Last Updated on March 22, 2023
For most foodie travellers, Manila isn’t known as a street food destination. But as a local, I can attest to the richness and variety of the street eats of Manila. From savoury snacks to on-the-go desserts, there is a dish that will satisfy every craving and even challenge some palates. Here’s a list of 8 street food staples that are well-loved by every Filipino.
Isaw (Grilled Chicken or Pork Intestine)
Isaw refers to either chicken or pork intestine that is skewered and grilled over hot coals. Usually found outside neighbourhood corner stores, this Filipino favourite can be eaten on its own, accompanied with rice or a couple of beers. The chewy and fatty texture may be a challenge for some. But trust me, every bite will be an explosion of chicken and porky goodness. And aside from the quality of meat, every isaw vendor prides themselves on having their own vinegar mix. It usually consists of chili, garlic, onions, brown sugar, calamansi (a native lime) and soy sauce that accompanies the isaw to cut through its richness for a full balance of flavour.
Fish ball carts are usually parked in front of school and offices, ready to greet students and office workers after their daily grind. Customers choose from fish, squid and chicken balls that are fried up to their desired crispiness. Once ready, you can dip these little balls of goodness into a sweet, sweet & spicy, or chili-vinegar sauce. ( I personally mix sweet and spicy with the vinegar). And at 5 pesos a piece ( roughly .10 USD), you can have your fill without hurting your wallet.
The Super Egg (AKA “Kwek-kwek“)
Yes, “Kwek-Kwek” does sound funny but this simple snack is serious in flavour and satisfaction. A super egg is either a chicken, duck or quail egg that is thickly battered with a mix of flour and eggs. Orange food colouring is also added that gives the kwek-kwek its trademark look. It is deep fried until the batter achieves a perfect crunchiness. That crispy cover compliments the soft and gooey interior of the egg. Chili or sweetened vinegar is used as a condiment to further elevate this snack. And, moreover, at just 10 pesos per piece (roughly .20 USD), most Filipino’s would buy 2 or 3 to accompany them on their commute.
Mami (Wanton or Beef Noodle Soup)
These steaming bowls of goodness are often sold on bicycle trikes. The vendor would have a boiling hot cauldron of beef or chicken broth by his side. Then, he scoops up and mixes with fresh egg noodles and beef or chicken meat, depending on the customer’s order. Condiment options range from calamansi, soy sauce, patis (fish sauce) and black pepper. This serves as a hearty breakfast for Filipino’s before going to school or the office.
Taho (Soft Soy Bean Pudding)
I’ve tried soft or silken tofu in Chinese, Cantonese and Japanese cuisine and they tend to turn this humble ingredient into a savory dish. That’s why I think our version called “taho” is unique, because it is more like a dessert. Taho vendors would mix arnibal (rich sugar syrup) and sago (tapioca) with silken tofu pudding. Therefore, turning it into a warm sweetened delight.
TAKEAWAY: Aside from being eaten by students and office workers, taho has become popular as a pre and post-workout snack. That’s because every small cup packs loads of protein and energy.
Turon (Fried Banana Spring Rolls)
Being a tropical country, bananas are everywhere in the Philippines. Hence the popularity of turon which is slices of bananas wrapped with egg rolls and are fried up to a crunchy consistency. They are tossed together with caramelised sugar syrup and sprinkled with sesame seed. Some versions contain slices of langka or jackfruit that further enhances the full sweetness of this warm and filling dessert.
It’s halo-halo time! There are countless variations of this popular Filipino dessert. Essentially, it’s a layered dessert consisting of shaved ice, evaporated milk, ice cream, and a variety of mix-ins like sweetened beans, jackfruit, and coconut gelatin. I’m sharing this recipe for the #virtualmidsummerpotluck4peace hosted by @labnoon ❤️
Directly translated it means “mix-mix” which is the perfect description for halo-halo. Since it is a mixture of shaved ice and evaporated milk topped with sweet beans, coconut shavings, tapioca, gulaman (agar jelly) and various kinds of fruits. Vendors serve it in a tall glass or bowl. Despite having an assortment of ingredients, each bite of halo-halo is a perfect balance of sweet and milky flavours highlighted by the cooling sensation of the shaved ice. This makes halo-halo a favourite especially during the warm summer days in Manila.
Buko (Coconut Water or Juice)
When you order buko from a street vendor, they will expertly split the shell enough for you to drink the water and scrape off the delicate coconut meat inside. Buko is filling, hydrating, and refreshing on a hot day. On the other hand, the meat has a slightly sweet coconutty flavour. That taste is especially satisfying after a big meal. And it also serves as fuel for every Filipino throughout the course of their day.
These are just some of the street eats of Manila that a foodie traveller can try. They may seem simple but are packed with unique flavours that make them a must try for every visitor. They also serve as a gateway, for one to immerse him or herself into the rich and diverse Filipino food culture.
But don’t just take my word for it, please check out Mark Wiens of Migrationology, who visited Manila recently. And by his reaction, I think he had an awesome and interesting time trying out our street foods.