Philippine Cuisine: The Yucky-But-Yummy
Culinary Caveats

Philippine cuisine is a smorgasbord of tastes and influences, with its Malay roots, centuries of Hispanization of its taste buds, strong Chinese influences, spiced up by dashes of International culinary additives, further tweaked by touches of regional cuisine. Every province contributes a signature dish or two to the national palate and the diversity of indigenous cultures further adds spice and mystery to the feasting table offerings.


Much of the urban-suburban restaurant cuisine should be familiar or easily demystified with a modicum of translation. Street-cart pedestrian cuisine and excursions to the hinterlands, however, will inevitably expose the traveler to unfamiliar culinary offerings: meaty offerings that could have been barking yesterday, formalin-extended curbside calamares, delectable dishes that suffered slow and brutal deaths, cuisine of dangling anatomical origins that is purported to drive one to new libidinous heights, bloody dishes that will make Jehovah's witnesses squirm and skeddadle, and the usual discards of entrails, heads and feet reinvented into masa affordable pulutan dishes.

Culinary Anarchy
There are no health-and-nutrition guidelines to Philippine street-cart and rural cuisine. In the urban-suburban upscaling dining places, there may be occasional offerings and come-on attempts with the healthy, organic, nutritional, low salt, low
fat, olive-oiled dishes. But in most places where the masa ventures, in food courts, street cart cuisine and sidewalk dining, almost certainly in the hinterlands, Philippine culinary offerings are devoid of health concerns – where cholesterol, saturated fat and trans-fat are alien and absurd issues, where used cooking oil is saved for reuse or poured over rice for taste, where no meat dish is considered palatable without a slab of flavoring fat, where salt in its many forms - patis (fish sauce), bagoong (shrimp paste), toyo (soy sauce) - is used in amounts excessive and threatening to the cardiac and hypertensive, and where Vetsin (MSG, monosodium glutamate) is a favorite and ubiquitous condiment.

Also, Filipinos have an amused penchant in watching travelers tasting, delighting and savoring dishes, unaware of their yucky beginnings. The balut, the official dare-food, is at least undisguised in its yuckiness, as are the other pulutan favorites like Adidas, IUD and day-old-chick. But many Filipino yucky-but-yummy dishes, including some "aphrodisiac" (UpYourDickSiac) dishes, are cooked, prepared and disguised into seeming palatability by sauce, garnish, and presentation.

Lastly, you of intrepid souls, no matter your hunger or your adventuresomeness, don't. . . don't be tempted by those roadside carinderias, counters lined with aluminum pots filled with native dishes. Although some may be safe, many serve unrefrigerated once- or twice-reheated foodstuff, fine for the natives' tolerant guts, but always risky for the traveler.

So, even if you're one of those bungee-jumping, worm-eating, snail-sucking, bone-marrow-thumping, i'll-try-anything-once kind of traveler, it won't hurt to know the lowdown on some of the more common yucky-but-yummy Filipino dishes.

Bon appétit !

