My Top 3 best / worst foods in The Philippines

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ December 23rd, 2010. Updated on May 30th, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Food around the world » Filipino food.

The best, and the worst of Food from The Philippines

My Food from The Philippines series has been one I’ve enjoyed a lot. There are three main reasons.

  1. I like food, and eat far too much of it. The main reason here, is quite simply it’s one of my secrets to long-term travel. I move more than most, I’m in differing climates, and I’m under a lot of pressure. If I ate less, then I wouldn’t have made it this far.
  2. No one has really highlighted food from The Philippines as being anything “special“, I wanted to boost its visibility in the world.
  3. A lot of people have enjoyed discovering what’s available in The Philippines to eat. If you are planning to visit The Philippines you can come here, and see what will be awaiting you!

This series has been the raw reality of eating in The Philippines from a travelers perspective.

But as I move on, so I must eat my last meal here. So, without further ado, here are my best and worst top 3 of Philippine food.

Top 3 worst foods in The Philippines

3rd worst food – Bolinao (stinky fish)

Dried Fish from The Philippines

Dried fish, Filipinos love it, I hate it. The smell of these tiny guys frying away is like rancid foot sweat. It's worse than Durian to inhale. To taste it is like eating greasy fish cardboard. No wonder it made my list!

read more about dried fish in The Philippines

2nd worst food – Balut

Balut a cooked 17 day old duck fetus

No worst food list is complete without Balut. Available in 10 day 16 day or in this case 17 day old levels of development, this premature duck foetus is a mainstay in street food found all over The Philippines. Unsurprisingly there also many Filipinos who will not eat Balut. I don't blame them!

read more about Balut in The Philippines

Number one worst food in the Philippines – The Jollibee Burger

Unleash the God's of war I might as well have spat on the Filipino flag as condemn the Jollibee burger to being the worst food in The Philippines. Why? Jollibee has permeated its way into Pinoy national pride as much as the Queen of England is revered in the UK. It's a shame then that the tiny salty dry meat pattie smothered in a mix of translucent warm ketchup with additional cold thick mayonnaise, and (if you are lucky) a single withered piece of lettuce lying under some shiny plastic cheese slice that's then sandwiched between two stale sickly sweet buns could well be voted the national food of The Philippines!

Just a little sub note to the millions I’ve just insulted by writing my own opinion. Have a look at Jollibee’s environmental policy and food standards. Wait, they don’t have any.  Yes, other huge fast food chains also contribute. But at least they make their policies public. For some reason Jollibee won’t make its ingredients public, nor its exact meat source (100% beef  can mean anything, how’s the BSE testing in The Philippines these days?), nor its environmental policy. Yes, it’s very cheap food. But at what cost …

read more about the Jollibee Burger in The Philippines

Top 3 best foods in The Philippines

3rd best food – Palitaw with Banana Honey

Palitaw coconut desert from The Philippines

Sticky rice mixed with sugar and coated in coconut shavings. Buy some at cafe, or mall stall, then go and get some banana honey and don't come out of your room for a long time, few things taste as good!

read more about Palitaw from the Philippines and Banana Honey from The Philippines

2nd best food – Marang fruit

Marang fruit from The Philippines

In a battle of the best fruits - Marang beat Mangosteens for me. Marang fruit is like a bunch of giant custard sweets on a stick. The taste will have you sneaking down to many a fruit market and wishing you could buy a crate of these heavy fruits and take them with you around the islands! Yes, I am addicted to this fruit, and proud of it.

read more about the Marang Fruit from The Philippines and Mangosteens from The Philippines

Number one food in The Philippines – Lechon Manok (roast bbq chicken)

Lechon Manok also known as Barbecue chicken from The Philippines

It was one of my first great discoveries of Filipino foods. And, lechon manok still rates as my favorite. Walk down many a street in the Philippines and you will see a shop roasting rows upon rows of chicken. Filled with lemon grass and onions the chickens are coated in a tangy marinade. Then, the magic happens as they are barbecued over hot coals with their own sweet juices keeping them ever so flavorsome. Every vendor has their own secret recipe. From the elusive "Red Manok" which is roasted under roasting pork whose juices soak into the chicken below, to manoks roasted with banana leaves. Where is the best Lechon Manok found in The Philippines? Let the debate begin, but for me it's in the capital of Camiguin Island. If you go to The Philippines, don't miss out on the great tasting barbecued chicken called lechon manok!

read more about Lechon Manok from The Philippines

What is Filipino food really like?

