29 Filipino Foods to Try in 2023
Filipino food is as unique as its place of origin, representing a beautiful mosaic of cultures and flavors. On the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find the Philippines, a tropical geographical area with over 7,000 individual islands.
In the Philippines, food is highly influenced by nearby Asian countries like Japan, China, Thailand and Vietnam. Salty, sweet and sour notes predominate Filipino cuisine. However, many people find the spices and flavors of Filipino food to be similar to Spanish food or Indonesian food.
One thing’s for certain; Filipino food is a completely unique combination of flavors and one of the best cuisines to try if you want to expand your palate and excite your taste buds. In this article, we’ll explore some of the best Filipino foods to try at home, on vacation or in a cooking class. As they say in Tagalog, “Kain tayo!” — Let’s eat!
Jump to Section
- Get a Taste of Traditional Filipino Food
- Filipino Breads
- Filipino Appetizers and Finger Foods
- Filipino Soups and Stews
- Filipino Dishes
- Filipino Desserts
- Filipino Drinks
- Common Filipino Spices
Get a Taste of Traditional Filipino Food
One of the best ways to learn about Filipino foods is to make them for yourself. At cooking classes in the Bay Area, cooking classes in NYC or other cooking classes near you, you can take a hands-on approach to Filipino cuisine that will help you appreciate all the flavors, textures and aromas behind these complex cultural dishes. For an even more intimate experience with Filipino food, explore online cooking classes too!
In Spanish, pandesal literally translates to “bread with salt.” This simple and classic roll is made with very few ingredients, typically wheat flour, water, eggs, yeast and salt. Sometimes sugar is added to the dough to give the rolls a slightly sweet flavor that pairs well with several Filipino foods.
Pandesal is one of the most quintessential Filipino foods, served often as a snack, appetizer or quick breakfast dipped in coffee. For many people, pandesal has a sentimental value as well, reminding them of time spent with family and preparing meals.
2. Pan de Coco
On the outside, pan de coco may look similar to pandesal, but bite into this tender bread roll and you’ll be delighted to find a filling made with sweet shredded coconut and brown sugar. Pan de coco is a popular snack or breakfast roll in the Philippines and pairs wonderfully with hot coffee or tea.
Pan de coco actually originated in Honduras, but Hondurans typically mix the sweetened coconut into the bread dough, while Filipinos prefer to stuff the bun with the coconut filling. As a staple Filipino food, you can easily find pan de coco in bakeries and cafés or bake a fresh batch yourself.
Kababayan, also called kabayan, is a sweetened bread roll with a texture and flavor that is very similar to a muffin. Kababayan is made with flour, eggs, brown sugar, evaporated milk and vanilla extract.
Baked in a muffin tin, kababayan is intended to look like the straw hats of the native Pinoy people, called salakots. Like pandesal and pan de coco, kababayan is a Filipino food that’s a bakery favorite and traditionally enjoyed with coffee or tea.
Kalihim is a traditional Filipino food that’s sure to catch your eye in any bakery. Also called pan de pula, pan de regla or ligaya, kalihim is a soft bread bun with a sweet, bright red filling.
The filling of kalihim is actually made from day-old bread that gets repurposed into pudding with milk, eggs, butter, sugar and red food coloring. The pudding is then wrapped with fresh dough, baked and sliced to create a new tasty treat. The name “kalihim” roughly translates to “secret,” because bakers were able to “secretly” reuse their unsold bread to make this Filipino food!
Filipino Appetizers and Finger Foods
Chicharon is a popular dish across many Spanish-influenced cultures. Also known as pork cracklings or pork rinds, chicharon in Filipino cuisine is a savory snack or appetizer most often made with crispy fried pork belly, but it can also be made with chicken or beef.
In the Philippines, chicharon is frequently enjoyed as a bar food to balance out a night of drinking with friends. However, it can also be used as a garnish to other Filipino foods such as soups and stews.
Lumpia is very similar to spring rolls or egg rolls found in local Asian cuisines. The Filipino version is made with savory ingredients like pork, cabbage, onions, carrots and other vegetables, wrapped in a thin pastry and deep-fried to create a hot and crispy snack.
Lumpia is often served as an appetizer or finger food at family gatherings and celebrations but can be enjoyed any time as a snack or side dish to a larger meal. While it's most often served hot and fried with a dipping sauce, some people also enjoy fresh versions of the roll, called lumpiang sariwa.
