Filipino food remains one of the most mysterious cuisines of South East Asia for many travellers. While Vietnamese and Thai restaurants are now found across the world, food from the Philippines remains somewhat more elusive.
But that might be about to change. The Philippines’ culinary blend of Malay, Chinese and Spanish traditions is not only delicious, but quite unique. And with the destination fast racing up the list of holiday hot spots, perhaps it’s time for this diverse cuisine to step into the spotlight.
Here is an idea of what to expect, and what to try on a visit to the destination.
Cheese and bread have long been natural partners. But throw in a little butter cream icing and you’re taking that traditional combo a little off course. But this is the basis of an ensaymada – a bready breakfast staple that comes with a variety of fillings that range from sweet purple yam to ham. Persevere with it. While the first bite might have you thinking no, by the last, you’ll be digging the unusual mixture of sweet and salt.
Chocolate rice pudding for breakfast is the stuff that childhood dreams are made of, so anyone with a sweet tooth will be delighted to come across this at the morning buffet (buffets are a big deal in the Philippines). Scoop it piping hot from a giant vat with a ladle, then add toppings of tiny salty dried fish if you dare – this traditional accompaniment adds a little complexity to the rich sweetness.
Considered by many as the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, the name of this dish comes from the Spanish word “adobar” which means sauce or marinade. But while you’ll find other dishes going by the same name around the world, the adobo of the Philippines is quite distinct. Vinegar is the base of this marinade with other ingredients including crushed garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorns and soy sauce. Chicken and pork are the most common stars of adobo, but other ingredients are sometimes used. Be prepared to lick the plate clean.
Another Philippine staple, this is the Filipino way of cooking a steak. But instead of a chowing down on a huge hunk of meat, you’ll instead be faced with thinly sliced strips of beef which are cooked in soy sauce and citrus juice, then garnished with caramelised onions. It’s another tangy dish that combines sweet and salty flavours to get those tastebuds purring.
The Filipino twist on a knickerbocker glory can be found in all corners of the country. Featuring layers of almost lurid ice cream, fruit, candies, custard, evaporated milk and ice, the dessert is vigorously mushed until it blends together to form an oh-so-sweet soup of cooling holiday cheer, guaranteed to delight the big kid in everyone. But what goes up must come down – beware the sugar crash.