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Filipino spring roll | © Punctuated / Flickr
Filipino spring roll | © Punctuated / Flickr
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The Best Traditional Filipino Dishes You Need to Try

Picture of Esther de la Cruz
Updated: 1 February 2017
Eating out in the Philippines can be a bit tricky. Filipino food is not as well known as dishes from neighboring nations, but that only means there’s more to be discovered. Locals know the best cooking is home cooking, and the dining table is almost always full of punchy flavors and fresh island produce. Here are 10 traditional dishes to order when you’re in the Philippines.

Pancit bihon

Pancit | © Raelene Gutierrez / Flickr
Pancit | © Raelene Gutierrez / Flickr

Bihon, a type of thin rice noodles, is one of the results of China’s long influence on the islands. In this light dish, the noodles are stir-fried together with meat, chicken liver, and sometimes fish balls, as well as a handful of fresh, finely sliced carrots, beans, and cabbage. Perfect for a quick lunch.

Tinola

Probably the Philippines’ most soothing soup, tinola is made with chicken, young papaya, moringa leaves, and lots of ginger. The chicken is gently simmered until it falls off the bone, and the aroma of the ginger makes its way into every sip of broth. Try it on a rainy day.

Ensaladang talong

Ensaladang talong | © Sstrieu / Flickr
Ensaladang talong | © Sstrieu / Flickr

Who says it’s all meat, meat, meat? This Filipino salad is based around grilled eggplant, which has been peeled and mashed. The aubergine is mixed with crunchy onion and tomato, and drizzled with a mix of vinegar, black pepper, and salt. In some parts of the country, ensaladang talong is sprinkled with salted duck eggs.

Kinilaw

Easily topping many a list of favorite Filipino dishes, kinilaw is the Philippines’ answer to ceviche. Fresh cubes of fish are cured in a light vinaigrette, and tossed with ginger, onion, coconut milk, and fresh finger chilis for a mouthwatering entrée.

Daing na bangus

Bangus, known internationally as milkfish, is the national fish of the Philippines. There are many ways of preparing this silvery fish, but butterflied, marinated, and fried in hot oil is one of the favorites. Daing na bangus is often ordered for breakfast, served with garlic rice, a fried egg, and pickled young papaya.

Lechon baboy or manok

Lechon Baboy | © Punctuated / Flickr
Lechon Baboy | © Punctuated / Flickr

Since Anthony Bourdain’s claim that it was the “best pig ever”, lots of people have heard of Cebu’s lechon baboy (whole roasted pork.) But it’s lechon manok (chicken) that shows up a lot more frequently on local menus. Each restaurant has its own recipe for the marinade, and that makes all the difference.

Monggo

A humble soup of green lentils, onions, garlic, meat, and moringa leaves, monggo has been perfected in so many households that many Filipino chefs list it as their favorite comfort food. Regional variations may include squash and coconut milk.

Lechon kawali

A must for pork lovers! Lechon kawali is a whole pork rind – skin and all – that’s been roasted and then deep-fried for extra crunch. The rind is cut into bite-sized pieces and served with a thick, savory sauce for dipping.

Sinigang

Sinigang soup | © Jo del Corro / Flickr
Sinigang soup | © Jo del Corro / Flickr

Filipinos love sour tastes and sinigang packs a mighty sharp punch. The base for the soup is tamarind pulp, and cooks may use pork or fish as the protein. Long green beans, crushed garlic, tomato slices, and slivers of onion are added to the broth, which is topped with morning glory leaves just before serving.

Laing

Hailing from the Bicol province, where the locals like it spicy, laing is actually made from dried leaves of the sweet potato (taro) plant. The leaves, called gabi in the Philippines, are gently braised in coconut milk, along with spices and chili. The result is a dish that’s healthy, creamy, and uniquely Filipino.