Whilst the Philippines generally isn’t known for its food, there are some amazing (and some downright weird) Filipino snacks that you’re bound to get hooked on during your trip. One of our readers, Isabela, tells us all about her experience with the cuisine, as well as the must-try Filipino snacks that you shouldn’t miss!
Filipino snacks get a bad rap compared to other Asian street food. Weeks before I arrived in the Philippines, reviews from other backpackers had already painted a dreary picture: too much processed meat, too much grease, too much randomly added sugar - with nay a vegetable in sight. My response to these ominous warnings was always an adamant, “but I love all kinds of Asian food!”
Having grown up in the cultural melting pot of Vancouver, by age 4 I was already a regular on the local Asian restaurant scene, snacking on leftover chicken feet, slurping up lung congee, and wolfing down bowls of tripe and tendon pho. Balut and an excess of fatty cooking fluids couldn’t possibly give me a run for my money – could they?
I am not going to lie. Food in the Philippines turned out to be a puzzling mix of all-star snacks set alongside benchwarmer meals. There were moments when it was really, really hard: lunches where a Spam sandwich came leaking enough oil to power a scooter and dinners where I sat cross-legged on my cot, frantically dipping stale graham crackers into a jar of peanut butter, unable to face another menu saturated with salty meat and condensed milk.
However, with perseverance and the kind of wisdom that only comes from ordering one too many hotdogs for breakfast, these moments of desperation were kept to a minimum! Here are some of the must-have Filipino snacks I stumbled across during my month travelling there…
20 Best Filipino Snacks
These delicious spring rolls are a simple Filipino snack which is thought to have originated from Chinese spring rolls. They are made from flour or rice dough wraps and are stuffed with savoury fillings, such as ground meat and root vegetables.
They are usually fried and served alongside a sweet and sour sauce. It is also possible to see different variations of lumpia available such as unfried (fresh) lumpia and also turon. Turon is a subcategory of lumpia which have been glazed with sugar or soaked in honey or latik (coconut caramel). Lumpia is a hugely popular nibble in the Philippines and is always served at family celebrations and gatherings.
2. Fruit mix
At 5 pesos a pop, this sangria milk-tea lovechild makes the perfect street-side refreshment. Keeping with the classic Filipino penchant for sweet drinks, a plastic glass is filled to the brim with generous chunks of papaya, apple, banana and fruit jelly, which all vie for the top floating spot in a rose-flavoured milky liquid.
Is it a drink? A fruit salad? A desert? I’m still not sure, but the fun of wondering which chunk of fruit you’ll slurp out of the plastic cup next negates the need to ask questions.
Although you usually think of meatballs being a main dish, the Filipino equivalent bola-bola is often served as an appetiser or snack. They are usually made from pork or beef and include soy sauce, garlic, eggs, onions and an array of spices.
Costing around 10 pesos, binatog (also known as bualaw) is a super tasty Filipino snack which is commonly sold on the street. This boiled corn is topped with shredded coconut, salt or sugar and butter. If you order binatog from a street food stall, the vendor will ladle some into a cup before adding the coconut and seasoning.
5. Buko Jam
This marks the first time I have ever fallen in love with a condiment. Rich and thick as melted caramel, with long strips of sweet coconut meat hidden within its gooey depths, homemade Filipino coconut jam can perk up even the blandest hotel breakfast.
Believe me, when I say, this jam spruces up everything: bananas, crackers, bread rolls, porridge, empty spoons. During a free breakfast at one unnamed hostel in Dumagette (sorry, Harold’s Mansion) we went as far as to squeeze out their entire bottle of coconut jam into a peanut butter jar when no one was looking so that we could keep it with us forever.
Despite our romantic intentions, our improvised supply only lasted about 24 hours – thankfully, we later found a wealth of vendors selling legitimate versions up north in Baguio, where Buko jam is a speciality.
Puto is a type of Filipino street food which is traditionally eaten as a quick bite or as a dessert. However, it can be served as an accompaniment to various savoury dishes, in particular dinuguan, a type of pork stew made from innards and blood.
These steamed rice cakes, made from rice dough are very popular and cheap to pick up across the country. As these rice cakes are so versatile, there are now various forms which come in different colours and with different kinds of flavours.
