It’s no Cambodia, but the Philippinescertainly has its fair share of unusual delicacies. A true gourmand could spend months encountering wild flavors, textures, and customs. Recounted here is a sampling of a few common dishes and ingredients.
If you’re like most travelers, your journey probably involves its fair share of happy hours. Depending on where you are in the country, many deals during this magic time include food. Almost invariably, one of the options is “Sisig.” Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Diced pig ears in spices are actually pretty tasty! And of course, pair fabulously with San Mig – the national beer.
You can knock out two “weird” food in one dish with “Lomi.” A specialty of the Batangas region, it turns up as a classic in restaurants covering a range of national fare. It contains egg-based noodles, a thick broth, pig liver, and quail eggs. The quail eggs taste much like eggs from chickens. The liver – if you’ve never savored this organ – is gamey and less tough than muscle. Overall, the dish doesn’t have much to appease a western palate accustomed to fiery curries and flavor bombs. Metaphorically, it’s kind of like eating meatloaf.
If you’re a lover of seafood, surely you’ve had “squid rings” or “calamari.” Squid in the west tends to be served one way – fried. Squid, or “Pusit” (poo-seat) will present itself for consumption in almost any Filipino market or on any restaurant menu, generally boiled in soup, pan fried, or barbecued. If you’re lucky, they’ll cook the squid in its own ink. The effect is rather like the most perfectly seasoned, sauteed portobello mushrooms you’ve ever tasted.
In theUSA, thanks to a hefty marketing campaign, pork is “the other white meat.” So why is the proprietor at a turo-turo (point-point) food stand insisting that a beef-colored-melange is pork? Pig blood. If you keep your eyes peeled as you pass through the animal section of open air markets, on some butcher’s chopping blocks you’ll see what looks like a brick of dark clay. This paste is actually blood added for flavor to soups and myriad other dishes. Tasty? Well, it can be a bit metallic, but done right it intensifies the flavors and turns a watery broth into a hearty stew.
Are you a fan of meat so soft and tender it falls right off the bone? Then you will love cow tongue (lengua). This is often for offer on bar menus as a snack. It features less commonly on restaurant menus. Invariably, it comes sliced into bite size strips, hot off the grill. Done right (and it usually is), it practically melts in your mouth. The flavor is not a surprise given the tongue is a muscle; it tastes just like steak!
If you’re thinking of trying this meat on for size, you’ll need to head to the mountain provinces. Then, either make some Filipino friends or cultivate your “trustworthy” look. Why? Eating dogs has been criminalized by the government. However, it’s a cultural practice with deep roots in the Cordillera region. So, while you aren’t going to find incriminating evidence on any menus, there are plenty of hole-in-the-wall joints serving it. Have a local Filipino take you, and expect a few suspicious and nervous glances from the proprietor. You’ll be setting foot in a place that almost never sees a tourist – especially not of the “western” variety.
The plates of dog meat are served family style and eaten with rice. It’s a bit like eating ribs, as you’ll be plucking from a pile of bones not quite the diameter of a dime cloaked in hunks of roasted meat. The flavor is very rich and savory if not overcooked, much like the “dark” meat of the Thanksgiving turkey. Being so flavorful and greasy, it could maybe play substitute for duck but never pork (as the Chinese-restaurant-urban-myth argues). Eating dog takes more work than eating a hunk of beef, but the flavor makes it worth it!
The pinikpikan style of chicken preparation goes back generations. Before being eaten, the chicken is sacrificed to ancestral spirits in exchange for blessings. Your guide book will have you believing it’s a freaky chicken-beating ritual. Closer to the truth: the chicken’s wings are held together above its back while its body is tapped with a stick. Surely this is uncomfortable for the chicken, but to describe this as a “beating” is a tad extreme.
After the tapping is through (done to cause the blood to coagulate and improve the overall flavor), the chicken is given a hard whack on the head. The goal here is to keep the chicken alive, but not really conscious. Its important that the chicken’s last vision on earth not be a person. Otherwise it will carry part of that person’s spirit to an evil place.
Finally, the half-live chicken is laid over an open flame (usually outdoors) to burn off all the feathers and send it to the spirit world. Then the partially raw carcass is cut into pieces and cooked any way you please. Frying, barbecuing, and boiling are all popular. How does it taste? Well, mostly like… chicken. The flavor isn’t shockingly different, but surely the Filipino palate is more sensitive to subtle differences in the infamously “flavor-challenged” national cuisine.
Well, there you have i! These are just handful of common, foreign-to-westerners food options in the Philippines. Feel free to share your story in a comment!