Extreme Foods of the Philippines

Dinuguan at puto


From comforting dishes that can make any day a feel-good day to exotic ones like the good old balut, deep-fried frogs’ legs, and bugs sautéed in onion and chopped tomatoes, local dishes can be a real treat for the adventurous and daring

By Henrylito D. Tacio

“Food is more than simple nutrition for Filipinos; they love to eat, whether it’s a sit-down meal with family or friends or a quick snack. Sharing food is one of the great social pleasures for all classes, and not having food for your guests are considered a source of ‘hiya,’ so mountains of it is served at parties and fiestas.”

That is what Lindsay Bennett wrote in globetrotter island guide, “Philippines.”

Bennett considered Filipino food as “a melting pot” as it has “many differing cultural antecedents, with dishes and methods from Malaysia and Indonesia mixing with later Spanish, Chinese and American touches.”

Some year back, Cable News Network (CNN) came up with a list of 50 Filipino foods that define the Philippines. “Filipino food may not be as famous as that of its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors. But with more than 7,000 islands and a colorful history, this archipelago has some delicious dishes of its own,” wrote authors Maida Pineda and Candice Lopez-Quimpo.

Pampanga’s “betute tugak”

The Philippines is renowned for its “adobo,” “sinigang,” “kare-kare,” “bulalo,” “sisig,” and “halo-halo.” But some of the foods that made it to the list are what others called as extreme foods. Ingredients may be distasteful to some but are delicious to people who eat them.

In Pampanga, for instance, people cook mole crickets into a delicious appetizer called “kamaro.” The two CNN authors wrote: “If catching these bugs is tough, so is cooking them. Legs and wings must be removed, and then the body is boiled in vinegar and garlic. It’s then sautéed in oil, onion and chopped tomatoes until chocolate brown. These bite-size appetizers are crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside.”

Ever heard of “betute tugak”? The two authors shared this information: “The French may have turned frogs’ legs into a delicacy, but Filipinos take it to the next level. They get a frog, stuff it with minced pork and deep-fry it.”

“Kapampangans are actually proud that their ‘betute’ is very unique to them,” wrote Alexander Villafania in an article which appeared in the website of Food and Beverage. “This can be attributed to the fact that the frogs they use as main ingredient for this delicacy are rice field frogs, which eat small insects. These are actually larger than the normal frogs that are sold for food in most wet markets. However, smaller sized frogs are still good enough to make ‘betute.’”

To Westerners, “dinuguan at puto” may not look appetizing. But this black dish of pork and pig innards stewed in fresh pig blood seasoned with garlic, onion and oregano and eaten with a white “puto” (rice cake) or steamed rice, is a comforting dish for many Filipinos.


Balut” has been the “shocking” topic of some television shows because of its taboo nature in some Western cultures. In two episodes of “Survivor: Palau” and two episodes of “Survivor: China,” separate challenges featured attempts to eat the boiled 17-day-old duck embryo. Similarly, “Fear Factor” frequently uses “balut” as a means of disgusting contestants. “Balut” is best eaten with rock salt or spicy vinegar; oftentimes, it is consumed with beer.

Named after the Filipino term which means “wrapped,” balut (a fertilized egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell) has been touted as aphrodisiac as it boosts libido. Studies have shown balut contains 12.6 grams of protein, 181 calories and good sources of Vitamin B1 and B2, minerals, niacin, beta carotene and other supplements.

Balut is common on street drinking sessions and just chatting with friends late nights. Generally, balut is being sold mostly when the street lights are on by vendors in basket covered with thick foams and cloths to keep them warm.

If you find balut a little bit gross, why not try “ginataang daga”? No, it is not prepared from rats living in homes or in the cities. These are rats “harvested” from rice fields in the provinces.

“I actually had an experience catching these rats and I find in more enjoying than actually eating it,” one blogger wrote. “The best time to catch them is during rainy season because the rat holes are filled with water. Once they get out of their holes, we strike them with a bat or a stick. Cooking it is just like cooking a “ginataang manok.” However, it takes a longer time to cook it as you need to remove the skin, cut the heads and boil them several times to remove the smell. The taste is similar to chicken.”


