Interest in Filipino cuisine has risen tremendously over the past couple of years.
While previously reduced to the infamous balut (duck embryo) – no thanks to shows such as “Fear Factor” – conversations have shifted and now patrons are rattling off their fond memories of mainstay plates such as adobo, sisig, pancit, lumpia and lechon.
But with over 7,000 islands divided into 82 provinces and 22 regions, there’s plenty more to discover.
Here are seven dishes from across the Philippines that you may not have heard of – and where you can find elevated versions of them during your next visit to Manila.
Linagpang na isda/na manok
There’s no such thing as leftovers for the Hiligaynon or Ilonggo people of the Western Visayas region.
In one particular dish, uneaten grilled, roasted or broiled fish or chicken is boiled into a soup with onions, tomatoes and ginger, birthing the cooking process called linagpang (na manok means chicken in tagalog; na isda means fish).
In the province of Iloilo, it’s abundant in both restaurants and homes.
Where to try it in Manila: Gallery by Chele
At Gallery by Chele, chef Chele Gonzalez reinterprets this dish by “burning” tuna belly over the grill to create an aromatic clarified broth, before mixing in abalone from Visayas, enoki mustard stems, homemade patis (fish sauce) and herbs.
Gallery by Chele, Clipp Center, 11th corner 39th Sts., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Manila, Philippines; +63 917 546 1673
Kamaru are mole crickets that burrow on wet rice fields and are quite difficult to catch. According to the late restaurateur Larry J. Cruz, it is only when a rice farmer tills the field that the kamaru gets between his toes – then he makes the catch!
In Pampanga province in the Philippines’ Central Luzon region, they are a popular delicacy, often cooked adobo-style (marinated in vinegar, crushed garlic and soy sauce) or fried, and served with tomatoes. Bonus: They are a great source of protein and vitamin B.
Where to try it in Manila: Abe Restaurant
At Cruz’s Abe Restaurant they prepare it adobo-style – sautéed with vinegar, crushed garlic and tomatoes. Don’t worry, the wings and legs have been removed.
Abe Restaurant, G/F Serendra, Retail Area, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, Philippines; +63 2 856 0526
Tiny rice field birds found in sugarcane plantations, pitaw are a delicacy in Bacolod, a city in Negros Occidental province.
Often prepared fried, the birds are so tiny you can eat the bones as well.
This delicacy, similar to young quail, can be purchased in packaged form at local stores to take back home as a souvenir.
Where to try it in Manila: Grace Park
Named Asia’s best female chef in 2016, Margarita Fores, originally from Bacolod, prepares the popular delicacy adobo-style before frying it to a crisp at her Manil restaurant, Grace Park.
The birds are served atop garlic butter brown rice.
Grace Park, G/F One Rockwell, Rockwell Drive, Makati, Philippines; +63 2 843 7275
Pork belly and liver cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, onion, bay leaves, bell peppers and green peas make up igado, a popular dish in the Ilocos region of the Philippines (it’s also found in Bicol, in Albay province).
It takes its name from higado, the Spanish word for liver, and is often described as a cousin of adobo and menudo (tomato-based pork stew).
Where to try it in Manila: Top Meal Food Haus
Chef and owner Wilson Quindo Tan sautées cubed pork liempo (belly) and pork liver strips with garlic, onion, soy sauce and oyster sauce, then tops them with onion rings.
Top Meal Food Haus, 5994 J. D. Villena Corner Mabini Street, Poblacion, Makati, Philippines; +63 915 391 4571
Do crabs stuffed with fresh coconut and their own aligue (fat) and cooked in coconut milk sound delicious or what?
Buntaa is a popular dish in Butuan City in Agusan del Norte in Mindanao. It takes its name from Binuntaan, which means ‘pull out’ – which is what they do with the meat from female crabs.
Where to try it in Manila: Toyo Eatery
At Toyo Eatery, No. 43 on the 2019 edition of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, chef Jordy Navarra’s take on buntaa involves working with its flavor profile. He created a crab and ginger flan to “mimic the eggy texture you can get from crab roe,” then made a roe sauce, which they serve with crab meat.
Acidity comes in the form of a coconut vinegar reduction. Navarra calls it “reusing the theme ingredients” of crab, coconut and ginger, but in different permutations.
Toyo Eatery, 2316 Chino Roces Ave, Makati, Philippines; +63 917 720 8630
Pyanggang, blackened coconut curry usually served with chicken, is a festive dish that hails from the Tausug tribe of Sulu province in Southern Mindanao.
The black curry-like sauce is made by burning coconut on charcoal, then grinding and blending it with spices. At Tausug weddings it is not uncommon to find a whole chicken prepared in this manner and served over yellow rice as the centerpiece.
Where to try it in Manila: Talisay, The Garden Cafe
Chef Tatung Sarthou, who you may have recently seen on Netflix’s “Street Food” episode on the Philippines, uses prawns to created this dish at new restaurant, Talisay, The Garden Café, which is due to open in late September.
Apart from celebrating the rich seafood of Sulu, the sweetness of the poached shrimp complements the rich, smoky flavor of the burnt coconut sauce. He serves this with a salad of grilled eggplants, tomatoes, shallots, green mangoes and palapa (spiced toasted coconut).
Talisay, the Garden Cafe, 44 Maginhawa Street, Barangay UP village, Quezon city, Philippines
Literally translating to “black stew,” tiyula itum is a braised beef soup dish that originated from the Tausug people of the Philppines’ Sulu archipelago.
It is considered “food for royalty” and is served on special occasions like weddings and Hari Raya (festival of the breaking of the fast). As with the pyanggang, the black color comes from the use of charred coconut meat.
Chunks of beef—sometimes goat—are marinated in a mix of spices and powdered burnt coconut meat before being fried with garlic, onions, turmeric, ginger and lengkuas (a type of tuber).
Where to try it in Manila: Lampara
On Eid al-Adha, an annual Muslim holiday that’s referred to as the “Festival of the Sacrifice”, chef RJ Ramos released his version of the dish as a tribute to the flavors of Mindanao. Their take on tiyula itim incorporates elements of pyanggang in terms of flavor profile.
Homemade chicken stock is used to make fish fumet, along with lemongrass. The burnt coconut is then sautéed with pounded garlic, ginger, lemongrass, burnt chilies, galangal and onions, before adding the reduced fish fumet.
Lampara substitutes beef with prawns and mussels, since the Tausugs are “people of the sea.”
Lampara, 5883 Enriquez St., Poblacion, Makati, Philippines; +63 917 173 5883