Are you an adventurous eater? We are.
Trying new and exotic foods is one of the things we look forward to most on trips. As long as it isn’t endangered or unethical, then chances are, it’ll wind up on our plate.
Our curiosity and willingness to try unfamiliar and bizarre food stems from our upbringing in the Philippines. We grew up around exotic dishes like balut, dinuguan, and chicharon bulaklak. Not every Filipino child likes those dishes, but even if you didn’t eat it, you grew up around people that did.
To us, dishes like that weren’t weird at all. Because we were so used to seeing and eating it, “weird” food like duck egg embryos and fried chicken intestines were about as normal to us as a PB&J sandwich to an American middle-schooler.
We’ve eaten a lot of exotic food on our travels. Off the top of my head, I can think of sannakji in South Korea, escamoles in Mexico, chicken and horse sashimi in Japan, and percebes in Portugal and Spain.
Oddly enough, I’ve written many articles about weird foods from around the world but not nearly as much about exotic food in the Philippines.
If you’re an adventurous eater like we are, then here are 15 weird Filipino foods that you need to try on your next trip to the Philippines.
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EXOTIC FOODS IN THE PHILIPPINES
There’s no shortage of exotic food in the Philippines but these fifteen are some of the most (in)famous or common. Aside from a few regional specialties like tamilok and etag, most can be found pretty much anywhere in the Philippines.
There’s no better way to start a list of exotic Filipino dishes than with balut, arguably the most famous and notorious exotic dish from the Philippines. If you’ve never heard of it, it refers to a fertilized duck egg embryo that’s eaten directly from its shell.
Commonly sold as street food in the Philippines and in other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, balut consists of a developing duck embryo that’s been fertilized for 14-21 days. The duck eggs are boiled and then eaten from their shells with salt and/or a dipping sauce made with vinegar, bird’s eye chili, and garlic.
What makes balut so off-putting for a lot of people, including many Filipinos, is the physical appearance of the embryo. It really does look like a fully formed duckling, complete with eyes, a beak, and sometimes feathers. You eat the duckling whole and spit out the beak because it’s often formed and too hard to eat.
I used to watch Fear Factor regularly and the only time I’ve ever seen Joe Rogan retch on the show was when the contestants were made to eat balut. So notorious is this dish that it’s often used as a rite of passage for foreigners visiting the Philippines for the first time. Try it if you dare!
Dinuguan is one of my favorite dishes on this list. I didn’t used to eat it as a kid but now, it’s one of my favorite Filipino foods. When done right, it’s absolutely delicious.
Dinuguan refers to a Filipino stew of diced pork meat cooked in a rich, dark stew made with pork blood, garlic, chili peppers, and vinegar. It’s a flavorful dish that’s always eaten with small steamed Filipino rice cakes called puto. The name dinuguan stems from dugo, which is the Filipino word for “blood”.
Dinuguan is typically made with diced pork but if you can find it, then you have to try versions made with organ meats like intestines, lungs, heart, ears, and snout. The textures are out of this world. It may sound weird now, but you and your taste buds will thank me for it later.
3. Chicharon Bulaklak
Balut may be the most popular exotic food in the Philippines, but chicharon bulaklak is easily my favorite. It refers to a type of chicharon made with pork mesentery.
In Spanish-speaking countries, the term chicharon refers to deep-fried pork rinds. But in the Philippines, it can also refer to deep-fried pig intestines, chicken intestines, and chicken skin.
Chicharon bulaklak is made with pork mesentery, the thin membrane-like tissue that supports the small intestine. When deep-fried, it assumes a frilly, flower-like appearance, hence the name chicharon bulaklak. Bulaklak is the Filipino word for “flower”.
Crunchy and sinfully delicious, chicharon bulaklak – like any other type of Filipino chicharon – is usually eaten with spiced vinegar and a spritz of calamansi juice. It’s amazing when paired with ice-cold beer.
4. Adobong Kamaru
People who’ve been to Oaxaca and Mexico may be familiar with chapulines, the Mexican delicacy of toasted grasshoppers seasoned with lime juice, chili, and salt.
If you like chapulines, then you’ll be pleased to learn that we have a similar version in the Philippines called adobong kamaru. A specialty of Pampanga, adobong kamaru refers to a Filipino dish made with mole crickets cooked adobo-style.
Adobo is the national dish of the Philippines. It’s typically made with pork and/or chicken, but in this case, it’s made with mole crickets cooked in vinegar, garlic, onions, chili peppers, and tomatoes. Like chicharon bulaklak, it goes very well with cold beer.
5. Soup No. 5
Soup Number Five is one of the most bizarre Filipino foods on this list. It refers to a type of Filipino soup made with a bull’s penis and testes.
This oddly named dish is prepared by thoroughly cleaning the organs and then boiling them in water for several hours until tender. The meat is then sliced into smaller pieces before being cooked in a broth with garlic, onion, ginger, bird’s eye chili, fish sauce, and other spices. Pictured below is a version of Soup Number Five made with the addition of chicken feet.
This dish may be odd, but I was more intrigued by its name so I googled it. According to the Ang Sarap website, it was listed as “Soup Number Five” on a restaurant’s menu to hide its main ingredient from potentially queasy customers. Smart.
Soup Number Five isn’t as common in Manila but I do know of one restaurant that serves it – Balaw-Balaw. Located in Angono, it’s a long-standing restaurant that’s known for serving exotic Filipino food like adobong kamaru, uok (beetle larvae), tapang usa (cured venison), and tapang baboy damo (cured wild boar).
