The eating habit of a Filipino consists of three large meals a day and several snacks. This is where street food comes in. The Philippines has a wide variety of street snacks – some sweet, some savory, and mostly bizarre to western tourists.
Southeast Asian countries have a reputation for providing the best street food in the world; that’s why everywhere you look in every corner of Manila you’ll find street food that is affordable yet delicious.
Most street food vendors can be found outside schools, public transit stations, and one on every sidewalk with high foot traffic.
1. Filipino BBQ
A must-have part of any Filipino occasion, these pork skewers are the epitome of Filipino street food.
This snack can be found on every street corner, grilling on a makeshift grill. It is very affordable and can be purchased by the stick or by the bundle.
Each pork barbecue consists of marinated pork in sweet and sour barbecue sauce, thinly sliced into square inches, layered on the skewer with the iconic piece of fat on the end. With every bite, you can enjoy the sweet, savory and spicy flavors in one go.
It is served as ‘pulutan (“pooh-loo-tan”), which translates to appetizers served with beer. It can also stand alone as a viand served with rice.
Grilled Isaw refers to the large intestine of a pig or chicken that has been cleaned, cooked until tender, and then grilled. This is one of the most popular street foods in the Philippines that goes well with beer or spirits, but can also be eaten with rice.
Once cleaned and cooked, the isaw or intestines are marinated in sweet and sour sauce, rolled on skewers and grilled over charcoal. The smoky flavor is complemented by a sweet and tangy vinegar sauce, making it a perfect afternoon snack or appetizer.
Kwek-kwek are fried quail eggs covered with orange batter. This street food is served on skewers or in plastic cups, dipped in vinegar sauce with minced garlic, onion, chilies and cucumber.
Kwek-kwek is simple; yet it is bursting with great flavors that all Filipinos know. However, the cholesterol content of quail eggs in kwek-kwek is very high; therefore it is advised to eat with caution, just like any other street food.
Ukoy or Okoy is a delicious dish that is very popular in the Philippines. It is an easy to cook and very tasty Filipino appetizer. This street food is prepared with unpeeled small shrimp (head and shell on) that are mixed with flour, cornstarch and egg batter and deep fried until crispy.
There are now other variants of Okoy; some use sweet potato as the main ingredient, while others use pumpkin, papaya, or togue bean sprouts. The taste of Ukoy is even better with a dipping sauce in vinegar.
Named for the 1970s black rectangular tapes it resembles, Betamax is grilled, coagulated pig or chicken blood.
It is indeed not for the faint of heart, but it is not as repulsive as it may sound. It has no foul or robust taste or odor. It’s grilled, with a colorful texture and, surprisingly, it doesn’t taste like blood, but more like the barbecue marinade or vinegar sauce used. That’s why it’s critical to dip it in sauce to enjoy this street food.
Filipinos like to play with street food names – Adidas is slang for barbecued chicken feet, named after the famous shoe brand.
Eating chicken feet in Southeast Asia is quite common; they are usually served in bamboo steamers simmered in sticky sweet and sour sauce. Adidas, on the other hand, is marinated in soy sauce and then grilled on a stick and served with a vinegar dip.
Chicken legs may not appeal to everyone, but it’s an ingenious way to ensure that no part of the chicken goes to waste. Adidas is basically all skin and tendons. It is very gelatinous and can be an acquired taste.
This street food became popular in the early 2000s; these are squid rings battered and fried to perfection and served with various sauces such as aioli or vinegar with peppers. Calamari are fried for less than two minutes to prevent them from becoming too chewy.
In Chinese cuisine, the squid is often dried, covered in a salt and pepper batter, and served with a spicy hot garnish of chili and salt. Calamari are now considered a street food in the Philippines.
8. Have / Walkman
Named after the iconic rise of Walkman and pop culture in the Philippines, Walkman are pig ears that are chopped into bite-sized pieces, skewered and grilled to perfection.
Pork ears are a truly delicious medley of textures. They are marbled with bits of meat, skin and gristle that take a little more work in tenderizing before hitting the hot grill.
The meat is first marinated in vinegar and soy sauce before being cut into bite-sized pieces. The skewers are then finished on the grill with an occasional basting of homemade sweet and sour barbecue sauce. Although a little chewy and chewy, this is quite a popular dish among street vendors.