One very popular variation of puto is kutsinta. This steamed rice cake is made from brown sugar, tapioca or rice dough and lye. Unlike puto, it has a jelly-like texture.
7. Assorted street skewers
Looking for a pre-jeepney nibble? The barbecue across the street, manned by an elderly woman fanning away the thick blue smoke with an old newspaper, is your best bet. Be warned, however, that street grilling in the Philippines takes about three times longer than in other countries. Although no one ever gave me a definitive answer as to why this is, I like to think that they are simply infusing each tiny skewer with a little extra love (and dryness).
A light smear of sweet-and-sour sauce is all takes to rectify the slight over-grilling, and the flavourful reward is well worth the wait. Favourites include Isaw (chicken intestines), tripe, oesophagus, gizzard, pork, kidney, chorizo, and blood pudding.
Don’t be afraid to order a large amount all at once, as you’ll be twiddling your thumbs by the grill for a while anyway.
8. Kwek Kwek
Perhaps one of the most popular Filipino snacks is Tokneneng, a tempura-style deep-fried egg in orange batter. Kwek Kwek is a common type of Tokneneng that you’ll see on street food stalls.
Tokneneng is usually made from duck or chicken eggs, however, kwek kwek uses much smaller quail eggs. They are deep-fried until the batter is crisp and served with a spicy vinegar-based dip. Kwek kwek is usually sold alongside other kinds of deep-fried balls, such as chicken, squid and fish.
No Filipino food is sure to raise eyebrows (and cholesterol levels) quite like balut. A developing duck embryo boiled inside its shell, balut is wildly popular as a Filipino street food snack.
Though the concept (and the appearance) is enough to wrinkle the nose of many a foreigner, I found balut to be surprisingly palatable. As per the vendor’s instructions, I cracked off a small piece of shell on the table corner, poured a spoonful of chilli-infused vinegar down the new entrance and slurped up the tangy liquid inside, before moving on to the embryo and giant yolk.
The bite-sized embryo, thankfully too young to have developed feathers and a beak, was eaten with closed eyes. I can vouch for the fact it is nowhere near as unpleasant as one would imagine. The yolk was my favourite part: juicy, twice as big as usual, and perfectly soured from the vinegar. I genuinely enjoyed balut so much that I continued to snack on it for the rest of the trip (although I can’t vouch for embryos aged past 17 days).
Being a vegetarian or vegan means that you can miss out on a lot of popular street food when you travel. Not on this one though! Lukban is what the Filipinos call Pomelo. They traditionally serve it by cutting the fruit into wedges before dipping it in a chilli and salt mix.
As well as being eaten as a snack in the Philippines, Lukban juice is often mixed with pineapple to make a vibrant pink drink. Have a look at this post for more must-try fruits in Southeast Asia, plus one weird one you’ll definitely want to avoid!
Ginanggang is grilled banana brushed with butter or margarine and then sprinkled with sugar. It comes from Mindanao, an island in the south of the Philippines. This snack is made from a type of banana known as the saba.
It is grilled over charcoal on skewers before being served as a popular Filipino street food snack. If you are looking for something to hit that sweet spot, it’s time to chow down on a Ginanggang!
Ginanggang is so popular, that it actually has its own festival, celebrated on the second Sunday in May. It is held in honour of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of Madrid.
The quintessential Filipino dessert, Halo-Halo, has a name so nice that you have to say it twice.
It’s like a snow cone on acid: a vibrantly coloured shaved ice, soaked in flavoured syrup of your choosing, stuffed with corn kernels, evaporated milk, kidney beans, chickpeas, shaved coconut, and fruit jelly, topped with a splash of condensed milk.
Fast-food chain versions often include generous helpings of ice cream and each Halo-Halo artist has their own ratio of ice-to-filling.
If the onslaught of fried meat is starting to get you down, adobo is the tangy, protein-packed remedy. Often considered the unofficial food of the Pines, adobo refers to a marinade of vinegar, soy sauce, peppercorn, bay leaves and garlic, used to slow-cook vegetables, meat, and seafood.
As with Halo-halo, every chef has their own variation on the recipe and I have yet to find a version that disappointed. Adobo is so revered that it is now considered to be a concrete flavour in its own right: chips, corn snacks, and peanuts all proudly proclaim to be “adobo” flavoured on their shiny labels.
