What is Your Favorite Filipino Street Food?

It’s Manila. Early 1980s, July, rainy season.

We’re looking for the best air-con bus tickets up to Baguio. In the narrow, muddy margins between the thoroughfare busy with jeepneys, taxis and tricycles and the terminals’ tall confines, we navigate with our belongings through the bus company stretch of Cubao. Metro Manila – the part outside Intramuros, which is to say, everything else – lacked urban planning or zoning so there’s no sidewalk. I imagine the National Capitol Region grew barrio by barrio, one squatter’s village, Iglesia ni Christo, wet market and fly-over at a time.

This is how my first memory of street food begins.

We endured hours of pre-voyage preparation, now exhausted in our green velour seats. We were somewhere between sleep and looking at the melange of Metro Manila give way to the countryside sari-sari sotres, basketball courts filled with flip-flopped footed hopefuls and children in crisp uniforms walking to school.

On the road to Baguio, we make a few stops at the bigger towns. In San Fernando, some travelers leave, others join. But each time a collection of enterprising food vendors approach the bus, sometimes boarding to walk through the aisles, or circling the bus with their wares piled high on their heads, tapping each window to entice hungry voyagers. Mani, mani, mani, mani! says the peanut vendor. Baluuuuuuut! proclaims the duck egg embryo seller. Fanta and Coca-cola and tsitsaron in knotted plastic baggies, all ready for travelers on the go.

This was before street food was considered by folks in the States as sexy or au courant. Street food in the Philippines is what people in a rush eat – whether it’s for students on the University of the Philippines campus or for the majority of the country’s population who need a hot, inexpensive form of subsistence as they pass their local wet market.

I’m happy to announce I’ll be going back to Manila for a few weeks to work on the Philippines’ chapter of a new book that will be published late this year, Street Food around the World: An Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. I’m researching popular street foods, the people who produce the food and their methods, as well as where and how they’re eaten and by whom. Any Filipinos or Filipino food lovers want to share their opinions, thoughts, recommendations and memories of Street Food Sa Atin? 

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20 thoughts on “What is Your Favorite Filipino Street Food?

  1. Great piece Sarahlynn! Great writing as usual! And Wow, Congrats on getting your writing in such a cool book! I’d love to read it when it comes out!
    Thank god for street food! We love socca in Nice, France where we are right now.
    We took a long hiatus from the blog (my teaching jobs got hectic and was focusing on poetry)but now we’re back with avengance with great videos my husband’s producing. Trying to keep it regular but it’s challenging when you’re not on the road, and not on vacation! You, however, manage amazingly well at staying interesting and on topic even while not traveling! Any tips?
    Enjoying your writing as always!
    Best, Emily

    • Emily! Great to hear from you, thank you! Can’t wait to see your videos, poetry or other stuff you’re working on!

      That is really kind of you to say. Hm, tips on staying interesting and on topic? I was going to blog about this, actually. I think it’s important to be patient with yourself, especially when traveling. Everything takes a lot more time and energy than you think when abroad and it’s even harder to write and process where you are in a way to write about it intelligently or purposefully. So don’t expect a super-high level of production, especially at first. Secondly, take the time to collect all your thoughts, even if it’s just a quick jot in a small notebook in your purse. Not all of the ideas might prove useful (as in published somewhere), but you never know what interesting ways you can combine them in. Hope that’s helpful, Emily!

  2. I don\’t recall siomai and suman as street food but there are a number of other street food that I truly miss: steamed corn, quek-quek (Balut that\’s battered with some kind of orange batter and then deep fried), grren mangoes or jicama skewered and topped with bagoong and of course mamang sorbetero (aka dirty ice cream). You also have the seasonal street vendors who setup shop near the church during the holidays and they sell freshly made bibingka and puto bumbong. Always made me look forward to simbang gabi! Goodluck!

    • How could I forget the steamed corn, et al.? I’ll add them, thanks, Kris! There should be a whole section on holiday foods, indeed! Makes that staying up late at night so delicious! xoxo

  3. Pingback: Mani peanut | Sejani ~
    • Thank you for visiting! Which were/are your favorites? So far I think my favorite is dirty ice cream! I still haven’t found a good substitute pandesal shack for the one I grew up with my summers in UP… But I’ll keep looking 🙂

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