that eating in the malls also takes place in Thailand 🙂 Glad you found the information helpful. Please let us know if you have any questions as you prepare for your visit to the Philippines. Cheers.

  8. Hi Claire, Rosemary …great post! I was laughing to myself when I read your observations about food in Philippines because I was remembering some of the funny moments when we were presented with all kinds of dishes in Ilocos ? Never before have I eaten so much pork (and in large portions too) when I travel but I must say, the Filipinos cook ’em well!

    • Hi Kat, thanks for your comments. It’s true the food in Illocos was quite diverse and indeed “pork” was the main feature. Yes, you are right, the Filipinos do know how to prepare the pork in all variations. A great time and amazing food! Thanks again. Cheers!

    • It’s funny Tiffany, but after a few meals, we didn’t miss a knife. The food is typically cut up for you making it much easier to handle. The snacks are so diverse, you would really enjoy choosing between the sweet and savory options. Cheers!

  9. Loved my time in the Philippines – one thing I did notice about the food was the melting pot of different cultural influences. Really loved experiencing the country for the first time 🙂

    • That’s great to hear Meg. We also enjoyed our time very much in the Philippines as well. Yes, it’s true the different cultural influences are quite amazing and diverse in the cuisine. Quite tasty!! Thanks for stopping by!

    • Indeed, Filipino cuisine is relatively inexpensive compared to the U.S. If you love pork, you will be right at home in the Philippines. Hope you can visit and eat the local food in the Philippines one day. Thanks for your comments.

  10. I love food from the Philippines especially some of the more bold flavors. Luckily they have an authentic Philippines fusion place here in Phoenix where i can find some great food. I can’t wait to visit the Philippines one day though.

  11. I haven’t been to the Philippines before and the only Philippines food I’ve tried before was in Dubai. It’d be quite hard for me to find something to eat – I guess it would need some effort and time to find suitable meals for me (and vegetarians in general) because, as you said, most of their food is meat-based, esp. pork, which I don’t eat.

    Anyways, did you try balut? 🙂

  12. Great post! Very interesting about not using knives I didn’t know that. I loved all of the great insight you wrote about versus just writing about the food you ate!

  13. We have a large Filipino community here in Virginia and I have the opportunity to eat a bit of Filipino cuisine(love pancit!. We even have a Jollibee here!

  14. What a great post and interesting read! I didn’t really know much about food in the Philippines. It’s sad to hear there aren’t many options for vegetarians. 🙁 But, it’s interesting to learn how the historical influences of trade and colonization have influenced the cuisine over time. It makes me wonder about cuisine in general, and how it will continue to evolve hundreds of years into the future.

    • Great point Jackie and one that we have been contemplating as well. The future and evolution of food. What we are finding so far is a return to local produce and endemic products. The historical influences are quite powerful and evident in the food, and as a result the same dish, like lechon hails from Spain, but has a uniquely Filipino preparation style. Fascinating!! Glad you enjoyed the post. Cheers!

  15. You had so many tasty looking foods! I have always really liked that sweet and sour flavor combination. The vinegar in the dishes adds a burst of flavor that is just great. I love to see all that lechon too! It reminds me of having it in Spain where it was just so fantastic. Glad to see you had so much fun trying the foods there!

    • It was great to meet you in person. And you are right, it was indeed surprising to see meat (pork) everywhere. The good news is that rice comes in so many different forms, so hope that helped create some diversity for you 🙂

  16. This was a fantastic article. I loved how organized your thoughts were and how clearly you expressed them. You hit the topic prompt – authentic fliipino food – out of the ball park. I now know that the mall is the place to go.

  17. Thank you for such an excellent overview. One of the things my husband and I always do before visiting a new country is try to see what the food will be like. Here in the United States we don’t have many restaurants that serve food from the Philippines so it would have been a guessing game for us. My husband would love many of the pork entrees that you wrote about whereas I would have a harder time since I don’t eat pork! The duck embryo egg sounds truly terrifying to try but I’m sure being a delicacy of their culture it’s a must do for many!

    • So glad that you enjoyed the overview of Filipino cuisine. Before we write about the dishes we discovered, we wanted to paint a picture of what to expect around the food culture. If your husband loves pork, he will be “home” in the Philippines. Even though you say you are not a pork eater, don’t worry you will find plenty of chicken and seafood to go around. Beef is available but a lesser degree. Yes, the duck embryo was an experience 🙂

    • Indeed Candy, the no course meal serving is very much family style. That’s one thing that we noticed about the Filipino’s. Very close and family oriented. It’s interesting how that comes through in the food. Cheers 🙂

  18. I thought I had made a comment on this earlier, you really did get this spot on with all your thoughts about the different flavors of Filipino food. There is so many unique cultural influences to make the foods so different and dynamic

  19. As a Filipino, I can say that you nailed this! Every single thing you wrote here is accurate. I didn’t even notice about how fast we eat our meals until I read it here.

    The Greek Mister isn’t very fond of Filipino cuisine, he doesn’t like the sweet and sour taste of our dishes. Except for sinigang, he likes sinigang.

    Lastly, I never realized how vegetarian-unfriendly we are but you’re absolutely right. Even the vegetable dishes will have meat in it.

    • That’s wonderful to hear that Noemi! Glad our observations were accurate. That’s funny you didn’t notice the speed at which you eat. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to put the ‘spotlight’ on what locals take for granted. You are right, meat dominates and that is really interesting. Thanks for your comments and feedback.

