A collage of Manila, including a bowl of laing, a typically busy street in the Filipino capital and La Paz batchoy, a noodle soup

10 things we love about Filipino cuisine

Lee Johnson, co-founder of Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen, tells us what makes the food of the Philippines so special

Want to learn about Filipino cuisine? Take a virtual trip to this South East Asian archipelago with Lee Johnson, co-founder of Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen, then try his chicken adobo recipe. 

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Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen is the latest Filipino food venture from Lee Johnson and his partner Sinead Campbell. They started with the food truck BBQ Dreamz in 2014, winning BBC Two’s My Million Pound Menu. Based in Kerb’s indoor market in Covent Garden, Bong Bong’s has a menu based on the founding flavours of Filipino cuisine.


1. Ube

This purple Filipino sweet potato is slightly sweeter and nuttier than the ones we’re familiar with in the UK. It’s used in all different types of desserts and sweets, from ice creams and cakes, to jams, doughnuts and pastries. Despite its predominant use in sweet foods, ube has been found to have very high nutritional value, good carb content and flavonoids, meaning that it’s high in antioxidants. What more could you want in your dessert?

Ube suman with sweetened coconut on a wooden plate

2. Dinuguan

This won’t be to everyone’s taste but it’s honestly so, so good, we have it whenever we see it on a menu. Dinuguan is what we would describe as a blood pudding stew – it’s made from cooking pork and pork offal in vinegar, garlic, onion and pig’s blood. It may not sound it but it’s honestly amazing.


3. Calamansi

This is the most predominant citrus fruit used in the Philippines. It’s kind of like a mix between a lime and a kumquat. It’s used all over the Philippines in cooking, sauces, drinks, desserts and jams. It’s sour and tangy, with a sweet rind.


4. La Paz batchoy

A noodle soup dish originating from La Paz in Iloilo, near to where my family comes from. It’s made with beef or chicken stock, pork offal, sliced pork and shrimp paste, and topped with chicharrón, spring onion, crispy garlic and an egg. It’s basically a Filipino version of a ramen, but the best you’ll ever have.

A close up shot La Paz batchoy, a Filipino noodle soup dish

5. Sawsawan

Basically a vinegar dip, and you can dip everything into it. Our favourite version is made with coconut vinegar, shallots, bird’s-eye chillies, peppercorns, garlic, soy sauce and a squeeze of calamansi.


6. Longganisa sausages

Also spelled longaniza, these sausages are like a sweet, garlicky chorizo. There are many variations in the Philippines but generally they’re made with pork, garlic, vinegar, pepper, salt and brown sugar, then coloured red with annatto, a red seed from the achiote tree. Filipinos eat them for breakfast with garlic fried rice, fried eggs and sawsawan in a dish called longsilog.


7. Laing

Also known as pinangat, laing is a dish made by cooking down taro leaves in a rich broth of coconut milk, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, chilli and ginger. It originates from Bicol, which is at the southern end of Luzon island. It can be made with shrimp paste, fish or meat but we like ours without any of these bits, as it makes an excellent vegan side dish – think creamed coconut spinach but better.

A close up shot of a bowl of laing

8. Bananacue

We think this is one of the simplest but greatest creations ever. Sold all over food markets across the Philippines, these are sticky, caramelised saba bananas on a skewer. The way they’re made is a little bit wild: the bananas are deep-fried in oil, then brown sugar is poured directly into the oil to caramelise.


9. Chicken adobo

This is a family staple that reminds me of my childhood – and it was the first Filipino dish that Sinead tried. It’s known as the unofficial national dish but every single Filipino family has their own recipe, so there are hundreds of variations. Our favourite is the wet version made with coconut vinegar, light soy sauce, onion, plenty of garlic and bay. Try my chicken adobo recipe.

A black pot filled with cooked chicken thighs and onions, set against a green background

10. Crispy pata

This is one of our all-time favourites. Crispy pata is made by simmering a whole pork knuckle or hock with garlic, bay, peppercorns, star anise, water and vinegar until tender. Once cooked, the pork is removed, dried and deep-fried until crisp. It’s served whole with dips and rice, and everyone digs in. We serve it with pancakes, pickles and sauces, a bit like a crispy duck pancake, but with Filipino flavours.

Crispy pata on a green leaf plate