There are so many things to see and do in the Philippines, but when you are in the capital—Manila—going for a full-blown street-food tour must never be missing from your itinerary. The streets of Manila are littered with all manner of delicacies, some so strange that you can’t even imagine they exist. The beauty of it, however, is that you get a unique chance to sample new and tasty delights that will give you a good introduction to the incredible culinary diversity of the region. And the best part? Most of them are extremely affordable! However, with hundreds of food to choose from, how do you know which ones to try first? Scroll below to find our recommendations for the best street food you must try in Manila, the Philippines.
1. Kwek-kwek (fried orange quail eggs)
Kwek-kwek is undoubtedly an insanely popular snack on the streets of Manila. The orange-colored fried balls are a common sight in most neighborhoods and a favorite snack for both locals and visitors hoping to keep hunger at bay. They are made of boiled quail eggs coated with flour and butter before being deep-fried to perfection. While getting served, it is common to season them with chilies, vinegar, and onions. Though considered snacks, they can be extremely satiating if you take one too many.
Kwek-kwek is often sold in sets of four or three pieces on a stick, and two orders of it already make me feel full. So if you're planning to try other street food, just go for at least one stick. There are also different kinds of this snack you'll find on the street, including the ones made with regular eggs and balut.
2. Lumpia (spring rolls)
Lumpia are not native to the Philippines since their origin is in China, but you will find them in plenty on the streets of Manila. Think of them as savory spring rolls made with a thin crepe-pastry skin commonly known as lumpia wrapper. Inside the wrapper, there are several delicious fillings, with the common ones being minced meats, chopped vegetables, and a variety of seasoning. The rolls are deep-fried ‘til they have a crunchy texture. You can eat them as is, or you can use ketchup or other special sauces as condiments to increase the flavors.
3. Isaw (barbecued pig or chicken intestines)
Isaw is a very popular snack, especially in the late afternoons on the streets of Manila. When you step out at this time, you will be hit by the smell of charcoal firing the grills, which will soon be smoking to perfection pig and chicken intestines on skewers. The intestines are cleaned, then rolled onto the skewers before being tossed on top of the hot grills. Once ready, the skewers are served with vinegar to add flavor and counter any objectionable smell or taste that might still be present on the intestines.
Tip from Trip101 local expert
Isaw is my favorite among all street food barbecue! I always ask the vendor give it that perfect toast for that delightful hint of crunchiness. And when it comes to the sauce, I lean towards the sweet one rather than the traditional vinegar dip. It's the ultimate combo that never fails to hit the spot!
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4. Halo-halo (a cold dessert of ice, milk, and other ingredients)
Halo-halo is another popular street dessert that reigns supreme during hot and humid Manila mornings. The legendary snack comprises a blend of jellies, sweet beans, coconut, fruits, condensed milk, and a generous amount of shaved ice. It may be served in a plastic cup placed inside a polyethylene bag if you want a takeaway, or a glass if you will be eating it right at the stall. You can bet this is one of the most aesthetically appealing refreshments you will ever find on the streets of Manila.
Manila Tour Guide
Manila Tour Guide
5. Taho (sweet snack food)
You may encounter taho as a drink or a dessert, and it is one of the sweetest snacks you will find in Manila. It is made with a sweet syrup and several cubes of soft silken tofu. You can take it with a spoon or just slurp it with a straw to satisfy your soul and give you some reprieve from hunger. If you don’t mind the sugar, it is a great drink for cool mornings or late afternoons.
6. Turon (spring roll made from thinly sliced bananas)
When you learn about turon’s ingredients, you may dismiss it as a simple, nonstarter snack. The appearance is plain and very basic, and some might not take notice. However, everything will change when its flavors hit your taste buds. The snack comprises of a combination of jackfruit and a slice of banana stuffed in a lumpia wrapper before being deep-fried to a crispy texture. Taking one too many may not leave any room in your stomach for other street food.
7. Filipino fish ball
Most Filipino delicacies feature a lot of fish, but before you settle down in a restaurant for the tuna special of the day, you can start whetting your appetite on the streets with tasty Filipino fish balls. They are simple fish fillets kneaded into small balls, seasoned and then deep-fried. Kids love them to death. Nowadays, however, you will find variations of this food featuring other meats apart from fish. For example, most of the vendors selling them will also give you other options such as chicken balls and squid balls.
Tip from Trip101 local expert
Remember to dip each ball in sweet and spicy sauces for a completely yummy taste. In addition to the balls, vendors also cook meat rolls called "kikiam," made of ground pork and minced shrimp. All these treats are cooked in the same pot and have the same dipping sauces, so better try it on one serving.
8. Banana cue
So far, most of the street food discussed above is mainly fast food—which guys who are a bit conscious of their health may have reservations eating. For those looking for healthy options, the banana cue is one of the best recommendations you will get. They are normal bananas, coated in caramelized sugar, then skewered into a stick before being deep-fried. They are incredibly tasty, especially when the burnt sugar flavors hit your tongue. You will find them being sold alongside turon, and you are always free to order them together if you want some volume in your tummy.