  20. You did an excellent job covering the basis of Filipino food and its origins, very well done. Vegetarian food is available, but it typically is local, made at home or street vendors

      • To be honest I think you barely scratch the surface of Filipino cuisine.
        There’s a lot of mentions about our influences from U.S. and China but the mine you missed was Mexico. Dishes like Barbacoa, tamales, binatog, menudo, lengua etc.
        You also failed to mention that there’s a counterpart to balut which is called Penoy.
        Beautiful dishes like Binakol, kilawin or kinilaw which were foods done by the our natives.
        In the southern parts like Mindanao the use of coconut in the most ingenious ways like latik to top off desserts. Lambanog to from the sap, coconut sport, tuba, coconut honey all used to create dishes suitable for crab, shrimp, fish chicken and beef.

        Fermentation is a very important part of the cuisine as well, fish sauce, bagoong, puto, buro food that has been masterfully fermented and has been a huge part of the culture pre colonization. Preserving! What about the salty egg and tomato salad? The beautiful lato salad, upo, or the variety of vegetables that was mentioned in the nursery rhyme “Bahay Kubo” mentions the abundance of vegetables leafy greens, beans, squashes, blossoms, leaves used to flavour or wrap other ingredients in to create some of the most complex dishes. The use of offal meats can be scary, dishes like dinuguan, papitan, kilayin, are a bit scary but the masterful use of cane, coconut, palm vinegar not to mention souring fruit agents like Santol, Kamias, green mangoes.
        I can go on forever.
        And to say Filipinos are not vegetarian friendly? That’s a bit presumptuous. The people that made you your meals were putting their best foot forward as they wanted to impress you by offering their best. That is to serve guests with something that is expensive, meat. I mentioned the nursery rhyme. What about the abundance of fresh fruit juicy succulent mangoes,mangostein , duhat, lanzones, sinkamas, tamarind, guava, passion fruit. I can go on forever and I’m just talking about the varieties that grew in my back yard. Bananas in all it’s glory.
        Pulutan, another part of our food culture which boasts the iconic Sisig. One of the best dishes the country has to offer.
        Jolibee? What about Burger Machine? Chow king, Shakeys? Goldilocks, Cindy’s, Kanin Club.
        Turo turo, kambingan. you can pick up ingredients in the market and there would be an open kitchen where cooks will make you a dish based on what you bought or what was fresh and seasonal in that area.
        We don’t eat in courses because Filipinos believe that eating in courses will ruin your appetite. Doesn’t necessarily mean we eat on high speed. The use of spoons is like a shovel for rice but we eat with our hands traditionally because food tastes better this way.
        Like tacos, burgers, pizza.
        I was looking forward to reading your article, but I feel like you weren’t as prepared as you should’ve been and may have had a bad experience. Most of the country is poor, at least we have the three meriendas we can look forward to;)
        Examples of miriendas:
        Early morning:
        Taho, fresh water buffalo milk, coffee and pan de Sal maybe Buro and champorrado.
        Afternoon: banana cue, kamote cue, turon, fishball, halo halo, scramble, qwek qwek, pastillas, bilao, Sapin Sapin, palitaw, bilo Bilo,
        Biko, Mercedes de Brazo, ukoy.

        Late night merienda:
        Fresh fruit, hot milk, milo, balut, penoy, mane, corn snacks, lugaw, arroz caldo, mikki

        Vegetarian dishes:
        Adobong sitaw, fried peanuts, Ginataang taro leaves, ube, pakbet ilocos, kang Kong adobo and gata, grilled eggplant, puqui puqui, steamed Okra, ginisang upo, kamote puree (baging and kahoy)
        Pickled papaya, pickled Indian mangoes, stir fry, pechay, sipo, munggo, seaweed (lato), string beans fermented black beans, banana blossoms in coconut and chiles,
        Water spinach sinigang, chayote squash and ginger soup, steamed sweet potato, avocados and calamansi. Squash blossoms and squash stew. These were vegetarian dishes that was eaten everyday by locals and can be easily found in restaurants.
        Our food is not as popular because Filipinos crave bitter, sour, fatty, offal, sometimes stinky. Doesn’t mean everyone else needs to try it. We have more than 6000 islands and we all cook differently, eat and view food philosophies differently. As Filipinos we have a view on our food based on our families and what is available around us. People see us eating what we crave because a lot of Filipinos travel to work and is away from the Philippines The most intimate moments with food are the ones we can’t find in other countries so it looks like we like to eat the nasty bits like balut.
        When in reality the food is full of veggies because it’s cheaper we use meat to flavour veggies to stretch the expensive meat or flavour the cheap veggies. umami, fresh, rich, salty, bitter, sweet, sour complimenting and contrasting just like any other culture depends on who’s making it or who’s craving it. Or who’s showing you around. The food you tried have a name, restaurant food or handaan. That is not what we eat on a regular. It’s what we eat on special occasion. We’d go broke or get sick of it like you did.

        • Thank you Edgar for your detailed responses about Filipino cuisine. You’ve added so much depth, especially to the local and everyday favorite foods and drinks. We certainly look forward to going back to the Philippines and exploring many of these other foods you’ve mentioned. Thanks for taking the time to leave your feedback. Cheers.


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