Pork Blood Stew
Easy to recognize, it is a thick black stew. Pork blood, the freshest possible, is its defining ingredient. Prepared in a variety of ways, it is a delicious dish, if one can get beyond its bloody origins. It is a dish that might delight Dracula as a midnight snack alternative when he tries to wean himself from his favorite ritual neck dish addiction. As a meal, consumed with ample amounts of rice; as a snack, with 'puto,' the Filipino rice cake.
A popular Cordillera chicken dish. The preparation involves mercilessly battering the chicken with a stick as it squawks to its slow death. The brutal process attempts to coagulate the blood onto the wings, neck and meat to achieve a bloody flavorful chicken dish. Etag, cured meat, aged underground, is an optional ingredient that further augments the flavor. Alas, it is an inhumane process that achieves the delectable end and one that violates that the Philippine Animal Welfare Act of 1998. (See also: The Bontoc ritual preparation of Pinikpikan)
A portmanteau of "aso" (dog) and 'cena' (dinner meal). .
In the Philippines, especially in the rural areas, the dog is more often food than pet. Stray dogs are common victims of pulutan-seeking (side dish) predators for their alcohol-fueled gatherings. The killing is merciful, unlike the pinikpikan chicken, accomplished through a neck snare and a head whomp. Preparation varies according to regional preferences; some recipes capably hide the gamey and pungent of it. Although considered a proletarian dish, it is a learned taste appreciated by many in the middle class and in some provinces, finds it way on the feasting tables.
Another pork dish, the defining ingredient is the pig's head, in particular, the ears, nose and cheeks, chopped into a cartilaginous mix.
Likely of Kapampangan origin, from unused pig's heads purchased cheaply from the Clark Air Base commissaries of olde. Made from parts of the pig's head (chopped ears, nose and cheeks) and variations that may include brain, chicken liver or chopped mixture of innards, seasoned with kalamansi and chili peppers. A favorite "pulutan" dish and a chewing, cracking and cartilaginous culinary experience.
Tortang utak
Pig's brain omelet
Cheeks, lips, nose, ears, bile, intestine, blood, feet. . . nothing goes to waste. Brain? . . . yeah. There's pig's brain omelet. The brain is boiled, then sliced or mashed, with onions and garlic, blended with eggs, and pan-fried. It has a quaint and indefinable taste, yummy and easy to like not knowing what it is, yucky and easy to hate when you find out what it is.

Soup Number Five
Soup No. 5, Soup # 5
In local parlance, it is called. . .
. . . ta dah. . .
Bat and Ball !
It is made from bull's testicles and/or penis, a dish high up there in the Filipino's grail of the ultimate aphrodisiac food. The bat and balls. . . um. . .penis and testicles are cleansed and chopped up and mixed with the generic soup ingredients and condiments – ginger, vegetables, chicken or pork, salt and pepper – to make the quintessence Filipino aphrodisiac culinary offering. Or, in the Pinoy's penchant for creative word-making, allow me to offer one – the UpYourDickSiac soup. Serve hot.
Bon appetit !

Barbecued or grilled skewered chicken intestines that derives its name from a gross similarity to the IUD – intra-uterine device. Also popularly known as "isaw." Popular and affordable street-cart snack or pulutan.
An intestine dish cooked in bile
Etymology: "pait" means bitter.

It's an intestine and skin dish, usually goat, cooked in bile giving the dish its defining bitter taste. Some prepare the dish to include the partially digested intestinal contents, more proximal than distal. Other innard parts are often thrown in: tripe, liver, kidneys, pancreas with the usual spices, and optional bagoong for the taste and to temper the bitterness.
Chicken feet
Yes, of course, named in honor of the world class footwear. Why not Nike? Doubt that would have worked. I think the choice had to do with the vowel sounds, the familiar hard delivery of rural vowel phonetics. The claws and toes of the chicken-tootsies are trimmed, the tough skin peeled off, marinated and grilled to a skewered chewable nibbling delight. It is a popular proletarian street-cart tide-over-your-hunger snack or alcohol pulutan that is also finding itself in menus of dives and low-end restaurants menus.
Day-old chicks
Day-old male chick rejects become butt-skewered batter-fried sidewalk and street cart offerings. Best dipped in vinegar or hot sauce. With adidas, IUD, and balut, joins the masa's list of finger-licking-good pulutan favorites.
Bahay guya
Cow abortus
Chicken uterus filled with early stages of eggs.
Also read: The ABCDE of Philippine Cuisine
by Godofredo Umali Stuart


More Readings for the Intrepid Traveler  
Fiestas and Festivals
Philippine Cuisine:
The Yucky-But-Yummy

Sabong / Cockfighting

The ABCDE of the Yummy
Philippine Cuisine
  by Godofredo Umali Stuart

HOME      •      SEARCH      •      EMAIL    •    TRAVELS