Some of the best Filipino food can be found in the country’s convoluted streets. In fact, street food has a special place in every Filipino’s heart. The same can be said with non-locals who have visited the country and found charm in its local street food scene.
Anyone who has lived or visited the country knows for certain that there is a chaotic rhythm found in every corner and every street of the Philippines. The chattering people, speeding jeepneys, and live karaoke sessions of neighbors all play a cacophony of sound that is noise to those unfamiliar and music to those submerged and breathing in it. This same clamor of sound bears within it and opens up to street food. Street food in the Philippines is not the same without its chaotic backdrop of busy people, roaring jeepneys, and tone-deaf singing.
Thus, we get a glimpse of the street food experience. More than the food itself, truly enjoying Filipino street food means opening up to its surroundings and its ambiance. The following serves as an introduction into the crazy dimensions that Filipino street food offers.
‘Tusok’ in Filipino means poke and that makes ‘tusok tusok’ mean poke poke. It may sound funny at the least and stupid at the most, however, the tusok tusok scene of the Philippines is not one to be nonchalantly ignored. Tusok tusok offers a wide range of food you can poke with a barbecue stick. This range goes from crispy calamares to neon-colored kwek kwek.
The first on our list is calamares. This food is essentially squid cut into rings, coated with batter and then deep fried. It’s best paired with vinegar loaded with lots of chili. The standard price for calamares is PHP 2.00 per piece. That’s 4 cents in US dollars! However, it is important to note that the price depends on your location in the country. Some places sell this good stuff for cheaper.
Kikiam is made up of a combination of ground pork and vegetables which is then deep fried. Kikiiam has brownish tone and takes the size of a finger. It is worth mentioning that a lot of street food vendors sell a more economic take on kikiam. Their version of the food sometimes contains fish meat instead of pork with doses of extenders like flour. However, you don’t have to take this little disclaimer as a down side. Take it from someone who has eaten more than a hundred street kikiam. The best kikiam is still found in the street. In fact, no fancy restaurant kikiam can beat the humble charm of street food kikiam.
Fish ball, unlike what its name suggests, is actually flat in shape. These flat ‘balls’ are made up of fish meat mixed with some extenders. Additionally, they take up a white tone. These amazing fish balls are made more amazing when you dip it generously into the homemade sauce all Filipinos street food carts come with. You can easily get a piece of fishball for PHP 0.50, which makes a stick of 10 pieces easily amount to PHP 5.00 and that’s a little less than a dime!
The squid ball, unlike its cousin fish ball, actually stays true to its name. Squid ball, essentially, is minced and balled up squid meat. Of course, like with most tusok tusok, for the factories that make this to save up, they budget their way and add some extenders like flour. Given this, people who grew up on Filipino street food can say with certainty that the extenders pack a decent amount of charm to each squid ball poked with a stick, dipped in sauce, and then eaten.
The last on our list of tusok tusok is the popular kwek kwek. If you’re unfamiliar with the food, you shouldn’t let its color and shape fool you. Kwek kwek is round in shape and takes a vibrant orange color. However, this does not mean they taste like oranges and they certainly are nothing like candies. Kwek kwek is basically hard-boiled quail eggs coated with an orange batter and then deep fried until crispy. Kwek kwek can be a little bland but it can find its charm with geneorus doses of chili-infused vinegar or homemade sauce from the street food cart.
In Filipino, ihaw means roast. However, Filiipinos have a different on roasting. The local street food scene is so innovative, creative, frugal that no part of an animal gets wasted. You heard that right! In the Philippines, people sell and eat chicken heads and intestines. Of course, this is after the food has gone through a process of thorough cleaning and cooking.
Adidas refers to roasted chicken feet and it is thanks to Filipino humor that we owe this street food’s charming name. When you ask for an Adidas in the Philippines, chances are, that instead of a pair of sneakers, you’ll get a stick of roasted chicken feet. But hey, the locals are known to be very generous, so you might get two or more sticks of the stuff to munch on. Adidas, like with most ihaw ihaw, is best eaten with a lot of chili-infused vinegar.
Betamax takes its name from the black tapes that were around back in the 70s. The funny thing is that Betamax street food also resembles the Betamax tapes. The not so funny thing is that the street food is actually solidified pork blood. If you’re not a fan of pork, you’ll be happy to know that there are chicken blood versions. Of course, this is you have already come to terms with the fact that it’s actual blood your eating.
Filipinos don’t like wasting food and that can be observed in the street food scene of the country. Helmet pertains to roasted chicken heads. The best way to eat these chicken heads is to crack open the skulls and suck out the brain.
The last on our list is the infamous isaw. Based on stories, isaw got its name from ‘sawsaw’ which means to dip and that is exactly how you eat isaw. Once you’re isaw is fully cooked and roasted, the nexts step is to ‘sawsaw’ or dip it into the sauce. Adding to that, sauce in FIlipino is called ‘sawsawan’ so it all matches and falls into perspective. Although the important thing here is to know that isaw is pork or chicken intestines. This, of course, goes through thorough cleaning.
Biting Into Filipino Street Food
All of the street food found in this list can appear to be strange, curious, or mysterious. However, when unfamiliar mouths find new exotic treats, it is often with just a bite that the exotic becomes home. If you’re thinking of visiting the Philippines, having a taste of their street food can maybe build you home on their side of the ocean.