Country Cooking

Our street food is thriving, despite Singapore snub


CHICKEN inasal and lechon at a stand

At the World Street Food Congress held on the first week of June, a friend griped that there wasn’t any Filipino street food mentioned, nor were there any on exhibit.

Of course, Singapore was there, being the host country with its most well-known blogger and TV host KF Seetoh as main organizer, and street food being a part of Singaporean culinary life.

Our near neighbor, Indonesia, was cited and other countries far from the Philippines as well.

Filipino food was mentioned though by Saveur editor in chief James Osland in a private interview with Inquirer Lifestyle’s Alya Honasan. He was familiar with turo-turo cooking from his Filipino friends in the Bay Area, and prefers what he calls “grandma cooking.”

My disappointed friend and I started to enumerate the street food we had seen and eaten all these years.


‘Dirty’ ice cream

We started off with those outside of schools that the nuns warned us against. The green mango vendor came to mind, and the perfect way he pared those pieces so that the skin looked like flower petals, and the purple red bagoong alamang, both alarming and attractive, that he wiped on each mango cheek.

Ditto the ice cream cart and the trio of favorite flavors—mangga, ube, keso—the “dirty” ice cream as the nuns called the product that was expertly placed on cones or on pan de limon with what looked like a palette knife instead of a scoop.

Much later it was fishballs. We remember how Doreen G. Fernandez wrote about how colegiala described skewering the balls as “make tusok-tusok” and hearing them now in my head, saying it in their high-pitched nasal way à la Kris.

At the Quiapo market area, kitchen staff cooked pancit in huge vats that, once done, were displayed on nearby carts. Small chairs were provided to the customers.

‘Empanada’ in Ilocos

We moved on to the provinces.

BARBECUE at Talisay in Cebu

In Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, the empanada vendor must have been glad that our bus conked out right where she was. We were equally glad it did, because we watched an empanada demo right there, including the eating. Her cart was to be pulled away later by the tricycle that also held all the ingredients.

She had balut as well for the drinkers in the area.

Vigan in Ilocos Sur was where I had my first taste of empanada, as I waited impatiently for the afternoon when the vendors would come in and occupy the plaza.

My favorite, though, was on a little street near my hotel, a lone vendor who made what is still, for me, the best empanada.

Alas, today, the plaza is no longer the venue for those afternoon delights which are already in permanent structures elsewhere, where turnovers are available all day and all night.

Behind Nepo Mart in Angeles, stalls selling everything fried, attracting mostly students who want to stretch their allowance.

Chicken spare parts like chicharon of intestines and pork chicharon were the most popular fare. We older ones were thrilled to challenge our health with the cholesterol build-up.

‘Proven’ chicken bits

That was how I remembered one street food in Lipa, Batangas. The sign said “proven”, but the image looked something like fried chicken skin.

The vendors said “proven” was a part of the intestine. It was only recently that I looked it up. The online dictionary said the chicken part is proventiculus, “the division of the stomach in birds that secretes digestive enzymes and passes food from the crop to the gizzard.”

Apparently that part is thrown away when the chicken is dressed in the processing plant. It has assumed the name “proben” in some areas because we have the propensity to get our “b’s” and “v’s” mixed up. (At our airport, a digital sign read, “Von Boyage.”)

In Santa Cruz, Marinduque, everything barbecued or fried was available at night near the plaza. One of the carts was a marvel—an all-stainless steel, modified tricycle with a glass-enclosed display area and a kerosene lamp to keep the products warm and well-lighted.

Relocated vendors

In Tacloban, Leyte, we couldn’t wait for evening when the carts of sinugba (grilled) pork and chicken filled the air with swirling smoke and barbecue aroma. One restaurant we ate in didn’t mind that we bought supplemental dish from outside and even gave us dipping sauces to go with our meal.

The last time we looked for those carts, we were told to go near the pier where the vendors are now.

JARO, Iloilo, stalls during the fiesta

There is a move to get street vendors away from the streets and move them to specific areas. It has been done in Vigan and Leyte and in Cebu where the Larsian sugba stalls have also been relocated.

Safety and hygiene are the issues cited, and this move is commendable.

