Day 23: The Pearl of the Orient

The Philippines is the second largest archipelago with more than 7000 Islands.  It was named the pearl of the orient by early explorers and has traded hands many times over the years.  The arrival of the explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 marked the beginning of three hundred years of Spanish rule in the Philippines.  Spanish control ended at the close of the Spanish American War in 1898.  The United States occupied the Philippines until 1946, but not without cost.  At the end of a ten year resistance movement, more than 600,000 Filipino lives were lost.  In spite of these rough beginnings, the U.S. and the Philippines are strong allies today due in large part to General MacArthur's victory over the Japanese in WWII, with the Philippines being the first country to regain its independence from Japan.  In modern times, the Philippines is the 12th largest country in the world by population and contains several world class cities including Manilla, with an urban area of about 24 million people.  Filipinos have a significant representation in the global diaspora movement with more than 2.4 million Filipinos living abroad in 2015.  The Filipino government is leading the way in making official arrangements with host countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to ensure that their citizens receive due process and protection under the law.

Filipino  food provides a fusion of pan-asian delicacies infused with hints of Spanish cuisine. 

Filipino Food Basics

Pork Sisig ( on the right: Shredded pork ears an belly)

Filipino food is pan-asian fusion with a strong background in Spanish cuisine.  In a Filipino market, a common place to get food is called the toro toro  (or turo turo).  It literally means "point point."  As the name suggests, a turo turo is a food stand where the food is ready to go and is displayed in big piles.  With scant labeling, customers are able to walk up and just point at what they want, much like a buffet. 

Spanish Influence

Callos (Tripe)

Pork Adobo

With more than 300 years of control in the Philippines, Spain left their mark on Filipino food and culture.  If you look at street names in Manilla, for instance, you will find street names like "Santa Anna Street" and "San Antonio St."  Likewise, many Filipinos have Spanish family names.  The national dish is a stewed pork dish called Adobo.   Adobo is a savory dish that is stewed, with a hearty, savory sauce.  For those with experience in Mexican food, it is quite similar to Mole.  Regionally, it also borrows from Indonesian rendang.  Another dish with heavy Spanish influence is Callos.  Callos is tripe soup which is similar to Menudo, though the broth is much lighter bodied.  Filipinos also love chicharon, which is fried pork belly.

Other Delicacies 


Filipino cuisine is also infused with many asian and pacific rim flavors relying heavily or rice based dishes, coconut milk, seafood, noodles, and other asian delicacies like dumplings (one of the oldest "China towns" is in Manilla).  Another national dish is Pancit.  Pancit is a stir fried noodle dish with vermicelli-size noodles and garnished with chicken or pork and vegetables.


Perhaps one of the most well known Filipino foods is Balut (partially formed duck egg, steamed and eaten right out of the shell). We were able to enjoy all of these wonderful filipino dishes at My Filipino Cuisine in Houston.  While we were not able to try Balut at the restaurant, My Filipino Cuisine participates in several cultural festivals in Houston where they serve Balut.  We will have to review this in a future post, but until then, enjoy this video of a diverse group of Americans trying Balut for the first time (Side note, many of my Filipino friends do not eat Balut.....).