Given a choice, I’d rather go out and eat street food. I prefer to visit places with manang or old cooks with 50-year-old recipes of dishes that have been passed down through generations. Discovering food like this is like searching for surprises. And if you find one, that’s your reward—an inexpensive, unique and delicious meal.
To me, there is nothing worse than to go to a place or country and eat a fusion version of its local cuisine. I like to eat what the locals eat and want exactly the same for the tourists who go there.
Similarly, visitors in the Philippines should eat what we eat. We need not adjust to suit their palates. We’re proud of our food.
At the Changi Airport, I remember going to an area just before departure where passengers can choose from a selection of Singapore’s best dishes. It had the best laksa, bak kuh teh, Hainanese chicken rice, saté, char kwey teow, Hokkien mee, all from popular restaurants. Thus, tourists left with the memory of good Singaporean street food. Brilliant idea.
If Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain were to ask me, here are the Pinoy street food I’d like them to try. Please add to this list as you please, as I may have forgotten a few.
Pork barbecue–Ineng’s or Aling Nene
Chicken barbecue–The Aristocrat boneless with Java rice
Sisig–Mila’s or Circulo
Chicharon bituka–Hector’s in Pasig
Ilocos empanada– Glory’s in Batac, Fariñas in White Plains
Crispy pata–Barrio Fiesta
Pancit–Habhab of Quezon, Cabagan in Isabela, Langlang of Lipa, Canton of Aling Lucy’s of Las Piñas
Pancit Malabon–Nanay’s of Malabon
Ukoy–Lipa night market
Inihaw na panga–Joseph & Jaemark’s
Boneless lechon– Tatang’s
Lechon–Rico’s or General’s Chili Garlic
Bibingkang malagkit–La Tasca
Ginumis and bibingkang galapong–Via Mare
Batchoy–Netong’s of Iloilo
Pancit Molo–Kapitan Icing of Iloilo
Bacolod lumpiang ubod– Celia Baylon
Turon–Turon vendor on Esteban Abada Street, Loyola Heights, Quezon City
Lechon manok–Baliwag with sauce of Andok’s
Sapin-sapin and tibok-tibok–Susie’s of Angeles
Pastillas de leche– Carreon’s of Pampanga
Miki–Janet’s of Batac, Ilocos Norte
Bagnet–Malabed Toledo of Batac with KBL (kamatis, bagoong, lasona or spring onions)
Taba ng talangka–Chef Aleth Ocampo’s version
So, why is our food not seen as appealing as Thai or Vietnamese cuisine? We have a lot of foreign-influenced dishes with ingredients that foreigners are familiar with. Caldereta is good, but the presence of tomato sauce doesn’t make it unique to tourists.
But sisig, loaded with unseen fat, calamansi, patis, fresh onions, tender sticky pork—all that flavor and texture makes the dish unique to a visitor.
If only the Department of Tourism can gather the best of Pinoy street food in one place, then we can have a destination where foreigners can go and enjoy authentic local cuisine. Many of these great food places may also benefit from the marketing push. In turn, they can help raise our country’s profile through their food.
The Fukuoka-Hiroshima food tour is on Nov. 5-10; Hokkaido, Nov. 19-24; Okinawa, Dec. 10-15.