What comes to mind when you think of the Philippines? Secluded islands surrounded by coral reefs. Endless sandy, palm-backed beaches lapped by crystal clear turquoise water. Lively cities, colourful markets and a sizzling tropical climate. The Philippines is all this and so much more. There’s plenty to dream about when you plan a visit to the Philippines and, let’s face it, we could all do with something to look forward to right now. But did you know about the wonderful food scene? I was particularly impressed by the food in Manila as well as from our Tao Philippines chef as we hopped from one island to the next. He prepared no end of edible delights, working in the tiniest of galleys using the freshest of ingredients, including plenty of fish caught that morning by local fishermen. Mind you, all the food I encountered on this memorable trip was superb.
From rickety carts offering strange and exotic local delicacies to smart international hipster cafes, I’d love to share with you my tips on where to find the best food in Manila.
Filipino cuisine has undoubtedly been infused with the flavours of many different cultures following centuries of colonisation. Today, influences from Mexico, Spain, China and America all play their part in the rich and varied food found in the Philippines.
My trip started and ended in the capital, Manila, a bustling, hectic city that would take some time to really get to know. However, in just a few short days, I was taken by my guides, who had the benefit of having lived there all their lives, to some fabulous places to eat both on and off the beaten track. We even learned to cook the traditional dish, adobo at the beautiful riverside setting of the Quezon Ocampo Ancestral House in Sta. Ana, Manila. Read on to find out more about adobo and many more traditional dishes of the Philippines.
Here’s my insiders’ guide to the best restaurants and food stalls in Manila.
Where to eat in Manila?
Home cooking at Purple Yam Malate
Address: 603 Julio Nakpil St. Corner Jorge Bocobo, Malate 1004
Tel: +63 9178705760 or 523-3497
Email: [email protected] or [email protected]
Facebook: Purple Yam Malate
Opening times: By advanced arrangement only
As I walked into Purple Yam, I wondered if I had stumbled by mistake into someone’s private home? Yes and no, would be correct. This unassuming, cosy setting is indeed a fabulous restaurant. But, rather uniquely, it is also the owner’s ancestral Malate home, in a popular tourist district in the south of the city. It would be more apt to describe it as a private dining experience. You can’t just walk in off the streets. Advanced booking is essential.
The name Purple yam is well known in Brooklyn, New York, where husband and wife team, Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa, have established a fabulous diner offering modern twists on traditional Filipino cuisine. Feeling that time was ticking, after many years of living in New York, the couple returned to Manila to the home that was built when Amy was born some 65 years prior – an interesting house designed by architect Enrique Ruiz. Here they set up Purple Yam Malate, a fine dining experience in a homely setting serving traditional cuisine with a twist.
This exciting new eatery is run with the same great passion which is added to with an equally great pride in local Filipino producers. From the mango vinegar from Abra to the natural salt from Zambales, Amy has carefully selected all the ingredients they use and knows all the suppliers personally.
Above: Nilutik – Roasted pumpkin and coconut milk soup, a traditional dish of the Hiligaynon, or Ilonggo people of the Philippines.
The team at Purple Yam gave us the warmest and tastiest of welcomes. We tucked into one delicious dish after another, including this delicious pumpkin and coconut soup, feeling quite at home surrounded by family photographs and personal mementoes.
Street food at Legazpi Sunday Market
Address: At Herrera st. cor Legazpi and Salcedo, V.A. Rufino St, Legazpi Village, Makati, Metro Manila
Facebook: Legazpi Sunday Market
Opening times: Sunday 7.00 am to 2.00 pm
Every Sunday morning a wonderful farmer’s market springs-up in Legazpi village. it’s big enough for there to be lots to see and things to tempt you but not so big that you’ll get lost or not be able to see everything on offer. The food stalls are superb with international as well as local cuisine for sale plus local handicrafts and souvenirs. It’s a fabulous place to sample great food in Manila.
One stall was selling a wonderful range of extremely succulent looking longganisa – spicy pork sausages from different regions of the Philippines including Aklan, Vigan and Tuguegarao. Another stall was piled high with homemade jams. Others overflowed with fresh local fruits and vegetables. A sign by some colourful bottles of Kombucha, a fermented, lightly effervescent, tea originating from China, claimed they had no end of health benefits. Deep-fried seafood, barbecued fish (top picture), juicy burgers, bubble tea and more were also on offer.
I, however, had been recommended to try the local delicacy, chicken intestines, so how could I not! Known locally as Isawan, the intestines are folded and threaded on a stick to form a kebab and then fried until crisp and golden. They were far better than I expected. In fact, they were delicious, especially with a little vinegar sprinkled over them. Go on, I dare you! You won’t regret it.
International cuisine at Wildflour Café and Bakery
The first Wildflour restaurant opened in Manila in 2012 offering outstanding breads, pastries and brunches. It proved such a success that soon more popped up scattered around the city offering a great range of dining experiences, firmly establishing the brand in the capital’s restaurant scene. They now have their own app featuring all the brands and restaurants, making it even easier to check opening times, locations as well as to place an order.
