Street food in the Philippines is nothing short of delicious, offering a rich variety of flavours that will have you smacking your lips and shouting ‘sarap!’ With so much to choose from, here are the standouts to look out for on your Manila street food hunts.
Public markets are great places to try Filipino street food, and this bustling ‘old downtown’ district of Manila has choices in abundance. From popular tusok-tusok (skewered delicacies, including fried and grilled isaw, aka pork/chicken intestine), to mami (noodle soup), fresh lumpia (spring roll) and the infamous balut, this place gives customers a fantastic overview of what Philippine cuisine has to offer. As a sort of free market, there are many things going on all at once here. Be ready to brave the crowds to taste the real culture of Manila.
While tusok-tusok are considered more snacks than full meals, Mang Larry’s grilled treats are meant to be feasted on. The dishes are light on flavourings (seasoned only with salt and pepper) and blowtorched to achieve a mouthwatering crispy skin. The sauce options are also minimal, kept to the classic sweet and spicy vinegar dips Filipinos usually pair with their fried and grilled food.
South Manila’s best choice for an isaw face-off comes with four signature dips, where the tamis-anghang (sweet and spicy) flavour has won many a customer’s taste buds. This shop has been around since the ’70s, starting as a humble barbecue stall in a village in Las Piñas. With the neighbourhood’s recent makeover – now known as ‘Happy Place’ – the BBQ Haus has swapped its former street ambiance for a more refined setting. However, feel free to dine in the surrounding stalls, as they sell rice to the shop’s loyal customers.
Malabon City is home to hundreds of classic dishes, which have been hugely popular for generations. One such classic is ukoy/okoy, a crunchy deep-fried batter made of shrimp and beansprouts and best served with a side of vinegar dip. Yet what’s most appealing about Malabon is the sweet and sticky desserts; enjoy peachy-peachy (sweet and sticky cassava) and sapin-sapin (layered rice batter) and satisfy your sugar cravings.
Street-style barbecue platters served with a side of orchids? This may sound unconventional, but it works. This creative food presentation extends to their unique dishes, such as balut in red wine sauce and creamy garlic tuyo pasta (dried fish pasta). Remember to try the crispy dinuguan (pork blood stew) or the embutido stuffed crispy pata which can be downed with a bottle or two of cold beer. This is a resto bar after all, with a laid-back ambiance and fusion food that’s both familiar and new.
The name of this Kapitolyo restaurant hints at its goal: to pull off that genuine eskinita (street corner) feel, all the while serving upscale quality street food. Hence, graffiti art is nearly everywhere – on the walls and mirrors, to the chairs and tables. The lure of cheap beer and their authentic take on the comfort foods many Filipinos grew up eating on the streets. So how about bacon with quail eggs or that crunchy laing?
A pioneer in Pasig City’s Kapitolyo food district, which initially specialised in the beloved Filipino halo-halo dessert and is now better known for its pork barbecue and pancit. Their new location across Kapitolyo church is bigger and brighter with the same tasty, generously-portioned pork barbecue at an affordable price. This is it what Filipinos call a ‘3M’ restaurant – masarap (delicious), madami (big-serving), mura (affordable).
Besides the modern pares meals it serves, Rapsadoodle is a place to enjoy unli-platter (unlimited) street food, modern iskrambol (pink-colored banana slushy) and bibingka-inspired (flat but fluffy rice cake) waffles. Its unlimited rice is also a hit among urban Manila workers and students that want good food at affordable prices. The name Rapsadoodle is a combination of the words sarap (spelled backward) and doodle, which not coincidentally fills an entire wall of the restaurant in the form of hugot (words with sentimental or emotional undertones).
Affordable, accessible and good chicken barbecue – that’s how regulars describe this barbecue joint in Edsa-Mandaluyong. For less than two bucks, you can have a barbecue rice meal ranging from isaw, pork, chicken, liempo, tilapia and bangus. It can get crowded at lunch and dinner time with a nearby BPO company. Make sure to ask for their vinegar dip.
The public market under the Metro Rail Transit System Line 3 (MRT-3) is an accessible spot for eating street food and Filipino dishes, carinderia-style. Clean eateries and food carts with traditional Manila street food snacks converge in the area, side-by-side with non-food stores. It’s beloved by commuters on-the-go and condominium residents nearby who crave lutong-bahay (homecooked meals).
Pro tip: Eating street food in Manila often comes with a warning: eat at your own risk. However, if you know where to go, you’ll discover amazing treats, meet friendly locals, save cash and learn about a whole new culture of what Filipinos call ‘ghetto grub’.