Plain. Sweet. Meaty. There it is in three words.

In all honesty the average tourist coming over from Thailand or Malaysia will probably be disappointed with what they find here to eat. The high income tourist will see little difference as the higher end restaurants in The Philippines can serve really good food.

Why do most tourists not get excited over Filipino food?

Because, like it or not, the tourism industry in The Philippines is still far behind many of its South East Asian neighbors. Many people in The Philippines eat for sustenance and not for pleasure nor taste. (to the Filipinos reading this, sorry but junk food does not count)

There is also a North American influence here in terms of fast food. It’s everywhere, and the size of people’s waistlines will show you this.

Food standards here are not the same as elsewhere. And, while I have never been sick eating in a local diner, I have had problems in the fast food outlets, nothing at all serious though.

The future of Filipino food?

I think the long overdue is about to happen. And, the Philippine economy is going to boom soon. If it’s not already. With this will come an increase in standards, spending and expectations. As Pinoy’s find more peso’s in their wages, so they will want to treat themselves. And, boy do Filipinos like to eat!

I fully expect the variety of dishes here to break out soon. There are plenty of creative, and initiating people in The Philippines. And, I am sure the chefs are already creating variations on the traditional dishes that will soon have the tourist drooling.

In the meantime, this is Food in the Philippines as you will find it here as a tourist.

More food from around the world?

I have every intension in continuing this series from my next destination! There are many people writing about food out there. Some show the fantastic side to food in their countries, others review great restaurants.

Here on The Longest Way Home, I eat to travel and live. The food you see here will not be from a top-notch restaurant. It will be the real food you encounter as a tourist in a country you visit.

I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen so far.

Stay tuned, I’ll be sharing my food from a whole new country next!

“Meanwhile, Happy Holidays to everyone.”


This is an additional and final post highlighting food from The Philippines

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Speak your mind, all opinions welcome - leave a comment below

44 Great responses to My Top 3 best / worst foods in The Philippines

  1. Kieron says:

    Jollibee is hideous – I honestly chose to go hungry instead of making the mistake of eating it a second time when I was in the Philippines!

    My #1 food over there is mangoes. For some reason nothing compares to the mangoes grown there!

  2. ciki says:

    wow! the jollibee burger eh.. now you’ve planted it in my head.. i will never rest till i eat that monstrosity! still i would have thought that balut was worse.

    Why am i not surprised that BBQ chick is your no.1 Heck I would have thought, BBQ any meat would be ur no.1

    GREAT list dave!

    • Marnie Alvez says:

      Pretty Mei! When you visit the Philippines in the future, I’d make sure you try the best and the worst food in the Philippines =) Jollibee and balut, I’d make sure you try it haha.

      In the meantime, I’m back in Malaysia! Hope to see you soon! =)

    • All meat aside from internal organs! Remove Jollibee from your head, not worth it! Bolinao has a very light amount of spice on it. Not really salty. Though the cheap, cheap versions still taste of the sea.

  3. ciki says:

    is the bolinao also really salty? am trying to imagine if its like he pickled stinky fish in Malaysia. It’s not that greasy though..

  4. Stuart says:

    That jollibee thing sound bad alright. But I’ll give the bbq some room!

  5. JP Yu says:

    Hey Dave, being a filipino it amuses me how an outsider sees my culture.
    Having traveled myself, I also get fascinated by a certain country’s culture and food. Being filipino, this traits have been accustomed to us already, that they all seem to become very normal. It is nice reading your thoughts, being a foreigner in my country.
    I wish you could write more about how you see things done our way..