For some Filipinos, tamilok could be the most bizarre dish on this exotic Filipino food list. I say that because it isn’t a dish that many Filipinos encounter often.
Found only in coastal areas with mangrove ecosystems like Palawan, tamilok feed on decaying wood and are commonly known as “ship worms” or “wood worms”. Though they resemble foot-long worms, they’re actually a species of saltwater clam.
In spite of their grotesque appearance and weird diet, tamilok are surprisingly delicious. Eaten raw with spicy vinegar, onion, chili, and calamansi juice, they have the same texture as oysters except they taste sweeter and milkier. I enjoyed them, as did Andrew Zimmern who featured them on an episode of Bizarre Foods.
Like Soup Number Five, there’s an interesting story behind this exotic dish’s name, which is also referred to as “the world’s longest oyster”. According to legend, the name tamilok is short for “Tommy, look!” You can read the rest in my article about tamilok.
Etag is prepared by curing big slabs of pork in salt for about a week, and then air-drying or smoking them (or both) under the sun for several more weeks.
That in itself doesn’t sound all that weird, but what makes etag challenging for some people is that the slabs of pork often get covered with maggots during the air-drying process, likely because of exposure to flies.
Rest assured that all the maggots and mold are brushed off so there’s nothing weird about the etag when it’s served to you. Like any other type of cured meat, it can be prepared in a number of ways – in omelettes, as sausages, or sauteed and served as a viand with rice.
8. Ant Eggs
This next dish may have different names in other parts of the Philippines, but in the Ilocos region where we had it, it’s called abuos. Abuos is the local term for mountain ant larvae.
Abuos is a seasonal dish that’s typically available only from around March till June when the ant larvae are harvested from the tropical rain forests of Abra. We had it cooked adobo-style (adobo nga abuos) but the ant eggs can also be sauteed in garlic or eaten raw.
Ant egg dishes taste pretty much the same no matter where you have them. They’re buttery and nutty in flavor and have a soft texture that’s reminiscent of cottage cheese.
Maskara is the Filipino word for “mask”, which is a funny but appropriate way of describing this next dish. Maskara refers to a whole pig head that’s been boiled and then deep-fried. It’s a novelty bar chow dish that’s typically enjoyed with beer.
Pro tip, go for the gums. The entire head is crispy and delicious but my favorite part is the pig’s gums.
10. Tuslob Buwa
Tuslob buwa is the only dish on this list that we haven’t tried. We’ve been dying to try it but unfortunately, this popular street food from Cebu City isn’t as common in Manila.
Meaning “to dip in bubbles”, tuslob buwa refers to an interesting dish made with a mixture of pork brain, soy sauce, oil, shrimp paste, and seasonings. The ingredients are cooked together in a pan and reduced until the mixture becomes thick and bubbly. To eat, clumps of puso or hanging rice (Filipino sticky rice balls) are dipped into the mixture, hence the name.
If a bubbly mixture of pig’s brain sounds appealing to you, then you definitely need to try this exotic street food when you visit Cebu City. It was one of the dishes featured in the Cebu episode of Street Food on Netflix.
Isaw is one of the most popular street food dishes in the Philippines. It refers to barbecued chicken or pork intestines skewered on sticks.
Common at roadside eateries, isaw is made by thoroughly cleaning the intestines before boiling them. They’re then skewered on barbecue sticks before being grilled and served with a spiced vinegar and/or soy sauce dip.
Filipinos love giving funny colloquial names to food and isaw is one of the best examples. Because of their shape, chicken intestines are also known as “IUD” (intrauterine device) while pork intestines are referred to as “mag wheels”.
12. Betamax (Congealed Chicken or Pork Blood)
Betamax refers to cubes of congealed chicken or pork blood skewered on sticks. A common sight at markets and roadside stalls, these grilled blood cubes get their name from their dark, block-like shapes that resemble Betamax cassette tapes.
13. Walkman (Pork Ears)
Walkman refers to grilled pieces of pork ears skewered on sticks. They initially became popular around the late 80s and early 90s when Sony Walkmans were all the rage, hence the name.
14. Helmet (Chicken Heads)
Helmet is the funny colloquial name Filipinos give to skewered chicken heads. Not to waste any part of the animal, chicken heads are typically grilled but they can also be battered and deep-fried.
15. Adidas (Chicken Feet)
People familiar with Asian food are no strangers to chicken feet. In the Philippines, they’re a common sight at Chinese dim sum restaurants and roadside stalls where they’re skewered and grilled and humorously referred to as “Adidas”.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON EXOTIC FILIPINO FOOD
I felt this list of exotic foods in the Philippines had to be capped at fifteen so I left out odd but delicious dishes like betute (stuffed deep-fried frog), uok (beetle larvae), bakasi (reef eels), and ginataang kuhol (snails cooked in coconut milk).
These fifteen are among the most well-known and interesting but there’s certainly a lot more exotic food to be found in the Philippines! If you have the stomach for it, then you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed going through this list of exotic Filipino food. We have articles on Filipino snacks, Filipino desserts, and Filipino fruits as well so be sure to check those out if you’d like to learn more about Filipino cuisine.
Thanks for reading and have an amazing time eating all the weird but delicious food in the Philippines!
Unless otherwise noted, stock photos via Shutterstock