9. Dirty ice cream
For the curious lot, don’t think that the name of this snack implies that it is dirty or lacking in hygiene. The origin of the name is from the outward appearance of the vendors that sell them and their street carts. After walking for miles on foot—and without any gloves, hand sanitizers, or soap to wash their hands—the vendors will dig straight into the cart to scoop the cold treats. Though their appearance may be deceiving, they carry the sweetest relief you will ever need during hot days. They are available in a variety of flavors, with some having distinct and addictive tastes that will make you forget about the vendor or the cart and order more.
If you are the adventurous type, then you will fall in love with the prospects of eating helmets and adidas. They are the terms used to refer to chicken heads and chicken feet—edible chicken parts but which people don’t like cooking with the rest of the good parts. The heads and feet are poked into skewers, then grilled over charcoal. Their first appearance may not be very pleasant, but with the marinating, seasoning, and grilling, adidas are pretty tasty.
11. Betamax (pork blood)
Here comes another adventurous name for yet another famous Manila street food—Betamax. It is called as such because it comes in cube shapes similar to the old-school Betamax tapes. For those encountering it for the first time, pork blood may not seem appealing. However, Filipino are experts at turning it into a great food snack. The blood is first cooled so that it becomes gelatinous and solid. It is then cut into rectangular “Betamax” shapes, then skewered before being grilled over hot charcoal. It does have a liver-like texture, and when you give it a generous amount of BBQ marinade and vinegar, your opinion about eating blood will change forever.
12. Tenga (pork ears)
In Manila, no food is wasted—the locals even have a way of ensuring that pork ears are not discarded. The ears are first boiled to make them soft and tender. Then they are marinated and deep-fried until they become crispy. If you take many of them, they can become a complete meal. You can also see them sold as street snacks, barbecued, and it is common for people to consume them with beer.
13. Atay (pork liver)
This is another favorite snack you will find on the streets of Manila. With pork liver, there are two distinct ways for its preparation. The first one is normal deep-frying, where the liver is marinated, then fried in boiling oil. Once ready, it is served with various sauces to add flavors. The second method involves grilling the liver over hot charcoal. The liver is cut into smaller pieces, marinated, and then skewered on a stick before being tossed over a hot grill.
14. Iskrambol (ice scramble, a frozen dessert)
Iskrambol is the Filipino version of ice scramble. It refers to a frozen dessert featuring evaporated milk, banana extract, and shaved ice, then topped with a myriad of ingredients—including tapioca pearls, candy sprinkles, chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, marshmallows, and many others. It is not just aesthetically appealing but also greatly satisfying when all the flavors hit your taste buds. It is a favorite snack for hot summer afternoons. Since it is available in plenty on the streets, it offers great relief when the heat starts to become upsetting.
15. Buko juice
Since the Philippines is an archipelago—a conglomeration of tropical islands—the country does not need to import coconuts, which is the main requirement when serving the exceedingly refreshing buko juice. In Filipino, the term buko refers to a young coconut. Buko juice, therefore, means a young coconut milk drink. The vendors have two main varieties of the drink. The first one is fresh juice from the young coconut. Depending on your preference, you can choose to drink directly from the coconut using a straw or you can request for the juice to be poured into a glass or a bottle. Either way, the flavor is the same—only that with the former, you can simply walk away with the entire coconut after buying. The second method sometimes uses canned buko juice concentrates. The concentrate is diluted in clean water, refrigerated, and then sold cold to customers.
16. Puwet ng manok (barbecued chicken bottoms)
Puwet ng manok is another exciting choice for street-food adventurers who are not afraid to try new and strange things. The name in Filipino means “chicken ass,” and they are exactly that. With this fare, pieces of chicken bottoms are thoroughly cleaned, then marinated before being skewered and grilled over hot charcoal. They are very fatty, with a soft portion of cartilage running through. So long as you don’t imagine what you might be chewing, puwet ng manok is sweet and very satisfying.
17. Balut (boiled duck embryo)
Balut is fondly referred to as the king of Filipino street food, and on many occasions, it has featured prominently on lists of weird things people eat around the world. This is a street delicacy you would not wish to try if you are faint-hearted. It consists of a partially developed duck embryo, boiled, and served with chilies and vinegar. To eat it, you begin by cracking a small hole at the top of the shell, then draining the chicken soup onto your mouth before peeling the rest of the egg. The salt and the vinegar are for seasoning, and you are free to eat both the embryo and the yolk. How does it taste? You have to try it firsthand to know. Although some foreigners and a few locals might find it too exotic for their liking, there are also many who swear by its juicy and savory flavors.
18. Balunbalunan (chicken gizzard)
Chicken gizzards have never been sweeter as they are on the streets of Manila. They are among those varieties of meats you will find grazing the skewers on the grills. The gizzards are cleaned, cut into bite-size pieces, then marinated in a barbecue sauce before being skewered and grilled to perfection. Once the gizzards are off the grill, you can eat them as is, or you can season further with chilies, vinegar, and onions. They may be a bit chewy, but if you get past that, they are insanely delicious.
Enjoy street-food tours in Manila
If you are a street-food junkie, then walking the streets of Manila will be like strolling along the streets of paradise. The variety of offerings to choose from is incredible, and the flavors are nothing but heavenly. Read the above recommendations to know about the best street food you must try in Manila, Philippines, before you set foot in the country.
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