In Singapore, they did the same thing but built big gymnasium-like structures with light and water facilities as well.

In Batac, the empanada vendors are housed in one area. Should it still be called street food then, when it is as organized as that?

That question can well be answered in the next World Street Food Congress.

Filipino street food should be represented next time. We have so much variety; we even have quaint names for some of the food (adidas, kwek kwek, betamax). These should be talked about, written about and exhibited.

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  • 1Fz20

    these people think they’re 1st world, arrogant, snubbish and having superiority complex condescendingly looking down on all their neighbors…someday malaysia, indonesia and even the philippines would invade them…crabs!they really have to mudsling jollibee inspite of the overwhelming customers.

    • donbonster

      amen to that Fz20

  • msI

    The main difference between your average street food in the philippines and the food from the other places listed in the article is that it is really simple and does not require much skill to make. Therefore its quality is lower, than say ,what is available in singapore where the dishes are really at or above restaurant quality.

    Most of the pinoy dishes listed in the article are actually available in some form just about anywhere ( grilled chicken, ice cream)…so while they may be good and have filled millions of bellies and formed as many memories for people, they are much less unique and special as their counterparts abroad.

    Part of the problem lies with the fast food mentality in the philippines where paradoxically people think the food is actually high quality when it is not. Therefore they cannot really comprehend the concept of exceptionally high quality food that is on the street, because it does not exist here.

    But just as no foreigner can deny the evident popularity of jollibee, no filipino who travels abroad can deny that street is incredibly popular all over asia and in fact is preferred to fast food.

    • AllaMo

      And, you think your tastes are of higher quality? Eat my shorts, dick.

      • msI

        If you think filipino food, as it stands in 2013 is as good as any other south east asian cuisines, then yes I do.

        The only people in the world who like philippine cuisine are filipinos. There might be 50 filipino restaurants in the US compared to 50,000 thai, malaysian, etc and our population is much greater. It is not because we assimilate better abroad. It s not because we choose to be nurses rather than restaurant operators.

        It is because the food just fails when it has to compete with other cuisines. In the philippines, it plays fine to the home crowd and to those raised on it, it will always be comfort food. But when looked at objectively by the rest of the world, and those filipinos abroad who have a wider perspective, it is obviously inferior.

        And why? Because it has been dumbed down by all the waves of influences rather than raised up. At one point, it might have been a great cuisine, perhaps before the spanish or even after, but it has lost nearly all the ingredients it had shared with the rest of asia and now it is one long stream of processed spices, meats and cheap quality products, most of which are controlled by enormous food conglomerates who feed it to the population through tv since birth and essentially never let in competitors. or even those who might break their monopoly on these commodities and this way of thinking

        If you don’t know any better, then I cannot blame you because you haven’t been exposed to the truth. Most filipinos are the same way and happily ignorant about it. Such is the power of brainwashing.

        I hope when your day comes to see the truth, you will accept it instead of defending a pointless argument. Or better yet, pick up a knife and get filipino food back on track with the rest of the world. We have about 400 years of mediocrity to erase and it has to be done one plate at a time.

      • Commentator

        this one…gets IT…


  • AllaMo

    Singapore’s “snub” is no food off our plates nor palates.

  • antoncervantesjr

    Because we Filipinos are “cockroaches” as far as Singaporeans are concerned.


    sa Singapore ay walang AZUCENA ala BAGUIO!

  • kismaytami

    Who cares? As long we enjoy our street food here, it’s just fine. They’re so called street food congress is not something so special at all.

  • Iggy Ramirez

    Filipino street food is rich in Hepatitis. 73% of those who contracted the dreaded virus reported eating from this cesspool of deadly diseases.

    Come on. Filipino street food do not taste good. They are disgusting and hygienic at best. Talking about taste, they don’t taste as good as those in Thailand or Singapore. The variety is just not there. They’re very simple. Sellers only aim for more sales. More about quantity than about quality.

    But I mean, who cares? Poor people gobble them up like they are the most delicious food in the world. They can fill the stomach of the tired and weary workers. Who cares about taste if you have a crunching stomach anyway? The hypocrite Singaporeans?

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