    Be safe.. Travel more and blog often…
    Cheers

  6. Marnie Alvez says:

    Jollibee haha. Actually I also find it surprising why Filipinos love this lousy fast food when, let’s say in a mall, there are far more better alternative. Almost everywhere, Jollibee is always full. The price of their meals is not worth your peso too. I say this because I get to eat something more delicious than any of the meals served in Jollibee at less price and better ambiance. I loved their Aloha burger. Don’t know whether they still serve it. It’s beef burger with all the trimmings plus pineapple =)

    Agree with you on the roasted chicken! 3 months into my Southeast Asia backpacking trip last year, I’ve been dreaming of lechon manok. I finally satisfied the craving in Luang Prabang, Laos but it is not the same!

    Great list! Philippines got a lot of great food yet to be discovered!

    • I hope one day the chef’s in The Philippines work on national food items, rather than international. Walking into a mall these days is like walking into a mall in the USA. And, yes, there’s lots of other burger choices here. Though, I’ve yet to taste one quiet as sickly as jollibee!

  7. Man, there is a HUGE gap between these best and worst choices.

    I have a stomach of steel and have eaten everything from insects to testicles to human placenta, but your photo of the half baked duck made me want to puke. I have watched fertilized chickens being knocked out of their shells and grilled up in China, but there is just something about that photo that hit me in a place I am rarely hit.

  8. sealdi says:

    Hmmm. Mixed emotions about the list, but then each to its own taste buds, I think. But no lechon baboy/ roasted pig at all? The cholesterol-laden fiesta king of all time didn’t make it?! :(

  9. i agree with you dave (except for the balut). hahaha i dont eat it everyday but i like it.
    i really dont eat at jollibee, i prefer to eat on hole in the wall type of stalls. love the marang too!
    btw, leaving the philippines already? why? where’s your next stop?

  10. flip says:

    my best foods include sinigang na hipon (prawns in sour soup) although it wont beat tom yum for sure… and grilled fish… i also like vegetables with tofu… go to Bicol Dave for spicy food… and go to Pampanga for more good tasting foods…

  11. Ian Martin says:

    I find the Philippino snacks and ice creams outstanding, as a European. There are hundreds of types of snacks for sale in most shops, potato crisps (“Chips” to North Americans) and all manner of crispy things in small bags. My favourite is the moist chocolate and cheesey Oishi snacks, UNIQUE !

    I would agree about Jollibee and other burgers, i would hate to know what EXACTLY is in them. They all seem to be covered in a sickly sweet sauce. When it comes to fast food here, i stick to fried eggs, but they become repetitive after the 20th breakfast.

    Most food in RP tends to be overly cold, full of artificial colours and FAR FAR FAR too sweet. But you eat things that are so different from anything else in Asia and the west . I like the Adobo sauces , soy suce with garlic and calamansi.

    The food is like RP itself, very very different from other Asian cultures and religions. It is NEVER too spicey, has wonderful desserts, leche flan, buco salad (coconut scrapings and fruit mixed with cream AND CHEESE ???) (i know you don’t like desserts dave), The food is a bit Asian, chinese, bit spanish and american.

    So the good parts for me ? well the soups are bizarre but SO tasty ! when you first taste one, they are SOUR with big chunks of fish and prawns. The sourness is made by tamarinds. I have never eaten much fish in my life, it tends to be very expensive in Europe, but Tuna is 70 pesos a kilo in my local market, and it is considered a cheap large fish ! The roast pork tastes like pork used to, when i was a boy. You just eat it sawn from a whole pig, and eaten with a liver sauce (only sauce in RP that is NOT sweet)

    The oridinary food is cheap, it is food from the 60s for western visitors, chemically enhanced orange juice, instant milk for coffee. It is normally bought in tiny packets !I am hunting out the things that you highlighted Dave, i think the fruit maybe not in season at the moment though.

    • Great observations Ian! Before I forget, Marang is indeed seasonal. Comes out about twice a year. June/July maybe a little before. And, around October. I’ve only ever seen it in the south, but well worth seeking out!

      I really enjoyed your analogy about food in The Philippines being like western food from the 60’s. So very true. So many artificial chemicals it’s a wonder people do not glow in the dark around here. Wait a few more years for the ADD to kick in.

