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Taste of Southeast Asia: Dining in the Philippines 

Welcome to the next leg of our culinary adventure through ASEAN! Today, we’re taking you for a taste of the flavorful culinary history of the Philippines. Once you’ve followed today’s adventure to your heart’s content, you might find it a little difficult to resist the craving for some delicious meals of your own. Of course, you’d be right to feel that way. Let’s dive into this week’s Taste Of ASEAN!

Filipino Cuisine

The Philippines is an island nation of over 7,000 islands. The three main regions are the south of Mindanao, the central islands of Visayas, and the northern area of Luzon where Metro Manila is located.

The cuisine of the Philippines involves hearty dishes always served with plenty of rice. In addition, Filipinos eat from the bounty of the island. That means meals typically include meat or fish, a variety of vegetables, eggs from local chickens, pancit noodles, and everyone’s favorite, lumpiang shanghai fried mince rolls. 

Dishes are served with accompanying sarsa, dipping sauces that complement the natural flavors of the meal. With a less spicy palate than their neighbors, Filipinos add flavor to the table with black pepper and vinegar. In the South where the majority of the population is Muslim, the cuisine features less pork. The rest of the country can’t get enough.

Lechon Kawali

You’ve heard that Inuit people have 20 words for snow because it is an ever-present and multi-faceted part of culture? Well, Filipino people have 20 words for pork in all its delicious forms.
Liempo. Baboy. Tocino. Lechon. Adobo. Batsoy. Chicharron. Humba. Kasim. Pata.
Perhaps the most festive and celebratory of all the pork dishes is lechon kawali, roasted suckling pig that has been re-fried, skin-side down, to create the ultimate crunch.

Lechon kawali served with rice and dipping sauce. Image: Visualhunt

Roasted pork with crispy skin is ubiquitous throughout Asia, but nowhere does it quite as good as the Philippines. In Cebu, an island province of Central Visayas famous for its succulent lechon, you will see skewered pigs rolling on the rotisserie for hours upon hours over hot coals, developing the perfect flavor. 

This dish is served with rice at holiday parties, weddings, fancy occasions, and specialty lechon restaurants throughout the province. Kawali means pan, which refers to the crisping of the skin. 

Famous local spots include House of Lechon in Cebu City and Rico’s Lechon on nearby Mactan Island. A great option for visitors on summer vacations that won’t make it all the way to Cebu is the Cebuano Zubuchon restaurant chain, which has numerous locations in Manila. 

Kare Kare

Kare Kare Filipino peanut curry. Image: dbgg1979 on Flickr licensed under CC by 2.0 

Though the Philippines aren’t widely known as a curry eating country, kare kare is a world-class dish that undeniably deserves a place amongst the world’s tastiest curries. With a base of peanut, toasted rice, and beef or oxtail, kare kare gets topped with vegetables like green beans, banana blossom, mushrooms, and a local kale called pechay. On top of that, expect even more meat such as tripe or pork. This is not a dish you can walk away from unsatisfied. 

For the absolute treat, why not go for the best of both worlds? Head to Tomas Morato Avenue, a famous foodie street in Quezon City. At Empacho, one dish combines a crisped cube of lechon kawali made from pork belly that swims in a rich pool of kare kare. This combo is one of the most delectable meals in all of Southeast Asia.


A bowl of fresh and tasty kinilaw. Image: Visualhunt

Pronounced “kee-nee-lao”, this is a fresh and vibrant dish made of raw fish, tomato, onion, ginger, siling labuyo chiles, coconut milk, vinegar, and plenty of the local citrus called calamansi. Seafood lovers should order kinilaw at every opportunity. 
Made from the freshest local catch, this dish is great at beachside restaurants on the many resort islands where travelers go for summer vacations. The Pearl Restaurant on Panglao Island in Bohol Province has an exceptionally delicious kinilaw that pairs nicely with rice, a beer, a majestic water sunset, and the feeling of sand on your toes. Not in Bohol? Try it at home with this recipe from Filipina food blogger I am Aileen.

Filipino dishes can vary in taste from island to island. One lola grandma might make her pork adobo dry while another’s recipe is more like a stew. Regardless, Filipino cuisine is filling, flavorful, and perfect for sharing with a table full of friends and family. Of course, no one can stop you from ordering a few dishes just for yourself if you find yourself excessively enamored by Filipino flavors.

Ready for another feast for the senses? Keep an eye out for our next blog post to discover more delicious dishes across ASEAN!