A Guide to Street Food in The Philippines

Chesse Rolls and Kwek Kwek
Chesse Rolls and Kwek Kwek | © Rainier Martin Ampongan / Shutterstock | Rainier Martin Ampongan / Shutterstock
Katrina Escalona

Filipinos’ love for food is unparalleled. Despite three large meals comprising their day (all of which typically consist of at least a cup of rice), they still enjoy taking several snacks in between. This is where street food comes in. Filipinos like having access to a quick bite anywhere, anytime. So a great variety of street snacks have developed — some sweet, some savory, and some just outright bizarre. But don’t fret, we’re here to give you the ultimate lowdown on Filipino street food.

The range of deep fried Tusok-Tusok

It’s best to start with the basics. In this street food adventure, starting simple is the key to avoid overwhelming the senses and your stomach. Tusok is the Tagalog word for poke. So falling under this category, are deep fried street foods, eaten by taking a pointed skewer and “poking” or sticking it through the pieces, and then dipping it into your preferred sauce. Don’t worry, none of these are too out of the ordinary just yet.

Fish Balls

Ironically, most fish balls are more of a flattened shape. Essentially, this is ground up fish meat combined with some fillers. It is pre-shaped and then deep-fried by the vendors on their food carts.

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Squid Balls

Squid balls are just like fish balls, except squid meat is used instead of fish, and they are more round in shape.

Squid ball

Kikiam

Kikiam was originally taken from Chinese cuisine, and authentically consists of minced meat and vegetables. The kikiam used by street food vendors in the Philippines however, are a more scrimped version, sometimes containing fish meat instead and a lot of fillers. They are brown in color and about the size of a finger.

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Kwek-Kwek

These brightly colored treats could be quite deceiving to the unaware foodie. They are round and a vibrant shade of orange, but they aren’t sweet, nor do they taste like the Cheetos they match in color. They are actually quail eggs, coated in an orange batter and then deep fried. Most of its goodness relies on the sauce the street food cart has to pair it with.

Kwek-kwek

The crazy skewers

Move over, chicken skewers — the Philippines is bringing something different to the table. After a few courses of the basic stuff, it’s time to get adventurous. Falling under this category are grilled animal parts you never even considered edible. But don’t get squeamish now. Some of these are actually very tasty. And besides, even if they don’t turn out to be your cup of tea, you get to walk away with an awesome story to tell the friends.

Isaw

The infamous isaw is chicken intestine that is first cleaned thoroughly, coiled onto a skewer, and then grilled. Filipinos absolutely love this — dare yourself to find out why.

Isaw

Balunbalunan

Not only do Filipinos skewer and grill chicken intestine, they also do the same to chicken gizzard. In Filipino cuisine, nothing goes to waste. Balunbalunan has a chewier, more rubbery texture than isaw, slightly resembling that of squid. But like isaw, it gets much of its flavor from the sauce it is brushed with during grilling, or its dipping sauce after.

Betamax

This is one that’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. Betamax, named after the black tapes of the 70’s it resembles, is grilled coagulated pork or chicken blood. Yes, you read that right. But in fact, grilled animal blood is not as repulsive as it may sound. It doesn’t possess any foul or robust taste or smell. Aside from the variety in texture, many of these grilled animal innards depend on sauces for taste.

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Helmet

The name of this next one is quite the giveaway. Helmet, in the Philippine street food scene, refers to grilled chicken heads. See, no part goes to waste,

Adidas

Don’t be on the look out for fancy sneakers when somebody asks the street food vendor for some adidas. This simply refers to grilled chicken feet.

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The sweets

Yes, even on the streets, there is always room for dessert.

Turon

This is a classic Filipino favorite, made by enclosing slices of saba banana and jackfruit in egg roll wrappers and deep frying them along with a generous coating of brown sugar.

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Bananacue & Kamotecue

The “cue” in these two street food sweets is derived from “barbecue”, because just like Filipino pork barbecue, they are also served on skewers. Both are made by taking the banana and kamote (sweet potato) and deep frying them with brown sugar, giving them a glistening gold finish.

Bananacue

Kakanin

Kakanin refers to Filipino delicacies made mainly of sticky rice. With the country’s love for rice, a long list of desserts fall under this category, and that might just need a separate article to explain it altogether. Keep an eye out for these especially during Christmas time. The best kakanin are the ones they sell outside churches after the late night masses held during the weeks approaching Christmas.

Girl cooking bibingka (a rice cake)

Sorbetes

Sorbetes or “dirty ice cream” (dubbed as such for being sold in the streets, and not necessarily meaning a lack in cleanliness), is Filipino ice cream sold from colorful wooden carts. Though there’s still the usual chocolate, mostly Filipino flavors are available such as ube (purple yam), queso (cheese), mango, and coconut. Have it the Filipino way and opt to have it served in a burger bun instead of a regular cone or cup.

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Taho

Taho is the delicious combination of silken tofu, arnibal (brown sugar syrup), and sago pearls. It’s best warm first thing in the morning, as soon as you hear the neighborhood taho man, making his rounds and shouting “Tahoooooooooo!”.

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Halo-Halo

Halo-Halo is a food frenzy in a glass. It’s the kind of dish that will make you think it was probably invented by a mother who was trying to empty out her pantry one day. It’s layers upon layers of crushed ice, beans, jelly, tapioca pearls, sweetened fruits, milk, ice cream, flan, toasted rice, and purple yam, that’s meant to be mixed up and then enjoyed. And enjoy you will, a nice tall glass of cold halo-halo is perfect on a scorching Philippine day.

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