Filipinos are very proud of their culinary culture and with good reason. Travelers will find delicious food and drinks in the Philippines, with many dishes made of rice, seafood, and meat and a variety of sweet beverages.
Those who do not feel particularly adventurous will be comfortable eating at a Filipino table. Using many spices and exotic meats (such as insects) is not as popular here as it is in other Asian countries.
However, that does not mean that there is not a great variety of street food and dishes unknown to most Western visitors. And if years ago it was slightly harder to find vegetarian options in the Philippines compared to other cuisines in the area, a great number of young and imaginative restaurants are inventing and re-inventing meat-free recipes every day.
In this guide to Filipino food for travelers, readers will find:
- Typical dishes and drinks of the Philippines
- Philippines food culture including dining etiquette and tipping
- Food safety advice
What Is the National Dish of the Philippines?
The most famous food in the Philippines is Adobo. It is a meat recipe that can be made with braised pork or chicken and a tangy sauce made of soy, vinegar, and garlic.
Other typical dishes and drinks of the Philippines that tourists can try while in the country include:
- Lechón. A dish prepared during festivities to share with friends and family, the lechón is a roasted baby piglet.
- Halo-Halo. Also spelled haluhalo, this is a cold dessert made of crushed ice, evaporated milk, and several other ingredients such as coconut, rice, gelatine, fruit slices, and more.
- Kare-Kare. A meat stew flavored with peanut and garlic. Vegetarian and seafood versions are also widely available.
- Sisig. A pork recipe where the meat is marinated in sour flavors such as lemon juice or vinegar. This dish is so important to local culture that the city government of Angeles declared Sizzling Sisig Babi (Pork Sisig) an intangible heritage of the city.
- Balut. This Filipino street food dish is often considered the most exotic and peculiar local delicacy. However, it is served across the country, usually as a snack to accompany beer or other drinks. It consists of a developing duck embryo. The egg is boiled and eaten from the shell.
Where to Eat and Drink in the Philippines
Depending on the location, visitors may find plenty of choices or traditional options only while touring the Philippines.
Manila, the country’s capital city, offers seemingly endless alternatives, including:
- Western-style fast-food chains and sandwich bars
- Food courts with several restaurants in one place (usually found inside shopping malls)
- Street food vendors with portable stoves
- Carinderia is the local name for buffet restaurants where patrons select their servings from big aluminum pots lined on a counter
- Traditional establishments present affordable and local food
- Seafood restaurants allow clients to choose their seafood while displayed on ice
- International cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese, and European can be found across the city
In smaller towns and provinces, there will be more limited choices and establishments. However, this does not mean less flavor.
Often, those staying in small resorts are asked in the morning what they’d like to eat later in the day. The hotel staff then goes to buy fresh food accordingly at the market or from a local fisherman.
Temperatures in the Philippines can rise significantly, which is one reason why many tourists consider cooler months to be the best time to visit the archipelago. For those who prefer a beach holiday, there are several refreshing drinks available, including:
- Coconut water
- Fresh fruit juices, such as mango, sour mango, watermelon, and papaya. Visitors should note that juice and other drinks are often sweetened, so it is a good idea to ask for no added sugar
- Coffee can be found everywhere while tea is rarer
- Beer is very popular (San Miguel is the most widely sold brand) while wine can be found in selected restaurants and shops only. The Philippines produce a good choice of spirits such as Tanduay rum, San Miguel Ginebra (gin) and Fundador brandy
The Filipino Dining Etiquette
As with everything else when traveling abroad, knowing the local etiquette and customs will make the trip a richer and smoother experience.
The first dining custom that Westerners will be surprised by is the absence of a knife from most traditional tables. It is completely normal in the Philippines to use just a spoon and fork to eat. That is because although many Filipino dishes include meat, this often comes already chopped, pulled, or diced.
Traditional restaurants may serve food on a banana leaf. Patrons will not find any cutlery and are expected to eat with their hands. However, it is not impolite to ask for a spoon and fork if needed. Chopsticks are only used to eat Chinese food.
Here are some more Philippine dining manners:
- Chatting while eating is considered normal and everyone uses meals as an occasion to catch up with friends and family
- It is not polite to leave the table before everyone has finished eating
- Burping in public is considered a sign that someone has enjoyed their meal
- Packing leftover food is common in restaurants and it is impolite to refuse a leftover package when leaving
There is no traditional tipping culture in the Philippines, meaning that clients are not always expected to tip as they are in countries like the U.S. However, it is becoming increasingly more common to leave a small tip (usually, 8 to 10% of the bill) if one finds the service satisfying. Moreover, many establishments incorporate a ‘service charge’ in their final bill.
The legal drinking age in the Philippines is 18.
What are the meal times in the Philippines?
Dinner and lunch menus are very similar in the Philippines so unlike other countries, one is not necessarily lighter than the other. The main difference between meals is the time at which they are served and the fact that dinner is usually the only one followed by dessert.
Find below the traditional Filipino meal times:
- Breakfast is eaten between 7-9 am and consists of coffee, rice, and eggs with a variety of ingredients like Spanish sausage and vegetables
- Lunch is served at around noon until 1:30 pm. Since there is no difference between lunch and dinner, patrons can order anything from noodles to adobo
- Dinner time is usually around 6-8 pm. As with lunch, there is a great variety of options available.
Can You Drink Tap Water in the Philippines?
Although many locals drink tap water, it is best to avoid it to ensure a safe time in the country. That is because contamination depends on several factors, including the pipes’ age and a specific city or town’s environment, which are often unknown to foreign visitors.
Bottled water is available everywhere, just make sure that the lid is sealed. It is also advisable to drink ice-free beverages unless one is sure about the ice’s safety.
In general and like always when on holiday in a foreign country, it is a good idea to prefer foods that have been cooked thoroughly and fruits and vegetables that can be washed or peeled. This is a common food safety advice that can help visitors have a healthy holiday in the Philippines, just like checking vaccine requirements.