      First time I saw fruit salad with cheese, I knew I’d be sticking with the meat!

      Good call on the soups. And, yes, the greatest thing about the food here is that it’s really old school when it comes to meat. Giant servings of meat that taste as it should!

      Thanks again for your insightful comment, I enjoyed it.

  12. Sabina says:

    You hit some interesting spots. I doubt if I’ll ever make it to the Phillipines. Of course the food looks great, though :) And I love your header photo! (I might have told you that already)

  13. Marlys says:

    Yes, this Jolibee monstrosity is all too true. I’ve not been home for quite a bit (I’ve been living in Europe for the last 28 years) but whenever I do, I always see Jolibee fast food counters always with long lines.My brother tells me it’s more popular than McDonalds because it is “juicier and tastes better” all because of the amount of fat in it. Uuggh! And kids love it.
    Having said this, whenever I do get home, friends bring me to try this or that new restaurant that are influenced by European or North American cuisine. Almost always, they disappoint. But the restaurants serving Philippine food, from the simplest to the ones influenced by the spaniards always make me want to stay home. I’m always always homesick for Philippine food – lechon, dinuguan at puto, mangga at suman, crispy pata, Kare kare (yes, complete with bagoong, that smelly fish paste foreigners find pukey) crisp green mangoes, banana-q, banana turon w/ langka (naming these foods bring tears to my eyes because I’m homesick again)
    And eating out is soooo cheap. I keep telling the story of me brining friends (all 6 of them) in a fancy Philippine restaurant where we pigged out and ordered the house specialities and my bill didn’t even get to £50. How cheap is that?
    I would encourage all to visit the Philippines. Don’t stay more than 2 days in Manila. Get to Cebu, Davao or Palawan instead.

    • Yes, the queues at Jollibee are mind boggling. I think the longer you live in a place, and eat a particular food group, the more you grow accustomed to it. And, even begin to savor it.
      Even after eating a huge plate of spaghetti, a Filipino without rice in their meal, is still hungry.

      I think with time food here will advance. But as noted many of the comments, food here is still very unique for it’s location in South East Asia. But prices are going up! The last year alone saw a rise of nearly 30% in rice prices. Quite where and how this will end, is turning into a global issue. Hopefully the Philippines will diversify.

  14. Miss Turista says:

    Hahaha! As a Filipino, I noticed that the taste of Jollibee is even worse when it’s brought to other countries.. Like the one I tasted in Brunei.. It tasted like paper. Yuck.

    Did you ever try eating Pancit Canton?

  15. Ted Nelson says:

    I hate to admit it, but I had a jollibee burger or two in the Philippines. I also hate to admit I never tried the Balut. Even though it makes your top 3 worst foods I really want to try it.

  16. Ace Macaro says:

    There is a story behind the “bolinao” or what we filipinos called “dilis”. It is a dried foods. But even a rich person eats this to the reason that it reminds you about your roots and younger life, and understand what its like to have nothing to eat. Our parents force us to eat dried fish, so that we are prepared when things get worst. Be humble, be happy what you have.

    About the “balut”, it looks disgusting if you stare at it, but it is very clean, it is inside the shell(never eat balut with a broken shells even it is free.). Anyway, it consider as aphrodisiac. Thats why it should be eaten at nighttime, gives you more stamina.

    Jolibee? All fastfood-chain like mcdo, goldilocks, tropical hut, burger king, etc. All those shop who are selling burgers are worst. But “pizza” are all nice.

    Sorry for the wrong english.
    Nice blog, BTW.

    • Nice quote about your parents making forcing you to eat dried fish to prepare you for the worst! Made be laugh as it makes perfect sense. I can barely smell the stuff before my stomach starts to turn.

      Agreed with the burgers. Pizza is good alright.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  17. Ace Macaro says:

    Trust me, i hate the smell and the salty taste. When i was, i dont understand why my mother buy it, why not just egg? or vegetables?. Then later, we visited a family who are poor. They prepare a dried fish for dinner. Thats the time i realize the reason. :)

    Anyway, in filipino culture, you have to prepare foods to all visitor. And what i mean “all” means all. And as a visitor, refusing to eat the prepared food is considered rude and it hurt the feeling the owner. You dont want that to happen, simply because they wont invite you again.