9. Day-old chick
This hard-to-digest street food is literally a day-old chick. Egg farms reject male chicks because such a batch would not produce eggs; so they are turned into street food. Also, male chicks do not grow quickly for meat production, so poultry farmers prefer female chicks.
The newly hatched male chicks are fried in batter and eaten whole, as the bones are soft enough to be chewed. These cooked day-old chicks are usually dipped in vinegar, sweet chili sauce, or just chili sauce with diced cucumber and onions. Some prefer to eat them on skewers, others like to eat them with rice.
There is a trick to eating this snack. Filipinos ate the head first, then the body, and finally the feet. The beak and bones are still soft, so you can literally eat a whole chicken in a few bites. Its intriguing appearance and delicious flavors make it one of the best street foods in our country.
Beef Pares has been a popular street food since it was invented in the 1970s. This Chinese-style beef stew is mildly sweet and aromatic; it is served with garlic fried rice and some beef stock.
Having spread mainly in the northern part of Metro Manila, Pares has now become a street food popular among Filipinos craving a good and quick meal that can be eaten on the sidewalk. The tender cooked beef brisket is cooked in a special mix of spices with sugar, soy sauce, star anise, garlic and ginger.
Ikrambol is a pink milk-based slushy drink. It is derived from the English word ‘scramble’, referring to the mixing of shaved ice.
Iskrambol is sold on the streets of the Philippines, especially through stalls near primary schools and parks. It’s just shaved ice, evaporated milk, food coloring and flavorings.
It’s still a mystery where this street food comes from, but street vendors are said to have made it really popular by preparing it with all those colors, liberally drizzled with chocolate syrup and topped with powdered milk. It is one of the many classic cold street foods in the Philippines that everyone can enjoy.
12. Dirty ice cream/sorbet ice cream
Sorbetes is a popular Filipino ice cream flavored with ingredients such as mango, chocolate, cheese, coconut, and purple yam (ube). It is called dirty ice cream simply because there were mothers who constantly warned their children that ice cream is “dirty” to prevent them from asking for it.
Historians say that Filipinos originally used coconut milk instead of animal milk because the Philippines is rich in coconut trees. Today it is made from carabao or cow’s milk and served in small balls on sugar cones.
Some Filipinos like to eat it as a sandwich, between sandwiches, like a hamburger. Sorbetes can usually be found at numerous street food carts in the Philippines.
Sometimes called dos-tres because of the original price of two pesos for the bopis and three pesos for the litid (tendon). This local snack is arguably the grossest looking street food in the Philippines.
The fat sticks of bopis (minced pork lungs and heart) and litid (tires and fats) have a pleasant aroma and are sold at a very cheap price. The preparation of this street food starts with cleaning the offal under running water, scrubbing it with salt, and then soaking it in vinegar to reduce slack. After being cleaned, the offal is then marinated in soy sauce and other spices.
Because of its funky texture and chewiness, it is chopped into small pieces, making it easier to chew before finally being deep-fried.
Chicken Skin Chicharon is one of the cheapest street food in the Philippines. Chicken Skin is made with chicken skin that has been deep fried until crispy and golden brown. It has a good crunch and taste, which can satisfy the craving for fatty foods.
The chicken skin is coated with flour and mixed herbs and deep fried in cooking oil. It is served on the street in a plastic cup with spiced vinegar. Chicken Skin Chicharon is one of the guilty pleasure snacks in the Philippines as it has high cholesterol and fat content.
15. Fish Ball/Squid Ball
Fish balls/squid balls – the all-time favorite Filipino street food; these are usually served by grabbing your own small bamboo skewer and sticking them straight out of the wok.
Most fish balls are actually flat in shape while squid balls are round. Essentially, this is ground fish or squid meat combined with some fillers like flour and spices. The balls are preformed and then fried by the vendors on their food carts. This is probably the most tame of all Filipino street food.
They are traditionally served on a stick, although some vendors serve them in plastic cups. Both fish balls and squid balls have a variety of dipping sauces to choose from: spicy vinegar, sweet and sour sauce, sweet sauce or a mix of everything.
Related: Popular Philippine Christmas Meals and Desserts
Related: Popular Filipino Foods
Related: Popular Filipino Desserts