Olive Magazine
A Philippino woman at a fish market, a flan on a pretty floral table cloth, a beach lined with palm trees

Cook like a local: the Philippines

Published: May 14, 2020 at 2:32 pm

From fragrant chicken soup to roast suckling pig and pickled papaya, you won’t go hungry in this food-centric archipelago

Want to learn about Filipino food? Looking for Filipino recipes? Read Yasmin Newman's guide, then ccheck out our Chinese New Year guide.


Born to a Filipino mother and Australian father, food writer, photographer and presenter Yasmin Newman is based in Sydney but returns frequently to the Philippines, where her young family has a second home. Yasmin is the author of 7000 Islands: Cherished Recipes and Stories from the Philippines (£18.99, Hardie Grant).

Filipino cuisine

With five official mealtimes and countless snacks in between, there are few places in the world where more time is devoted to food than the Philippines. Meet a local and there’s a good chance you’ll be asked: “Have you eaten?” It is both a greeting and an invitation to dine.

However, food is more than just a pleasure – it is the cultural language of the country. It’s how people say “thank you”, “I love you” or “I wish you were here”. Dining is also, commonly, a shared experience, a practice that stems from ancient subsistence lifestyles but which, today, underpins the Filipino custom of generosity, hospitality and community known as ‘bayanihan’.

Fertile tropical terrain, warm equatorial sun and heavy monsoon rain means traditional Filipino cooking is characterised by light, fresh and preserved fare, dishes such as fish kinilaw (a local take on ceviche), tamarind sinigang (sour soup), vinegarbraised adobo, atchara (pickled papaya) and coconut caramel kakanin (sticky rice cakes).

However, richer, more elaborate meals and adopted ingredients tell of the country’s colonial past and of other visitors who came to call it home, from Arab missionaries and Chinese seafarers to Spanish conquistadors, Mexican viceroys and American GIs. Lumpia Shanghai (spring rolls), beef kaldereta (stew with tomatoes and olives), roast lechón (suckling pig) and decadent sans rival (cashew torte) all fall under that mantle.

A celebration of bold flavours – salty, sour, sweet and funky, without a lot of heat – is common to all Filipino communities. Garlic is used abundantly and meals are designed for customising with dipping sauces of calamansi (local citrus), soy and native vinegar, known as sawsawan. Copious amounts of rice form the perfect foil to these tantalising combinations.

What to eat in the Philippines

Tortang talong

This delicious aubergine omelette, a cherished breakfast dish, has a smoky, charred flavour produced by cooking over flame. You can sometimes find it served for dinner with pork mince and sofrito.


Tinolang manok

Every culture has a nourishing chicken soup. In the Philippines, their version is laden with ginger, green papaya and ‘native chicken’ – slow cooking tenderises these birds (usually reared in back yards), which are leaner and tougher but more flavoursome.

Tinolang manok chicken soup from the philippines

Lechón liempo

You’ll find countless tempting pork dishes in the Philippines, and lechón, or whole-roasted pig, is a national favourite. This twist – lechón-style roast pork belly with lemongrass and chillies – is inspired by local chef, Joel Binamira.

Lechón liempo pork belly from the philippines

Ube macapuno cake

Combining two captivating Filipino ingredients – a naturally bright purple yam known as ube, and jellylike coconut cubes called macapuno – this layered sponge and cream cake is as ethereal to look at as it is to eat.

Ube macapuno cake


No trip to the Philippines is complete without an evaporated milk and shaved ice drink known as a halo-halo. Myriad variations exist, with sweetened bananas, nata de coco (coconut jelly), ube (purple yam) ice cream and leche flan (crème caramel) among the best loved.

halo halo philippines

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