    So every filipinos, when we go for a visit. We are expecting the owners must prepare at least cold water or bread or anything you can offer. Thats also a reason to prepare your stomach for the worst. Maybe if foreigner refuse to eat, i do think some understand.

    • Marnie Alvez says:

      Agree on Filipino culture offering food/ drink or inviting strangers to join in meals. I remember when the cable guys went to our house for what else, cable installation, my mom immediately placed some biscuits on a plate and glass of water for them! =) I don’t think other Asian nations are as congenial.. Though I remember awesome generosity in Sumatra, Indonesia =)

  18. Matthew says:

    While in the Philippines, I tried as hard as I could to like Jolibee. The Chicken Yum is OK but everything else on the menu is awful. Especially the spaghetti. Their sister pizza chain, Greenwich, is even worse. The only enjoyable food from Jolibee Corp, in my opinion, is Chow King.

    There are so many fantastic local foods in the Philippines, especially their desserts! Sans rival, brazzo de mercedes, polvoron, leche flan… Mmm! Sarap!

  19. Max says:

    lol! i think all people from the west hate the smell of dried fish.

    you find chowking ok but let me tell you, the meat they have in their sweet and sour pork is not real, it’s just flour that is made to look like and taste like pork. i found out when i put it in the refrigerator, it suddenly turned into flour nuggets few hours later. it’s really scary how they make that flour taste and look like pork — must have tons of carcinogenic shit to make it look like meat . . . i wonder what our food and drug administration is doing, I think they don’t scrutinized the food served in fast food joints . . . same with mcdonald’s their crispy chicken fillet is also just made of flour!

    the best food in the Philippines are the ones prepared and cooked at home — fresh and clean :)

  20. Palawan Martin says:

    I have some secret Philippines food items that i have discovered that are world class, the first is “Aroma Rice”, it smells a little like Basmati even when dried, but is much shorter grained. It has a quite intense smell when cooking, a cross between popcorn and mice. It does not look very good on the plate , but has a chewy texture and an individual taste. It is only grown in the mountains, mainly by tribespeople, and is only available in September and early October. this is because it is grown without irrigation, just in the wet season , once a year. It is planted in the traditional way , a man making a hole with wooden implement, followed usually by his wife who plants the seed. there are absolutely no chemicals used. It tastes superb ! It costs a few pesos (i paid 37p a kilo) more, and so the average Pinoy does not buy much of it. It is not at all lauded, it is just stocked in the normal rice shops, but anyone travelling to Palawan, i recommend it strongly !

    Another unique food is half dried fish “Bangus Lamayo”, sprinkled with onions, it is fried and becomes very crispy, but moist in the centre. It is eaten with rice (of course), and well, uniquely wonderful. They cost 50 pesos for a medium size fish. You can buy them in Palaweno markets. Also the markets usually sell smoked fish too, which is also very good. Well, i would have to say Palawan is fish heaven (well literally for the fish, of course). Yellow finned Tuna , sliced cost 70 pesos for 1 kg, at my local market

    The olive green coloured globule shaped seaweed called “Lato”, is unique too ! I recomend the small globuled version.

    Desserts are also good, but not particularly from Palawan, i particularly like “Sans Rival”, made with Cashew Nut Meringue, butter and tastes great. I must mention the tangy ginger, you can buy a great deal for 5 pesos !

