Everyone knows Filipinos love to eat and everyone knows at least one Filipino, so knowing 10 dishes to order at a Filipino restaurant is essential knowledge. Filipino cuisine is not what one would call fancy, by any means. It's not subtle, it's not chic, it's not light. But damn, is it ever tasty. However, unless you're Filipino, have Filipino friends, or married to a Filipino, sitting down and ordering good food in a Filipino restaurant can be daunting. Fear no more, hungry reader: here are 10 must-try dishes at Filipino restaurants:
- Pork Inihaw If you’ve never had Filipino food, then pork inihaw is going to be Filipino Cuisine 101. Pork inihaw is pork chops with the fat and bones removed and marinated in a strong mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt and garlic. After marination, the pork is then grilled or barbecued and sometimes served over onions with white steamed rice. Each piece of pork is full of tangy zest and is almost irresistible.
- Adobo is generally considered the unofficial national dish of the Philippines. Adobo is chicken or pork (or both), slow-cooked in a soy sauce and vinegar mix, then pan-fried to crispiness. The slow-cooking of the meat allows the hearty soy sauce flavor and the sourness of the vinegar to penetrate the meat, giving every bite a tangy, satisfying edge. Generally, adobo is served with steamed white rice.
- Lumpia If you think the Chinese have an egg roll monopoly, think again. Filipino spring rolls, commonly called lumpia, have more emphasis on flavor than their Chinese counterparts. The two most common kinds of lumpia are lumpiang sariwa, which contain chicken, crushed peanuts and turnips, and wrapped in a translucent edible wrapper and lumpia shanghai which are smaller, fried, and filled with beef or pork, onions, carrots and spices.
- Tocino is a sweet, sticky, cured pork or beef. Its flavor is very unique and oddly satisfying. Tocino is prepared by first slicing the meat into thin strips, then curing it in anise wine, salt, water, annato and sugar. The meat is then either boiled or fried, then served, once again, over white rice. If soy sauce and vinegar get overwhelming, then tocino is the way to go.
- Kare-Kare is a hearty Filipino stew that tastes a lot better than it sounds. Its base is a peanut sauce, and its main meats are oxtail, beef and sometimes tripe. Eggplant, string beans and Chinese cabbage make up its vegetables. All in all, it sounds pretty strange, but let’s not forget that the Chinese use peanuts and peanut oil in their cooking, and no one thinks less of them. Kare-kare has a very complex flavor but is very filling and satisfying for those who try it out.
- Lechón is the Filipino equivalent of a good old-fashioned pig roast. Traditionally, lechón is cooked by sliding a whole pig on a giant stick and giving poor Piglet the rotisserie treatment out back. The pig gets nice and crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside, and the meat is carved up and served with either vinegar or a special lechón sauce. If you want no-frills meat, then take advantage of lechón.
- Pancit You know what else the Chinese think they’re the best at? Noodles. Lo mein’s old news, man. Pancit’s what you want. When you order pancit from a Filipino restaurant, you’re most likely going to get pancit bihon, which is comprised of very thin rice noodles, fried in soy sauce and citrus juice, with vegetables and meat mixed in. The exact mix-ins are up to the chef, but most people use either chicken, pork or beef with cabbage, carrots or hard-boiled eggs.
- Puto If you’re looking to strike your sweet tooth, order some puto. These sweet, steamed rice cakes are moist and fluffy and very addictive. It’s like sponge cake, but more awesome.
- Sago Gulaman If you’re a bubble tea fan, ask for sago gulaman. It’s a sweet drink made up of big tapioca pearls and gelatin cubes suspended in a brown sugar syrup. You’ll never look at bubble tea the same again.
- Halo-Halo Finally, it’s time for the finest Filipino desert: halo-halo. It’s shaved ice, milk and whatever sweets are laying around, including sugar palm fruit, tapioca, flan, or ice cream. Nice restaurants let you make halo-halo yourself. Give it a try!
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