You might think that having a dessert made from tofu is a bit weird and I would have previously agreed with you. Taho definitely needs to be tried first-hand though. This Filipino snack is made from soft tofu which is soaked in arnibal syrup (made from melting brown sugar). It is sprinkled with sago pearls (similar to tapioca pearls) to finish.
You can find taho being sold by street peddlers all over the country. This traditional delicacy is most commonly consumed in the morning as a breakfast snack which is sure to appeal to your sweet tooth.
15. Veggie Chicharron
Okay, so I know you are feeling relieved to be taking a break from the copious amounts of meaty snacks that are so often spotted on the streets of the Philippines. Whilst Chicharron is traditionally fried pork rinds, the Filipinos have made their own (slightly healthier) version, just from vegetables.
The veggie version is made from dehydrated peas and potatoes. They come in two flavours, the original salted variety and also a vinegar one. You can pick up a bag of these from a Filipino supermarket easily. Oishi Marty’s Cracklin’ is one of the most renown brands.
Chicharron is usually dipped into vinegar and goes splendidly with beer so grab yourself a San Miguel Pale Pilsen and go to town!
16. Iskrambol (Ice Scramble)
This drink goes by two names, Iskrambol and Ice Scramble. It is essentially the Filipino answer to a slushy. This frozen dessert is made from banana flavoured condensed milk, topped with a whole range of tasty ingredients, including marshmallows, tapioca pearls, colourful sprinkles and strawberry syrup to name but a few. Is your mouth watering yet?
This pink drink originally burst onto the streets of Manila in the 1970s but now it is easy to find all over the country. As you would guess from looking at it – it is bright pink after all – it is a popular Filipino snack for children, partly because of its visual appeal and also because it is cheap.
Iskrambol takes its name from the method used to eat the dessert. It is always served with a straw which you are meant to use to scramble (or stir together) the ingredients.
Introducing… the Filipino doughnut! This chewy snack is made from deep-fried sweet glutinous rice flour, grated coconut, sugar and coconut milk. The dough is ball-shaped and they are fried until they are crispy and golden. Cascaron are often sold on skewers by street vendors but they can sometimes be pancake-shaped or in finger form.
Whilst they are most commonly called cascaron, sometimes they are referred to as bitsu bitsu as well. They can be served plain but usually, you will find them doused in sweet syrups, including latik, the Filipino favourite. Whilst easily picked up from street food vendors, many Filipinos will prepare these at home for a quick and easy dessert. They are very similar to buñelos, which are a popular South American street food.
18. Choc Nut
You can’t talk about the best Filipino snacks without mentioning Choc Nut. These small bars of peanut chocolate are around the size of an eraser, making them perfect for a light energy boost.
Originally, Choc Nut was made by Unisman until competitor Hany took over. Whilst you will commonly find Choc Nut in convenience stores and supermarkets, it is now cropping up as a dessert tweaker with many professional chefs incorporating it into various sweet dishes.
This pastry covered with sesame seeds is made with glutinous rice flour before being rolled into balls. They are then stuffed with a variety of sweet fillings including, shredded coconut and sweetened mung bean.
Butsi balls are said to have originated from China and are the Filipino take on jian dui sweets. They have become extremely popular around the country and are one of the most popular snacks.
Expect to be met with a creamy filling once you have cracked the crispy shell. These delicious snacks cum desserts are usually served at Chinese restaurants.
The title for the ultimate Filipino comfort food goes to Lugaw, a type of rice gruel. Traditionally, this Filipino snack has long been served to the elderly, young children and the sick as it needs little chewing and is easy to digest. It is made by boiling glutinous rice and the most basic variation is seasoned only with salt, ginger or garlic. Other variations may use pork, fish, chicken or beef stock for more flavour.
Lugaw is sometimes consumed for breakfast and also as a snack in between meals. It is mostly eaten hot or warm, as when it cools, the porridge mixture starts to congeal. However, there are cold versions of it which are served as desserts.
This rice gruel is also a fixture of Noche Buena, the traditional Christmas Eve meal which is served after midnight.
Know of a great Filipino snack that we’ve missed? Let us know in our Facebook community!