  21. AcidJazz says:

    CHOWKING is the WORST fast food ever. Poor SANITATION(LANGAW) and Poor Customer Service. Here’s the story, few hours ago i was eating at Chowking Lipa Batangas near BigBen. I was alone then this waiter served the combo C. I was asking politely to get me a straw because I don’t want to leave the table. Di naman ganun kadami tao nung oras na yun. He said yes, I keep on waiting and I was keeping my eye on the waiter then napansin ako ng manager ” Yes mam may kulang pa sa order niyo? ” sabi ko ” Wala na po sabi kasi ng waiter kukuha niya ako straw” then she replied ” self service kami dito “. Binalewala ko na lang. I was eating my Combo C then nung asa gitna na ako ng mangkok may nangingisay na LANGAW. I was very very upset!!! Tinawag ko ang manager at sabi papalitan nila. Wala na talaga akong gana! then they refunded what I pay for. Gustong gusto ko ipahiya ang Chowking kanina sa mga diners but I can’t , so I ended up crying! Then I walked out.

  22. Ronny says:

    Sorry, but I think this list is shallow. You can’t possibly make a list like this without visiting the food capital of the Philippines – Pampanga (a region about an hour north of Manila).

    As a foreigner *living in*, rather than visiting, the Philippines, I agree on the burger – it’s awful. and the dried fish, also known as tuyú, is nearly inedible. But balut is actually very nice. Come on people, we eat eggs, and we eat ducks, this is just somewhere in between – nothing to be afraid of!

    The best food list probably needs to be rewritten after visiting many towns around Pampanga. Any list without sizzling sisig (a Kapampangan speciality made from… no never mind what it’s made from, just taste it first!) is bound to be incomplete. By the way, don’t bother tasting it outside of Pampanga – they don’t know how to make it!

  23. The balut is a high-cholesterol delicious treat. The trick is to eat it without looking at it and as the vendor to give you the one with the tiny duck inside. The bad feeling is when you get a big duck inside the balut where when you chew on it, you can feel the beak, bones and hair, thats bad.

    About the dilis or dried fish, you should try the spicy bbq flavor, its really good with beer.

    About the lechon manok, its also my fav, all my troubles disappear with my tasty lechon manok.

  24. padawan says:

    I know that this blog is ur perspective as a tourist visiting philippines but i found injustice seeing lechon manok as the number one food in ur list.

    This is my own perspective as a filipino reading ur list.

    the list didn’t surprise me about ur ‘worst foods’ list,maybe u didn’t try buro from pamapanga (should be included in the list (worst),smells bad but they said it’s delicious.

    Now on to ur best foods list, palitaw is just palitaw can’t see anything special bout it .I’m a filipino living in manila my whole life and idk anything about marang. Lechon manok is just too plain to be number 1 ,sorry.

    If ur planning to visit philippines again, let me give u some ideas on what to look for,

    best food list:
    1. adobo (chicken/pork)
    2. sinigang (pork/beef/shrimp)
    3. Kare Kare
    4. Dinuguan
    5. Paksiw na pata
    6. lechon kawali
    7. sisig
    8. menudo
    9. sinampalukang manok
    10. crispy pata
    11. Lechon
    12. halo-halo
    13. leche flan
    14. buko salad
    15. bulalo
    16. sopas
    17. chopseuy
    18. tapsilog
    19. afritada
    20. batchoy
    21. isaw (grilled chicken/pork)
    22. Goto (beef/chicken/isaw )
    23. pansit malabon/canton/bihon

    There u go a small list of gastronomical delights from “our” perspective. Try most or all of them,then let us know ur thoughts,i’m sure u will be removed from the “dark side” ,lol

  25. Ina says:

    Hey,

    Thanks a lot for the article. I would agree with your taste. I am a foreign student and have problems with Filipino food. I have never tried baloot and dried fish cause find it awful and stinky. I love their bbq chicken cause I am not a fan of pork. Because of difference in taste, I cook Russian cuisine at home and rarely eat outside.
    Overall, would also agree with the concept that Filipinos eat not because of nutrients, but mostly to make their stomachs full. Also like eating outside even though it is expensive and they don’t have affordable budget for outside food.
    We tried to make business on injecting healthy yogurt to Filipinos. Didnt work, Filipinos prefer sweet and artificial flavors, not plain yogurt.

  26. Vanesa says:

    Please do consult more locals about Filipino food. I agree with padawan’s post in the dish list. Best if you can befriend a Filipino family – they will cook food for you and take you around places…The best Filipino food is cooked at home, with a lot of different versions of the dish on the list.