Okoy, also called ukoy, is a savory Filipino food made with deep-fried rice batter, shrimp and vegetables like carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, cassava, mung beans and scallions. The ingredients are scooped into a rough patty shape, then lowered into the deep fry oil until perfectly hot, juicy and crispy.
Okoy is frequently enjoyed as an appetizer or snack and is one of the most common street foods in the Philippines. When dipped in a tasty garlic and vinegar sauce, this is one Filipino food you’ll crave again and again.
Sisig is a minced meat dish usually enjoyed as bar food or an appetizer, but it can also be served as an entrée alongside rice or other Filipino foods. Traditional sisig is most commonly made from pork and chicken liver, but today there are plenty of variations in ingredients, including mussel, tuna, squid, eggs, ox brain, ostrich and even crocodile.
This Filipino food was invented by a restaurant owner from the Pampanga province who noticed that a nearby U.S. military base was wasting meat from pig’s heads. The delicious and inventive dish is made by boiling the pig’s head to remove the flesh, then chopping and grilling the meat with fragrant spices, onions, calamansi juice and chicken liver and serving it on a sizzling cast iron plate.
Perhaps not for the faint of heart, balut is a hands-on culinary experience like few others around the world. This Filipino food consists of fertilized duck egg, with a two-to-three-week-old duck fetus contained inside. Balut is prepared by boiling or steaming the whole egg, euthanizing the fetus and cooking the egg contents, creating a texture similar to a soft-boiled egg.
To eat balut, crack and peel open the top of the eggshell and sip out the liquids, then add your preferred seasonings and eat the contents straight from the shell. Many people say balut tastes like chicken noodle soup!
10. Tokwa’t Baboy
Tokwa’t baboy is a savory Filipino food made with deep-fried tofu, boiled pork belly and boiled pork ears. The tofu and pork are simmered in or served alongside a sauce of vinegar, pork broth, soy sauce, onions and red chili pepper.
Tokwa’t baboy is usually served as a side dish or as pulutan, similar to Spanish tapas. However, some people may also enjoy having tokwa’t baboy as an entrée alongside other Filipino food staples, like rice or porridge.
Filipino Soups and Stews
Much of the daily Filipino diet consists of soups and stews, and sinigang is a traditional favorite Filipino food, perfect for warming up on a chilly day. Sinigang is a category of sour stews that can be made with pork, fish, shrimp or beef and a variety of vegetables like taro, green beans, tomatoes, onions and more.
The key ingredient in any sinigang recipe is a souring agent, usually sourced from fruits like tamarind, guava, santol or kamias. Depending on the main ingredients, sinigang may be called different names, like sinigang na hipon or sinigang na baboy.
12. Nilagang Baka
Nilaga is another category of Filipino foods very similar to sinigang, except that nilaga stew is made without a souring agent and may contain different vegetables. Nilagang baka is made with beef, usually beef shanks, onions, peppercorn, fish sauce, cabbage, potatoes and green beans. Tendinous beef shanks are ideal to give the slow-cooked broth a full-bodied, almost gelatinous appeal.
Nilagang baka is considered one the best Filipino foods to eat when you’re feeling under the weather or keeping warm on a cold, rainy day. Sometimes this wholesome stew is also enjoyed at family gatherings, as its soothing flavors bring everyone closer together.
Tinola is a classic Filipino food with a fragrant and zingy flavor. Individual family recipes may vary, but tinola is usually made with chicken, fish sauce, green papaya or chayote, onions, ginger, garlic, moringa and chili pepper leaves.
Like niligang baka, tinola is an awesome dish to have when you need an immune boost. The broth itself is light enough to comfort upset stomachs, while the fragrant ginger, garlic and chili pepper leaves soothe congestion.
“Kaldereta” is a term that can refer to almost any Filipino food cooked in a simmering tomato sauce. When referring to the specific dish, kaldereta is a tomato stew made with goat’s meat, also called kalderetang kambing. Other ingredients may include chicken, beef, pork, liver sauce, potatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers and olives.
Kaldereta has a rich, savory flavor and hearty texture that is wonderful on its own or paired with other Filipino foods like steamed rice or a trusty pandesal roll. The name itself comes from the Spanish word “caldera,” like a cauldron of flavorful meat.
