It stands to reason that the Philippines is well-known for its exquisite culinary profile, given its varied landscape and cultures. Wherever you are in the archipelago, you’re sure to find exotic yet delectable Filipino foods.
Although some are admittedly unhealthy foods we love to eat, all are guaranteed to thrill our tastebuds. In this article, we’ll guide you through some of the most unique (but tasty!) dishes you’ll want to try when you visit the Pearl of the Orient Seas.
Weirdest Foods in the Philippines You Should Definitely Try
When we say weird, it’s good weird. The best exotic dishes from the Philippines come from diverse backgrounds and are as good as their taste. Pinoys don’t like to waste anything, which is why many exotic foods here include offcut meat. Let’s get to know some of them.
Filipinos love grilled food. And they also love cooking every part of a chicken to make sure nothing goes to waste. Take isaw, for example.
You’ll find this exotic food on almost every street in the Philippines. Made with chicken intestines and prepared in a zigzag pattern, this skewered dish is beloved by many. Vendors thoroughly clean the intestines inside and out before boiling and grilling them. When coated in soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic sauce, cooked isaw takes on a pillowy appearance that becomes appetizingly shiny—a perfect snack for topping off work or school days.
Isaw’s fried version is also incredibly delicious, making it an excellent snack for a night out in the metro with your friends. If you’re craving this smokey treat, you can easily find it near schools, public places, or offices.
As the sun sets, vendors carrying wicker baskets covered in cloth appear on the Philippine streets and sell one of the weirdest yet most popular Filipino foods: balut.
Many, even Filipinos, are appalled by balut’s appearance. But, don’t let its look stop you from trying this remarkable and healthy dish. If you’ve never seen one, it’s a boiled fertilized duck egg embryo eaten straight from its shell. When eating balut, the savory duck broth inside the egg is the first thing to enjoy. The next part of the dish is the soft yolk, which can be garnished with salt or a dipping sauce of vinegar, bird’s eye chili, and garlic.
A satisfying snack, anyone can buy balut wherever they are in the Philippines. But if you’re in Metro Manila, consider visiting Pateros, where this exotic Filipino food is a known delicacy. You should also try its variant, the grilled balut. Grilled over an open flame until the egg white and yolk are cooked, this cooking method brings out a smokey flavor that gives balut a distinct taste many people adore.
Do you love listening to music? If yes, then you’ll find the next exotic food a banger! This iconic street food embodies the Filipino culture of thrift and humor. Because of its similarity to ears, this popular treat was named “walkman” in honor of Sony’s 1980s portable cassette player.
Cooks cut pig ears into chunks, skewer them, and marinate them in a sweet and savory sauce that complements the smokey flavor of the grill. When you take a bite out of a walkman, the thin cartilage inside the gummy fat and skin snaps softly. It provides a satiating crunch and a satisfying chew that leave people wanting more.
Dinuguan is one of the more famous exotic foods in Manila. This dish, rooted in the word “dugo,” which means “blood” in Tagalog, is eaten throughout the country. It also goes by different names, like “dinardaraan” in Ilocano and “dugo-dugo” in Cebuano.
Well-known for its thick black gravy, Filipinos make dinuguan with pork blood, vinegar, seasonings, and chili. The vinegar causes the blood to thicken and gives the dish its tangy flavor. Traditionally, cooks use pork offal like intestines, lungs, heart, ears, snout, and pork meat to create it, but others sometimes only use pork meat.
Don’t let yourself be fooled by its appearance, either! Its look and texture may seem weird, but your taste buds will thank you later when you grab a bite of this rich and savory dish that pairs well with puto and rice.
- Tuslob Buwa
Well-loved in Cebu and originating in barangays Pasil and Suba, tuslob buwa is an exciting street food with a name that means to dip in bubbles.
The main attraction of this exotic Filipino food is the thick, flavorful gravy. Its main ingredients include pork liver and brain cooked with aromatics like garlic, onions, shrimp paste, and peppers. Cooks typically use oil or lard, which results in a greasier dish, and sometimes soy sauce to add flavor. At first, the ingredients produce a watery stock, but after a while over the heat, they thicken and bubble up into a hearty stew.
This rich brown sauce goes well with another Cebu delicacy, pusô, or cooked rice wrapped in coconut or pandan leaves. And reflective of the communal culture of Filipinos, tuslob buwa is best enjoyed on the street with other people. Vendors prepare the gravy in small batches in one wok, where multiple people dip their pusô in bubbling hot tuslob buwa.
The Filipino’s wit doesn’t stop with the walkman. Remember the video cassette recorder popular during the 1980s? That’s the name of our next weird but surprisingly delectable Filipino food, betamax.
