Filipino foods are mighty awesome, and we crave them when we need comforting or just when we want a taste of home. Most of these foods even spark fond memories, and eating them seems to bring back the good ol’ days again and again. Yet to the uninitiated, some of our good eats are just plain weird. Yes, we aren’t talking about main stream fastfood and drinks (like milk tea) today!
For instance, we have various animal spare parts skewered on sticks and eaten as snacks, though some people would rather throw said parts away than have them for appetizers. We have dishes with all sorts of foods mixed together, and some of these combinations don’t even make any sense.
What brought about these foods and why do we like them so much anyway? If we go way, way back, past our great grandma’s time, it is said that most of our cuisine came to be because of our instinct for survival and our need to make use of whatever’s on hand to make a meal.
Whenever an animal was butchered, all the parts were prepared so that they could be fit to consume, so even the innards were meticulously cleaned and prepped instead of discarded.
Also, because of the influences of Spanish, Chinese, Malaysian, Japanese and American culture, our cuisine has evolved to reflect certain aspects of these cultures. So instead of one distinct flavor, what we get is an interesting blend of flavors in one dish.
But then, why are most foreigners hesitant to take a brave nibble? Lack of visual appeal could be one of the reasons. Admittedly, majority of our cuisine is not very attractive. You have a lot of brown in one bowl, with maybe a vegetable or two for color: it’s dull and not as visually appealing as Korean or Japanese food, which isn’t just bright and colorful but also often artistically arranged. All five senses are engaged when people eat, and visual appeal is very important to whet the appetite. Why do you think most restaurants take pains to arrange food in an artful pile instead of just plopping it on a plate? Still, what we lack in little flourishes and artistry, we make up in flavor. Here are the top 10 weird but awesome Filipino foods that everyone should try – at least once anyway:
1. Isaw – This is grilled chicken or pork intestines, served on a bamboo skewer and dipped in a spicy vinegar sauce. Yes, you read it right. Intestines. Don’t worry, they’ve been meticulously cleaned so there won’t be any ick factor whenever you take a bite. There are two versions of isaw. Some vendors coat the intestines in batter before deep frying, while others go with the old school method of grilling it while basting frequently with a sauce made from banana ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar and spices. Don’t even think about skipping the vinegar dip, it makes it taste even better. Isaw goes well with a bottle of Coke, and even better with an ice cold beer.
2. Helmet – Grilled chicken head on a stick, comb not included. We Pinoys do have a strange sense of humor about our food, hence the name.
3. Adidas – Yeah, we’re not talking about the shoes. Another catchy name for a weird food, this refers to grilled chicken feet. The claws, tips of the toes and the tough outer layer is removed before basting and grilling, so don’t worry, there will be no odd scratching sensation in your mouth once you take a bite. Chicken feet is originally a Chinese delicacy, but we Filipinos put our own spin on it. Though I wonder why it was called Adidas in the first place. It could’ve been called Reebok or Nike. Or Manolos.
4. Betamax – I told you we like to make fun of our food. This is dried chicken blood shaped into cubes, then grilled and dipped in (you guessed it) spicy vinegar. To anyone reading this who wasn’t around during the 80’s, a Betamax is used to watch and record movies. The shape of this food is similar to the old relic’s cartridges, hence the name.
5. Kwek kwek – Just when you were getting tired of chicken innards, finally, here’s a street food that you can imagine eating, even if you’ve never seen it up close. A kwek kwek is a hardboiled quail egg dipped in an orange batter and served with a vinegary or sweet sauce. Several kwek kweks are skewered on a stick for easy eating, but don’t overdo it. Though this is delicious, it’s high in cholesterol, so as with all things good, moderation is key when enjoying this food.
6. Dinuguan – Widely referred to as blood pudding by foreigners in the know, this is a stew made from pork meat, a bit of chili and vinegar simmered in some pig’s blood. The result is a pitch black stew that can be a little disconcerting at first, but serve this with some rice or puto (a Filipino rice cake) and you’ll love this dish. And don’t worry, ingesting pork blood won’t make you sparkle in the sunlight like an emo vampire.
7. Balut – For some reason, a documentary showing the weird side of our cuisine is never complete without a shot of a foreigner gingerly trying to eat balut. This is a fertilized duck’s egg, and it’s best eaten while still piping hot. There’s an art form to eating this delicacy: you gently tap the rounded end against any hard surface (most show-offs like to use their head for this purpose), then delicately pry off the top of the cracked shell to make a small hole big enough to stick the top of your thumb in. Then you slurp up the soup, and once that’s gone, proceed to peel the egg little by little. Season the balut with some salt and a dash of vinegar, and enjoy. Most people do fine until they see the little baby chick inside. My advice is to pop it into your mouth and not make a big deal of it (you can even avoid looking at it altogether). It’s also interesting to note that balut is widely considered to be an aphrodisiac. Perhaps that’s why so many balut vendors are out at night.
8. Halo Halo – A lot of people make some serious change selling this icy treat in the summertime. It seems to hit the right spot, especially on a hot summer day. What’s weird about it is the bizarre combination of ingredients. Even the world famous Anthony Bourdain has been moved to declare it as making no sense at all while being oddly beautiful at the same time. Imagine beans, jello, tapioca, sweetened fruits under an avalanche of crushed ice topped with swirls of evaporated milk and crowned with a slathering of sweet flan and a scoop of purple yam ice cream. Pretty, huh? Well don’t just look at it! Mix it up with a spoon real quick, with a stabbing motion, until well combined. Then take your first spoonful. Not so weird now, is it?
9. Scramble – It’s pink, it’s cold, it’s yummy. Another street food, it’s a mixture of shaved ice, evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla or banana extract, and a few drops of red food coloring that turn it Pepto Bismol pink. It’s topped with chocolate syrup and some powdered milk. Every kid who went to elementary school in the 80’s and 90’s is very familiar with this treat as most vendors sell this outside the schools. And why the heck not, when it makes the most fun after-school snack ever, even after repeated warnings from Mom and Dad not to buy it for fear that their baby might get some kind of stomach flu from it? The scramble disappeared for a few years, only to be revived by enterprising individuals who made the treat more commercialized. Nowadays you can buy scramble from the malls, to the relief of a lot of parents.
10. “Dirty” Ice Cream– To be fair to the perfectly hygienic ambulant peddlers of “dirty” ice cream, this only got its name due to the unsanitary practices of some vendors back in the day. And though local government officials are now keeping a close eye on many ice cream vendors to make sure that they’re not mixing the stuff with their bare hands, the name stuck. Dirty ice cream comes in very Pinoy flavors like mango, cheese, avocado, chocolate, and the sherbet-like lemon. It can be bought in a cone or in a plastic cup for a few pesos, though you can also eat it inside a hamburger bun. In fact, many vendors carry hamburger buns for the person who wants his entrée’ and his dessert in one handy, although very drippy package. Weird they may be, but they are undeniably delicious and very affordable, perfect eats for the starving college kid or the backpacker who’s on a tight budget. So go on, live a little. Take a bite. You’ll thank me later.
Weird they may be, but they are undeniably delicious and very affordable, perfect eats for the starving college kid or the backpacker who’s on a tight budget.
So go on, live a little. Take a bite. You’ll thank me later.