Getting Adventurous With Filipino Food

When you think of Filipino food, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the usual fare: barbecue, kare-kare, bistek, or rice cakes. But we tend to forget the more interesting parts of Filipino cuisine, the foods we probably eat more often than the traditional Filipino recipes. I’m talking about adventurous food: street food, exotic dishes, and unusual regional delicacies.

Adventure eating has come a long way from its rough beginnings. From an infamous underground market, it has gained acceptance in mainstream cuisine and even become a considerable tourist attraction. If you’re up for something different, take to the streets and challenge your palate with bizarre Filipino cuisine. Here are some dishes definitely worth a try.


Grilled entrails

Their names are as interesting as they are: IUD, helmet, adidas, walkman, betamax. These are all made from chicken and pork innards grilled and basted over charcoal. They’re on practically every corner in Manila, drawing small crowds in the late afternoon and early evening. Some have even evolved from small stands into full-blown restaurants, service rice and beer along with the eccentric food.

Probably the best-known dish is chicken intestine, locally called isaw or IUD because of its appearance. Pork intestines are also available, but not as popular. The other names are sort of a giveaway: helmet is chicken head, adidas is chicken feet, and walkman is pig ears. Betamax is curdled pig or chicken blood, so called because it’s dark and rectangular.


Crickets

In Central Luzon, crickets are cooked adobo-style in soy sauce, salt and vinegar. The dish is locally known as camaro. A similar dish called baling can be made with field locusts. The insects are crunchy and slightly sweet, making them a great match for soft white rice. The dish is actually seasonal, as the insects only show up in the fields a few times a year. Camaro-eating contests are a local attraction in Pampanga, where the dish is traditionally served. Kamampangans like to wash it down with Filipino desserts recipes such as leche flan (a local specialty) and halo-halo.


Balut

This is perhaps the most notorious of all Filipino food recipes. Balut is a two-week old duck embryo, still in its shell, baked on high heat until the yolk is cooked. It is said that balut vendors only do business at night because no one would eat the food if they could see it in daylight. Foreigners (and some locals for that matter) find the idea repulsive, but can’t resist giving it a try.

The ways we eat balut are as interesting as the food itself. Some like to suck out the syrup before cracking the egg and eating the chick (feathers, beak and all). Others would eat the yolk first. Some would eat it on a plate with rice and a bit of salt. It’s even an ingredient in some exotic Filipino cooking recipes. If you’re not that daring, you can try penoy or hard-boiled duck egg, often sold with a dash of salt for flavor.


Soup Number Five

At first glance, it looks like your everyday meat soup, warm and rich and tempting. But a second look will either spark your interest or make you turn away in disgust. Soup #5 is made from cow or goat penis and testicles, seasoned with salt, ginger and a variety of other vegetables. The meat is usually scalded in boiling water before cooking to sear the outside, which is said to enhance flavor. Sometimes pork and chicken are added as well.

The soup is native to the Philippines, although some claim the Chinese were the first to discover it. It is said to be a potent aphrodisiac and a rich source of protein and vitamins, although that has yet to be proven.


Papaitan

If you think you’ve tried everything exotic, wait till you try this dish. The main ingredients are goat entrails and goat skin, although beef is sometimes used when goat meat is scarce. The meat is cooked in bile, which gives it its characteristic bitter flavor (papaitan comes from the word pait, which means bitter). A good papaitan may also include goat liver, heart, tripe, kidneys, and pancreas. Because of the heavy meat flavors, it usually comes with a generous dose of herbs and spices.

There are also regional variations of the dish. Bicolanos may add coconut milk and chili, while Cebuanos and Ilocanos like to season it with patis or fish sauce. Bagoong or sautéed shrimp paste may also be used to counter the bitter flavor.

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About The Author, Carlo Villamayor
Carlo Villamayor is the owner and co-author of the Filipino food blog, Kusina.ph. A devoted cook, he makes it his personal mission to spread the joy of Filipino food recipes with food lovers the world over. Bon appetit!