You can find betamax anywhere where there are vendors selling street food. Made of congealed chicken blood cut into cubes, this grilled dish got its name because it resembles the cassette tapes of a Betamax.
Once cooked, the blood solidifies into a sponge-like texture. It also soaks up the marinade baste as it grills and the vinegar dipping sauce like a sponge. Betamax doesn’t have a taste, making it a great vehicle for your favorite dipping sauces. Plus, it has a rubbery texture that’s great for chewing while savoring the flavorful dips. It also pairs well with alcoholic drinks—a great snack for hanging out with friends!
Here’s another exotic food in the Philippines with an amusing name, Adidas. It’s named so because the brand it’s called after has three stripes, and chickens have three toes. Cooks marinade the chicken feet in a flavorful sweet sauce before grilling, but they can also prepare them adobo style.
Adidas isn’t something you eat in a hurry. Chicken feet have little meat, but they’re filled with chewy tendons. When eating adidas, it is best to take your time and nibble at it to get all the marinade and even the tiniest tendons and joints. If you’re up for one, it’s a common offering in Chinese dim sum restaurants and roadside stalls.
- Chicharon Bulaklak
Filipinos have an uncanny ability to elevate the flavor of the most unappealing ingredients. Chicharon bulaklak is another product of this culture, a beloved one. This exotic Filipino food is pork crackling made from ruffled fat from the pig’s intestines. Once deep fried, the ruffled fat turns into glossy golden-brown flowers with crisp external layers and softer, chewier insides.
The crisp layers of chicharon bulaklak are tough to resist, especially when dipped in spicy vinegar and a drizzle of calamansi juice. It’s even painstakingly delicious when paired with ice-cold beer.
- Adobong Kamaru
Adobo is a seminal Filipino dish whose origins may go back to pre-colonial times. Filipinos cook adobo using different kinds of meat, including kamaru, or rice field cricket. Crickets, as a delicacy, aren’t so hard to imagine. It’s a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, so it is no surprise that other countries, like Thailand, also incorporate it into their cooking.
Adobong kamaru is a Filipino food originating in Pampanga, where agricultural land is abundant for kamaru to thrive. It’s sautéed in garlic and adobo seasonings until it becomes crispy through and through. Adobong kamaru can be quite addicting, especially when paired with rice. It’s also a tasty treat that pairs well with a cold beer.
Palawan is the birthplace of the delicious dish known as “tamilok.” In the mangrove trees of the Philippines, you will find the exotic dish tamilok, which are woodworms that look like thick, long tubes with a slimy texture. In many ways, this exquisite delicacy is similar to oysters, including their musky sea flavors.
Like oysters, you can eat tamilok raw or dipped in sukang tuba (coconut vinegar) to bring out its delicate flavor and silky texture. They also taste great when fried, grilled, or added to omelets.
- Field Rats
Field rats, typically eaten in the province of Pampanga, are one of the more unusual Filipino delicacies. They are found in rice fields where they eat only rice and grain—vastly different from those in city sewers. Filipinos clean and skin the field rats before grilling or cooking them as tapa or adobo, which preserves the meat.
The field rats are smaller and have softer meat than cows and pigs. Both its tapa and adobo versions have unique combinations of sweet and savory flavors that can make you forget that you’re eating such exotic food. Field rats, unlike the kamaru, are typically eaten by locals. So if you want to try this one, head on over to Pampanga and ask the locals where to grab this daring dish.
Abuos, or ant eggs, are a seasonal exotic food in Northern Luzon. It comes from the red weaver ant or hantik larvae, available only for about 15 days in the summer. Harvesting ant eggs is no easy feat because this ant type is known for its extremely painful bites. This is also probably why this dish is not common outside the Northern parts of Luzon.
Nevertheless, ant eggs are a delicacy you may even find at fiestas. There are various ways to enjoy this Ilocano delicacy: raw, sautéed in garlic, or adobo-style. These soft eggs have a decadent velvety texture and a buttery and slightly sour taste. Furthermore, abuos is rich in protein and is said to have aphrodisiac properties.
The Japanese are not the only ones who enjoy the exotic delicacy of sea urchins. With the abundance of seafood in the Philippines, it’s quite common to find fresh sea urchins, more commonly known as salawaki, in island destinations.
Sea urchins are echinoderms that have long, venomous spikes. These can easily puncture the skin and penetrate deep. But if you catch one and lightly crack its shell, you’ll find its soft, yellow gonads.
