It took me some time before I decided to write about Filipino food, because that is not so easy topic. Everything depends on your budget. That determines where and what you eat and what impression meals will leave on you. However that is never the golden rule.
Most of tourists say Filipino food is abysmal and you simply cannot eat good food there. They are generally right, but – on the other hand – during short holidays people are not able to visit enough restaurants and try variety of meals they offer, to be able to categorically state Filipino cuisine is terrible and has nothing really tasty to offer.
That’s why I would like to tell you about meals and a bit about Filipino eating habits.
Why does Filipino cuisine have so bad reputation?
According to me, opinion about local food was right some time ago and now it is mainly “bad fame”. Philippines are still developing, however local cuisine is based on simplicity. That’s true; some typical meals are often not worth trying, however today every small island has at least one recommendable restaurant. From year to year it is only better, and what’s most important, also vegetarians and vegans can survive, despite the fact meat meals are the most popular in the country. Taking Siquijor as an example, and even not the whole island, but San Juan area only, I can say each season there are more and more new restaurants offering really good food. Everyday I can choose different place and different meals, depending on my mood or change in my pocket. Soups, fish, Filipino dishes from any region, as well as international food – everything is available. And remember, I’m talking about small island now. In every bigger place or city you have much bigger choice.
Cheapest food – lottery pots
As it is in most of Asian countries, also in The Philippines “street food” is the most popular way of serving meals. Small, home-restaurants appear and disappear frequently, and most of them offer typical local meals in the characteristic pots. Polish community call them “lottery pots” as you never know what you can “win”. And it’s not about “winning” diarrhea or salmonellosis. You just never know what “head chef” offers today.
And yes, that is cuisine for real though-guys…
Ok, that was a joke. I’m not though-guy at all and I really like this kind of food. I live here long enough and today simply know where to go to make sure “lottery pots” will surprise me in a positive way.
These places are not expensive; the whole typical meal will cost 100 pesos maximum. I usually pay about 50 and feel satisfied and full.
These home-restaurants are often called “fast food for the poor “. There is no menu and you take what is currently available. In some of the places there are 3-4 pots, in others even 10+. Usually you can choose between fish or other meat soup, few meat dishes: pork and chicken, pasta with vegetables and meat and other culinary inventions. It is good to know what time meals are cooked and placed in the pots, but it fact, in most of the cases it would be different time than you usually eat, so be ready to get cold meal. That is nothing unusual. That is quite normal here I would say.
Barbecue for dinner
As only it’s getting dark, dozens of barbecue stands appear on every corner. That is as common as sunrise and sunset and most of Filipino simply cannot imagine different dinner. At every bigger city or bigger village there is at least one big barbecue place, where you can get variety of meals. Not luckily for vegetarians as there are mainly pork, all possible chicken parts and guts, fish and seafood. Grilled vegetables are still out of Filipino imagination, unfortunately, and I haven’t noticed any change for almost 3 last years I’ve been living here.
Prices in barbecue places are reasonable, for example big chicken breast costs 70 pesos, not too big fish 100 pesos. Of course these are served with rice.
McDonalds, KFC and amazing Jollibee
Some may say Philippines are third world, but fast food lovers will be satisfied because each popular fast food is present here, and only in Dumaguete area there are 6 McDonalds! I even don’t count KFC or the most popular Jollibee (which is originally Filipino chain). Prices are comparable to the ones I know from Poland, as well as core menu and you can expect same taste of Big Mac as everywhere else in the world. There are local variations as well and in the “rice&chicken country” like Philippines you can order everything with rice and chicken. Jollibee seems to be the most popular and it offers absolute bestseller, which is burger, they call “meat”, in mushroom gravy served with rice of course. I was kind of forced to eat that few times and the taste was horrible. Like sole and few moments later you are hungry again. Anyway Jollibee is integral part of Philippines and it is a must to visit, as it is a must to taste balut egg J.
Restaurants owned by foreigners
Tourists most frequently visit these restaurants. Why? That is simple – you do not have to read menu, it’s enough when you see the place and you know the owner must be someone from other country, so the meals probably differ from these in local restaurants. Usually these restaurants are designed and decorated with taste and service is more professional. There are quite many restaurants like that in the country. From my personal experience I can only say each good restaurant I was extremely happy about food and service in, was owned by foreigner.
In such restaurant you can expect international cuisine, but most frequently you will find pizza, pasta as well as local dishes prepared and served in tasteful way. That will definitely change the way you think about Filipino food.
There are of course many restaurants with national cuisine and it is not difficult to find Italian, Korean, Japanese, Mexican and many others. You will usually pay 200 pesos average per meal but expect huge portion and sometimes it is better to share one meal with someone else and you both will leave restaurant full and satisfied.
It’s basically all I wanted to share and if only someone wants to ask for anything else, please ask your questions in comments.
Below you will also find my subjective choice of the best restaurants on Siquijor Island and in Dumaguete. Feel free to visit them and share your experiences.