Philippines – Street Foods 101

Are You Hungry for BBQ?

I was recently asked by Denise at the Gourmet Society – Philippines to share some information concerning street foods found in the Philippines. The Gourmet Society is a blog that discusses Filipino flavor and cuisine and other international flavors and etiquettes. For many travellers and newcomers to the Philippines, the best food isn’t necessarily found inside the fanciest restaurants. The author of the following list of street foods insists there’s really nothing that can quite replace the hot fish balls you speared straight out of the vendor’s frying pan.

Filipino street food is humble, cheap, bad for your body, and good for your soul. It’s what a lot of childhood memories and friendships revolved around. It’s what foreigners and newcomers need to try if they want to get to know the country just a little bit better. It’s what you need to eat if you want to get re-acquainted with your happier self. Over the years I have tried many of these, some are good…some, nah. I’m happy to say though that Soup #5 has yet to cross my palette.

Here are some of the most iconic and some of the more obscure street grub you might bump into.

Infographics Created by Gourmet Society Philippines


Common Street Foods

Adidas – chicken feet on a stick, barbecued. And yes, the name refers to the famous sneaker brand. The many tiny bones make it an especially fiddly roadside food, but you’ll be impressed by how the veteran snackers make short work of it.

Balut – the legend of the humble fertilized duck egg has reached such epic proportions that it even made its way onto a Fear Factor episode (it’s that scary to some people). Eating the tiny baby duck straight out of the shell is also a popular way of terrorizing expats.

Banana-Q (aka banana cue) – cardava banana (saging na saba) on a stick, covered in brown sugar and deep-fried. The caramelized sugar makes a deliciously thick, crunchy brown crust.

Betamax – coagulated pork or chicken blood, cut into cubes, put on a stick, and barbecued.

Binatog – boiled white corn kernels (sometimes mashed) mixed with coconut shavings.

Buko – coconut. Juice from a freshly cracked fruit is poured into a jug then flavored with sugar. The meat is then shredded and mixed with the juice, and the whole thing chilled with huge chunks of ice. The vendor ladles it into plastic bags and you drink from that with a straw.

Calamares – squid rings dredged in flour and deep-fried, dipped into vinegar.

Cheese sticks – bits of cheese rolled with lumpia wrappers and then deep-fried, sometimes sprinkled with cheese powder.

Chicharon – deep fried pork skin. It’s so thin sometimes, it’s like eating crunchy, salty, savoury air. Best when dipped in vinegar.

Chicken skin – bits of chicken skin dredged in flour and deep-fried, then wrapped in little paper bags and eaten like popcorn.

Day-old chick – if you thought balut was scary, you’re gonna have a bad time with this one. It is what it sounds like: a day-old chick, deep-fried. Not for the faint of heart.

Fishballs – this is the first thing that comes to mind when you say Filipino street food. They look more like discs than balls, and nobody really knows what’s in them (we assume flour and fish), but no one’s complaining. Besides fishballs, the vendor will also usually have squid balls and chicken balls, all frying together merrily. You and your friends crowd around the cart, take a barbecue stick, stab around in the hot oil for what you want, then dip it into vinegar, sweet brown sauce, or spicy brown sauce. When you’re done eating, you tell the vendor what you had (everybody keeps their own count), and he’ll tell you how much you need to pay. It’s a beautiful system.

Goto – congee or rice porridge, although goto actually refers to the strips of beef tripe which is included in the porridge. Hard boiled eggs are extra. Sometimes, you also get tokwa’t baboy (deep fried tofu and pork with vinegar) on the side.

Grilled Corn – One of the oldest street foods in the Philippines. Most everyone loves the flavor of the charred and smoky flavor of charcoal-grilled corn.

Halo-halo – literally “mix-mix”, this is sweet bananas, sweet beans, chewy tapioca balls, and different kinds and colors of jelly all heaped into a tall glass, topped with shaved ice, a piece of jackfruit or flan on top of that, and then drowned with milk.

Helmet – another scary one, this is deep-fried or barbecued chicken head. Don’t ask and don’t stare.

Isaw – skewered and barbecued chicken intestines, dunked into vinegar before eating. Another icon in the Filipino street food scene, this item has made it several times into local pop songs

Iskrambol (aka scramble) – pink banana slushy topped with powdered or condensed milk and a drizzle of chocolate syrup. Some vendors will take the trouble of using Hershey’s squeeze bottles, although you can be pretty sure that the contents have been replaced.

Kamote-Q – chunks of sweet potato on sticks, covered in brown sugar and deep-fried (see banana q).

Kikiam – similar to fish balls, although these are brown and long and have a distinct taste. Also deep-fried and dipped in vinegar or brown sauce.

Kwek-kwek (aka tokneneng) – quail eggs dredged in a wet orange flour meal and deep-fried. Sometimes, regular chicken eggs are used. Think of it as a local street version of scotch eggs.

Mais – boiled sweet corn, often called Japanese sweet corn.

Mami – noodle soup with bits of chicken, kikiam, and vegetables. You can have a hard-boiled egg to go with, but that’s extra.

Manggang hilaw – very, very sour, and if you’ve had one, your mouth probably watered at the mere mention. It’s that potent. It’s topped with bagoongI (fermented baby shrimp) which is often salty-sweet.

Mani – plain old peanuts. They’re either sautéed with garlic and lots of salt or boiled plain.

Maruya – banana fritter dusted with sugar.

Pakwan – sliced of watermelon usually peddled in tiny carts with clear plastic sides and surrounded with ice.

Pig skin – pork skin boiled in salted water, then skewered and barbecued.

Pinya (aka piña) – pineapple slices (see pakwan).

Pork BBQ – this is pretty straightforward. It’s pieces of pork meat on a stick cooked over charcoal, dipped in vinegar before eating.

Proben – chicken stomach on a stick, also barbecued.

Sisig – traditionally from the pig’s head like the ear and cheeks, this is meat chopped into tiny pieces and usually served on a sizzling plate. It’s perfect with ice-cold beer.

Sorbetes (aka dirty ice cream) – what an off-putting name for such a delicious thing. This cheaper ice cream is probably less clean than the ones you buy by the tub (given that the cart really gets around is exposed to the air), but it’s definitely not dirty. Besides a cone, you can also get your ice cream sandwiched in a bun.

Pigs earsSoup #5 – soup made from bull’s testicles and penis, supposed to provide sexual prowess. There are no approved therapeutic claims to this, but it’s been proven to be an effective pampahulas, or something that gets you out of your drunken state.

Taho – an early morning staple, this is very silky tofu curds scooped into plastic cups mixed with brown sugar syrup and little tapioca balls.

Turon – like banana q, except the banana is wrapped in lumpia wrappers, and then coated in brown sugar and deep-fried. The good turon will have bits of jackfruit inside the wrapper.

Walkman – Pig’s ears.

Make sure to visit the Gourmet Society Philippines for some great insights into Filipino cuisines and other international flavors, styles and etiquette tips.

2 thoughts on “Philippines – Street Foods 101

  1. some of the best things Iv’e eaten have been off the street grill at night.
    or was that the beer talking….

  2. Someone asked the other day if street foods are safe to eat. I commented that I love it and have eaten street foods in Mexico, Thailand, Philippines, Japan, Korea, Singapore, among other places. I also have gotten sick at times in all those places and the beer consumption has probably saved me in other places. But, when it is good…it is GOOD!

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