Dinuguan is a traditional savory stew made with chunks of pork meat or pork offal, but it’s the broth base of this Filipino food that piques many people’s interest. The root word of dinuguan is dugo, which translates to “blood.” As the name might suggest, dinuguan stew is simmered with a broth of pig’s blood, vinegar, chili and garlic, giving it an intense and savory flavor with some classic sour notes.
This dark and hearty Filipino food goes by many other names throughout the Philippine islands, such as dinardaraan, sinugaok, tid tad or even jokingly, “chocolate stew.” To balance its bold flavor, dinuguan is often served as an entrée over white rice.
It’s relatively uncommon to find Filipino dishes in other countries across the globe, but adobo is one Filipino food that took the world by storm. Adobo is a cooking style that involves marinating meats (usually pork or chicken) or vegetables in a brine of salt, vinegar, soy sauce, pepper, garlic and other spices.
Pork adobo and chicken adobo are the most popular iterations of this dish, which has a wonderfully tangy flavor. While adobo is admired today as an easy and delicious cooking method, it’s speculated that native people once used it as a way to preserve meat.
Pancit is another broad term for Filipino dishes made with a base of rice noodles. Some common varieties include bihon pancit with stir-fried meat and vegetables, pancit palabok with shrimp sauce and egg, and pancit habhab with stir-fried egg noodles.
Pancit dishes are largely influenced by Chinese culture, but they have found a welcome place at the dinner tables of many Filipino families. Pancit is traditionally served to celebrate birthdays, likely because noodles symbolize a long life and good health in Chinese culture.
Pinakbet is a popular Filipino food from the northern Ilocos region. It is made with various on-hand vegetables like eggplant, green beans, okra, tomatoes and pork belly in a fermented fish paste or shrimp paste.
Pinakbet is one of the simpler and healthier Filipino foods and a classic go-to at restaurants or for family meals. The name translates to “shriveled,” referring to the way that the vegetables shrivel after cooking for a long time on low heat.
One of the more iconic and unique Filipino foods, betamax is made from chicken’s blood which is cooled, coagulated and cut into square shapes. “Betamax” started out as a nickname for the food because the perfect rectangular, dark cubes resemble an old Sony Betamax video tape.
After being formed and cut, the coagulated blood squares are placed on a skewer and grilled. Many people say that betamax has little to no taste on its own, with a texture similar to tofu or liver. It is most often served as an affordable street food or afternoon snack (merienda) with chili vinegar dipping sauce.
“Torta” can refer to a lot of foods across many Spanish-influenced cultures. In the Philippines, torta most often refers to an omelette-like dish made with eggs and another ingredient, such as crab, eggplant or ground meats.
Filipino tortas are more like a fritter than a traditional breakfast omelette. Meat and vegetables are cooked separately, then mixed in with the egg batter and poured into a skillet like a pancake to cook the eggs. Tortas are usually served as a breakfast Filipino food, paired with banana ketchup.
Lechon is one of the Philippines' most well-known foods whose name translates to “roasted piglet.” However, this dish isn’t usually made with piglets, rather with one fully-grown pig, lightly seasoned and roasted whole.
Part of what makes lechon so world-famous is its striking visual appearance. The entire pig is spit-roasted after having been cleaned and stuffed, creating a huge and golden-brown meat dish that retains its original piggy shape. Lechon is considered a delicacy food, and it is most often served at big celebrations like weddings, holidays and festivals.
22. Pork Skewers
Skewers are one of the Philippines' most popular street foods, with pork skewers being a huge crowd favorite. To make pork skewers, pork shoulder, butt, belly and sometimes other parts are marinated in savory barbecue spices, pierced with bamboo skewers and then grilled over wood charcoal.
Like hamburgers at American backyard barbecues, pork skewers are a go-to Filipino food at celebrations, special events, children’s birthdays and family gatherings. While pork is very popular, it’s also common to find other skewered treats like chicken feet, chicken skin, betamax and organ meats.
23. Ube Halaya
Ube halaya is a jam made from mashed purple yam, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk and sometimes other flavorful ingredients. It is most often used to flavor other Filipino foods like bread and cakes, but can also be enjoyed on its own as a creamy snack or dessert.
Aside from its scrumptiously sweet and nutty flavor, ube halaya has a gorgeous purple color that makes it incredibly eye-catching and Instagrammable. For this reason, ube halaya has gained some traction on social media platforms in recent years.
