Food from the Philippines: the night workers street food (Special Edition)

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ July 15th, 2010. Updated on May 30th, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Food around the world » Filipino food.
Philippine Barbecue

Super fresh near glow in the dark marinated meat on the barbecue (click to enlarge)

The day workers night time street food

Local street food stalls are certainly good to try out when traveling. There are usually two types:

1) The one locals regularly go to

2) The one setup for the tourist trade. This one often brings in locals looking for a night out too.

But, there is a hidden third option that few people know about. And, it’s one that I usually try to seek out in most big cities around the world.

The local workers street food stall:

Worker buying food at a night market in The Philippines

Worker buying food at a night market in The Philippines

Find a dock area, a warehouse district, or a city street near store houses and you are sure to find a workers food market. Some only come out at night, some are 24 hours a day.

The workers night street food stalls I visited in The Philippines usually only appear at around 5.30pm. It’s dark at 6.20pm. A whole road is quite often closed off as makeshift tents and rooftop canopies made from plastic sheets are erected in record time.

Next come the charcoal BBQ street food stands. Long thin metal guttering is the norm here. Filled with charcoal they are placed a little away from the main food area.

Sights and smells of the workers street food barbecue:

As night falls the charcoals take on a red glow. Fresh chicken, pork and fish hiss as they are pre cooked over the hot grills. Wafts of flavorsome smoke rise up as the sounds of the working day conclude. Shutters rattle down. Plastic hits cardboard box. And, relaxing sounds of laughter start to emerge.

A days hard work is over. The local workers still have a long journey home, but first they must eat. For eating here is faster, and cheaper than waiting to go home.  Though a few do opt for the take away option.

But this is also a good time to discuss the day. How much was made? Who sold what? And, of course, politics.

The street food:

It’s plain and simple, but knocks a local food stall into the gutter for value and sheer taste. Here it’s not so much about being fancy, nor about being artistic in culinary display. It’s about real food that tastes good and is value for money.

Ever been to a local food stall and thought the servings were a bit on the small side? Not here. The workers street food stall serves big, and at nearly half the price.

Small bundles of rice wrapped in coconut leaves

Small bundles of rice wrapped in coconut leaves

At a local street food stall I would pay 120 pesos for a pork steak that, to be honest, has a lot of fat. Here, I paid 45 pesos ($0.90) for pure meat.

A chicken fillet here, oozes with flavor compared to its drier local street food counterpart. It’s the best chicken I’ve had in the Philippines.

The real people eat here:

Now for the best part. In my experience the middle to upper class of Filipino will not eat here. In fact I’ve had many tell me these places have terrible food, and it’s not a good place to go. Many more will add that such places are not safe at all.

I’ve also only ever seen a total of two tourists venture in.

But the local workers here are mind boggling friendly. And, why not. It’s not everyday they get visitors. What’s more, it’s not every year they get people telling them they have great food. Or photographing them.

It’s smiles, or amazement all around. But there is something else. There is a pride there too.

“In a country I’ve seen become obsessed with fast food, corporate life, luxuries and, sadly, corruption; this is where the good people meet.”

These are the average day people working 7 days a week without a break. There are no pretenses here. You are who you are. A hungry person looking for good food.

Other great worker night food stalls around the world:

Places of barbecue food from The Philippines

Rice, calamansi / chili, bbq squid and bbq pork steak all for $1.10 (click to enlarge)

Peshawar in Pakistan is a place filled with them. Night food stalls and workers from the huge day markets, and overland cargo workers. It’s a frenzy of activity.

Army barracks in West Africa are known for great night barbeque’s.

Spain, nip down a few side streets in Barcelona by the docks at dinner time and you’ll find some of the cheapest and tasty food out there.

The workers street food stalls are the “off the beaten path” destination to many a culinary delight:

Local street food is great. But if you ever want to stray into a realm of real life in just about any place in the world, try to find where the workers are.

For it’s here you will find the freshest, tastiest food that you’ll enjoy with some of the most down to earth friendly people on the planet.

A note on the color: Yes, the meat really does look that red! They cover it in a super rich red marinade! Exaggerated by yellow florescent lights. Here, it’s not about gourmet, it’s all about the eating!

This is an additional post and one of a series highlighting Great food from the Philippines

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12 Great responses to Food from the Philippines: the night workers street food (Special Edition)

  1. James Cole says:

    I’ve only just started my travelling career and so far have stuck pretty local to the east coast of Australia. However, every town I went to I would always try and find the local hangouts, places to eat as they are often so much better than the touristy places. I would also try in order food made with local produce.

    Having said that, what you’re describing sounds amazing. I wish we had street food markets here. I can imagine how electric and energised the atmosphere would be at these places amongst the hustle and bustle.

    Great story!

    • -James Cole- Hi James, and thanks. The energy in these places is certainly different than in local eateries. It’s a whole new game.

      I think there’s something about “all the great truck stops have the best food”. Maybe that’s Australia’s worker food hangout?

      The very best on your new journey!

      -Ivy- Glad you like, and glad you are :)

      -Marnie Alvez- Ha ha, okay you like that papaya salad dish. It’s the shredded one in little bags I think? Never thought I would like it, but its kind good with certain foods!

  2. Ivy says:

    Great pictures! Still following you :)

  3. Marnie Alvez says:

    I would often crave for these grilled street food whenever I am overseas.. it’s never the same.. not without the young papaya salad, vinegar and garlic appetizer =p~~

  4. James Cole says:

    Very true and funnily enough, truck stops are my favourite places to eat. Unfortunately you just don’t get any good ones until you’re far out of the cities. Gives me a good excuse to go on day trips though :)

    • -James Cole- I think it’ll get harder and harder to see these places for a while. Then they’ll emerge again.

      -ciki- Ha Ha. Believe it or not, the red meat is not steak, it’s chicken!! They cover it in this near glow in the dark marinade! In fact they cover everything in this stuff.

      I’ll add this into the first image! :)

  5. ciki says:

    wowee.. that’s some major color boosting you got going on there.. i am, look at the color of that red, raw meat.. u got me hankering for… STEAK! :P

  6. Tim says:

    Stay away! Bad, dangerous (and more for me!)

  7. Rebecca says:

    Those “hanging rice” are called “puso” due to its heart shape form.Its certainly the best to accompany any bbq steak ’cause we Filipinos are rice eater.

  8. Kendo says:

    The Filipino food often gets knocked as it is basic stuff; fried chicken, mungo, meatballs, fish, egg, maybe some green beans or potato if you’re lucky. For the hungry man (and hungry cyclist especially) tho, its brilliant stuff.
    Due to it’s history of small fishing villages the costal routes of the national hignway have a town each 20km or so and they all have an eatery. Water is also plentiful (and potable) from the pumps along the roadside. This makes Philippines an excellent country to tour by bike.