Wildlfour Café and Bakery, Rada
Address: Ground Floor, Frabelle Business Center 111, Rada, Legazpi Village, Makati
Opening hours: Mondays 8:00 am to 10:00 pm, Tuesday to Sunday, 8:00 am to 11:00 pm
Tel: +63 917 564 5748
I visited Wildlfour Café and Bakery in Legazpi Village for lunch and while I could have been sat in a restaurant anywhere in the world, I loved the atmosphere here and the in-vogue decor with bare brick walls, low hanging light bulbs, chopping board serving platers and the like.
The menu was equally international, and everything, including the coffee, was excellent. The service was superb too.
While I love trying traditional food, I enjoy mixing it up with something more international too and these different dining experiences between them ticked all the boxes.
Where to stay in Manila? The Hilton Manila, by the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. While very much a generic hotel, the location is extremely convenient for the airport, my room was very comfortable AND it had one of the best and most varied breakfast spreads I’ve ever seen. You’d need to stay there a month or more to try everything. And I wanted to!
Where to find the best traditional Filipino food in Manila?
While I didn’t get the chance to try all of the following, these are the places to go to experience traditional delicacies as recommended by local Filipinos. Have you tried any of these dishes?
Isawan at Mang Larry’s
Address: Jacinto St. near College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines Diliman Campus, Quezon City, Luzon, Philippines
Tel: +63 917 385 0432
Facebook: Mang Larry’s
Opening times: 7 days a week, 9 am to 9.20 pm (please check before leaving)
While I loved the Isawan I ate at Legazpi Sunday Market, I have been told by several locals that THE place to try this dish is from the stall of Mang Larry found at University of the Philippines in Diliman.
Tapsilog at Rodic’s Diner
Address: Diliman, Quezon City, Metro Manila plus various locations around Quezon City
Opening hours: 7 am to 5 pm weekends, 7 am to 10 pm Fri, Sat, Sun (please check with individual branches)
Facebook: Rodic’s Diner
With several branches around Quezon City, Rodic’s is reputed to be the home of the best tapsilog in Manila. Popular with joggers after a run around the university campus each morning, tapsilog is a tasty combination of tapa (cured strips of beef), sinangag (garlic rice) and itlog (egg).
Adobo at Mesa
Located on the ground level of Greenbelt, a high-end shopping centre on Makati, Mesa serves authentic Filipino food including one of the best adobo in town. This national dish of the Philippines is made from pork or chicken slowly cooked in vinegar and soy sauce, with peppercorns, garlic, and bay leaves.
Goto at Goto Monster
Address: 245 Primo Rivera Pablo Ocampo extension, Makati, Philippines 1203 Makati, Metro Manila
Opening hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Tel: +63 916 300 2600
Facebook: Goto Monster
A hole in a wall restaurant called GOTO monster in Makati is getting attention for their goto. The portions of this porridge with ox tripe are so large that if you can finish a bowl of goto, without help from anyone else, you won’t have to pay for it, and you’ll become a member of their Goto Hall of Fame. You’ll also be rewarded with a free t-shirt! While I wouldn’t recommend such overeating, and I’ve not tried it myself yet, I’m told it’s a big hit with the locals.
Balot from Pateros
Address: Pateros, Metro Manila
Opening hours: evenings into the early hours
Another delicacy that the adventurous traveller may wish to try is balot (or balut). This 16 to 21 day old, fertilized duck embryo is best eaten while still warm with a little salt or spicy vinegar. While not exclusively found in the Philippines it is often seen as the country’s most iconic dish and is said to be particularly good from the street vendors in Pateros in the south east of Metro Manila. A favourite with party goers for a late-night snack, it’s reputedly an aphrodisiac!
Image of balot from Wikipedia creative commons.
You can’t visit somewhere like the Philippines without trying the street food. During my visit, I also had a glimpse of the modern food scene as well as traditional home cooking. All three experiences together created the perfect mix. I was lucky to have locals to guide me but of course, my short visit barely scratched the service of what’s on offer. But whether you like to try everything going or you have more cautious tastebuds, there’s a wonderful range of traditional as well as international food on offer.
Next time I visit, I’ll be trying all the above dishes that I missed the first time around. If the chicken’s intestines are anything to go by, they’ll be delicious. Maybe not the balot? I know, in the name of research, I really should try it! Would you? Have you?
For more information on why it’s more fun in Manila, visit the Philippine Department of Tourism.
How to get to the Philippines
Where to eat Filipino food in England
If you’d love a taste of the Philippines right now and you’re lucky enough to live near one of the following restaurants and super clubs, many of them are offering a delivery service. Please, for now at least, stay local but never stop dreaming about your next culinary adventure.
Filipino food in London
- Romulo’s Café 343 Kensington High Street, London W8 6NW
- The Adobros New Cross Road, London
- Sarap London 14D Market Row, Cold Harbour Ln, London SW9 8LD
- LUTO London, Stratford, London
Filipino food in the North of England
- Cooking with Mama Z, Manchester
Filipino food in the South of England (outside London)
- Remy’s Cafe Kulinarya, 21 Kings Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, Hastings TN37 6DU
Where would you recommend eating Filipino food in Britain? What’s missing from this list?
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