Salawaki is best enjoyed raw, though some season it with vinegar. When eaten raw, sea urchin has a salty and slightly sweet taste—so soft that it melts in your mouth. Almost every Philippine island has this exotic food, but Bohol, Pangasinan, and La Union are the more popular places. It’s even sold like street food, except the “street” is the ocean, and the vendors’ “carts” are small boats that cruise tourist hotspots near snorkeling sites.
Bulcachong is a well-known exotic food in Mindanao. It’s also the name of the restaurant in Davao that specializes in this dish. Bulcachong is made from the shanks and tendons of water buffalo or carabao. Despite the abundance of carabaos in the Philippines, few locals actually consume the meat.
Bulcachong has a thick orange soup described as a combination of kare-kare and bulalo. The cooking process involves slowly simmering the meat with aromatics until it’s fork-tender. Many also believe the soft, almost gelatinous skin and tendons combined with the rich soup are a great hangover cure.
We were serious when we said that Filipinos don’t like wasting food. That’s why you’ll find pigs’ heads on party tables nationwide. This part is called maskara (Tagalog for “mask”) because only the front part of the pig’s head is used, and it almost looks like a mask. Think of maskara as an affordable alternative to lechon. If properly seasoned, the pig’s head provides abundant skin and a little meat that mimic lechon flavors. Boiled, deep-fried, or baked, the pig’s head becomes an appetizingly crispy, exotic Filipino food that’s great with rice or as pulutan.
We’re not done telling you about exotic Filipino street foods with clever names. This next dish is called “helmet” because it is related to heads—skewered chicken heads.
Vendors typically marinate helmets in the same sauce as pork barbecue and grill them, resulting in a glistening, crispy skin. Another important part of the helmet is the chicken’s brain, which you can access by removing the top part of the skull. The brain has a soft, fatty texture that gives it its appealing taste. It’s also perfect as an after-work, school-day snack, or finger food.
- Betute Tugak
Another exotic dish from the Northern part of the Philippines is betute tugak, or stuffed, deep-fried frog. Palakan bukid—frogs found in rice fields—is a popular food among the Kapampangans, and betute tugak is only one of many ways to eat frogs.
Betute tugak is a fried frog stuffed with minced pork. The locals catch frogs, stuff them with pork or seasoned ground meat, and deep-fry them. These are much larger than the typical frogs, such as the common bullfrog, sold for food at the most remote wet markets.
Many people compare frog meat to chicken meat. But with Kapampangans’ expert cooking, expect an elevated, crispy, and juicy dish. If you have an adventurous spirit, you absolutely must try this unusual delicacy—truly exotic and unique to Filipino culture.
Uok, beetle larvae found in coconut logs, is an exotic Filipino food popular in Southern Luzon, particularly in Rizal. Although these larvae look cartoonish and unappetizing, they can be a tasty snack. You can stir-fry uok, so it becomes flavorful and crisp. And for thrill seekers and eaters, you can eat uok raw to feel its dense insides deliciously ooze out on your first bite.
Etag is the Igorots’ traditional way of preserving pork in the Cordillera region. Etag is smoked meat, not too different from cured ham. Locals rub slabs of pork with salt and leave them hanging to dry under the sun or above a steady smoke from dried wood for weeks.
What makes this Filipino food deliciously weird is that maggots develop as meat cures and many people consume it with them. Maggots don’t necessarily indicate spoilage, so feel free to brush them off before using the food in a recipe.
You can eat etag raw, thanks to its simple yet umami-rich flavor, or use it to season other dishes like stir-fried vegetables.
- Soup No. 5
A bowl of Soup No. 5 has to be one of the wackiest but mouthwatering things you’ll ever put in your mouth. It’s a Filipino soup made from bull testicles and penises.
Cooks clean, slice, and boil the organs into small pieces to resemble beef tendons. They are then cooked in a stock flavored with garlic, onions, ginger, birds-eye chili, fish sauce, and other spices until tender. The soup is flavorful, and the organs are tender and gelatinous, making this a delicious meal.
Soup No. 5 is available throughout the country, but only a few restaurants or eateries specialize in it. The strange name for this weird Filipino dish comes from a desire to conceal its main ingredients from customers who might get sick at the thought of eating them. Manilla’s Chinatowns are the place to go if you are craving some.
Try These Exotic Foods and Taste the Flavorful Culture of the Philippines
The Philippine culture is as colorful and diverse as these dishes. No matter which of the Philippines’ 17 regions you visit, some exotic Filipino food will challenge your palette and leave you with unforgettable memories. What are you waiting for? Catch a plane to the Philippines and prepare to taste the country’s weirdest yet most flavorful cuisine.