Ube powder and ube extract bring the delightful purple passion in this recipe for ube ice cream, a creamy, easy no-churn treat.
24. Leche Flan
Leche flan is a classic Filipino dessert and one of many Filipino foods inspired by Spanish and Mexican cuisine. Leche flan is a caramel-like custard made with sweetened condensed milk, eggs, evaporated milk and vanilla.
Unlike Mexican flan, however, Filipino leche flan is typically made with more egg yolks and cooked on a stovetop rather than steamed. Leche flan can be enjoyed at any time but is an especially popular treat to have at celebrations and family events.
In Tagalog, halo-halo translates to “mix-mix,” and is arguably the most popular sweet Filipino food, especially during the hot summer season. Halo-halo can vary wildly depending on what you decide to add, but some essential components may include crushed or shaved ice, leche flan, sweetened bean paste, milk, jellies and jams, shredded coconut, fresh fruit and other sweet Filipino foods.
Similar to a parfait, the ingredients of halo-halo are layered in a tall glass to form pretty layers and enjoyed with a spoon. As the ingredients melt, they can be mixed together for more fun flavor combinations.
Tapuy, also spelled as Tapuey, is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice wine. Tapuy is somewhat similar to Japanese sake, but because it is made with glutinous malagkit rice, it has a slightly sweeter flavor profile that balances strong and spicy Filipino foods.
Because it is native to the Philippines, tapuy holds a very special cultural significance. As a ceremonial wine, it is mostly reserved for special occasions like weddings, rice ceremonies and harvest festivals.
27. Calamansi Juice
Calamansi juice is a refreshing beverage that can be compared to lemonade or limeade. Calamansi is a citrus fruit that almost looks and tastes like the perfect cross between a lemon and a lime, and it is often used to flavor dishes like pancit and sisig.
To make calamansi juice, all you really need are some fresh-squeezed calamansi, water and ice. Sweeteners like simple syrup, brown sugar or coconut sugar can also be added if desired. Pair calamansi juice with spicy Philippines foods for the ultimate flavor combination.
Like tapuy, lambanog is another traditional Filipino liquor made from local ingredients. Coconut palms, flowers and tree sap are most often used to make lambanog, but some recipes may also use sugar cane. Lambanog is essentially “coconut moonshine.”
Like a moonshine, the flavor of lambanog is light and crisp and sometimes compared to palm wine or a slightly fruity vodka. Besides beer, lambanog is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the Philippines, and it pairs well with the salty and sour notes of Filipino food.
29. Buko Pandan
Buko pandan is a type of Filipino dessert salad, but many people also enjoy it in a sippable drink form. Essential ingredients for buko pandan include coconut water, coconut milk, pandan extract, shredded coconut and jelly made from agar-agar.
Buko pandan has an appealing sage green color, with the cubed agar-agar jellies adding a dark green contrast. The cold drink is described as sweet and milky, with a vanilla-like flavor that comes from the pandan extract.
Common Filipino Spices
Bay laurel leaf: Bay leaves are commonly used in soups and stews like tinola or sinigang. They provide a mild, herbaceous flavor that smooths and heightens other ingredients in the pot.
Black pepper: A quintessential spice in Filipino foods, black pepper adds a sharp, woody zing to many dishes.
Chili pepper: Many types of chili peppers grow in the Philippines. As a whole, chili peppers are an essential spice for bringing that hot, tingling sensation to a dish such as tinola or kaldereta.
Garlic: Almost every culture worldwide loves garlic. This strong, earthy and slightly sour ingredient is vital for creative savory dishes like adobo and dipping sauce.
Ginger: Ginger has an easily recognizable spicy and sour kick. It’s a spice that will warm you up from the inside with its buzzing flavor, making it perfect for Filipino foods like tinola.
Lemongrass: Like ginger, lemongrass has a pungent, zingy flavor that leans more toward citrus. It is commonly used in Filipino cuisine to flavor light soups and can even be made into a tea.
Tamarind: Tamarind is a tangy fruit that grows in pea-like pods. It has a classic “sweet and sour” flavor and is a popular souring agent in Filipino cooking.
Filipino foods are an incredible collaboration of cultures, and yet each dish is as unique as the country itself. Whether you decide to join a cooking class, create some Filipino foods at home or travel to the Philippines, we hope this article has inspired you to try something new and expand your flavor horizons!
For even more fun ways to explore food, check out other experiences happening on Cozymeal.