Then, there’s the “tamilok,” which has become one of the tourism identities of places like Agusan del Norte, Bohol and most especially Palawan. If you’re still at loss what a “tamilok” is, it’s actually a wood worm which tastes like your familiar oyster. Although it looks like a worm, bigger than a twelve-inch ruler, it is actually a mollusk found inside rotting mangroves.

Andrew Zimmern, an American television
personality, chef, food writer, and teacher

In her blog, Faith Salazar wrote: “Finding these wood worms among throngs of mangrove trees is not an easy feat. First, those scouting for ‘tamilok’ need to locate a dead mangrove. When they find one, they need to be careful when trudging muddy parts of the mangrove – it can get very sticky and slippery so their steps have to be calculated. Plus, they have to evade sharp shells and tree branches. When they get to the prized rotting mangrove, they hack it open. They are lucky if they find a ‘tamilok’ inside.”

Jodelen O. Ortiz, who has eaten “tamilok” when he visited Palawan, reports “They are served raw after their insides are removed and cleaned. You may choose between vinegar or calamansi juice for perfect dips. If I were you, however, I will ask for native coconut vinegar (the one from ‘tuba’) as ‘tamilok’ tastes better than the commercial vinegars.”

Those who have eaten “tamilok” said that it tastes better than oyster and any other pulutan while some even answer that it could taste like cheese when served fresh. But one this is sure: drinking becomes more engaging with tamilok as “pulutan.”

One food that may not be considered weird among most Filipinos but foreigners find it shocking to eat is Soup No. 5, which is made up of bull’s testes or penis. It is believed to have aphrodisiac properties.

This brings me to the story shared by Ruben V. Napales, the Filipino reporter who is a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. He was at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles talking with Rachel Weisz, who came to the Philippines doing “The Bourne Legacy.”

Napales asked the Oscar-winning actress if she had her fill of Filipino food while she was shooting the movie. “I had a lot of lumpia and adobo (in Manila),” Rachel answered. “I also had…what’s that dish which has balls?”

When Napales heard the word “balls,” he stammered. “You know what I mean,” the London native said. He reluctantly blurted out the name of the only Filipino dish he knew that is made from bull testes.

Soup No. 5

However, the University of Cambridge-educated actress said it before he did: “Soup No. 5, which is a euphemism for…?” Instead of answering her question, Napales said, “It’s served mostly in motels…”

“Motels?” Rachel asked, adding whether the dish is an aphrodisiac. Napales replied affirmatively. “I didn’t know that,” she said, and again she blurted, “Soup No. 5 from the Philippines.”


And then, there’s durian, which has been described as something that “smells like hell but tastes like heaven.” A century and a half ago, traveler and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace praised the durian as “a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience.”

“(I)ts consistence and flavor are indescribable,” he wrote in his 1869 book “The Malay Archipelago.” “A rich custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy … it is in itself perfect … and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop.”

You definitely heard of Andrew Zimmern, an American television personality, chef, food writer, and teacher. He is the co-creator, host, and consulting producer of the Travel Channel series “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” and “Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World.”

Coconut grubs

At one time, he came to the Philippines and tried eating coconut grubs or those larvae and pupae develop in rotten coconut logs. “In the Philippines, I had them, and they were just gross,” Zimmern wrote. “And I couldn’t understand: inside was this yucky fluid and stomach sac and I was like, ‘Wow, that just was not good.’”Let’s cap this food trip with a drink – the civet coffee, which actually comes from the droppings of the nocturnal, cat-like animal called the palm civet. These carnivorous mammals do eat the red coffee cherries that contain the beans. The consumed coffee cherries pass through the civet whole after fermenting in the stomach and that’s what gives the coffee its exquisite taste and aroma.

Civet coffee

Mouthwatering for some, stomach-churning for others, the Philippines indeed serves up some of the world’s interesting and adventurous traditional cuisine.

“Mouthwatering for some, stomach-churning for others, the Philippines indeed serves up some of the world’s interesting and adventurous traditional cuisine”

Sept 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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