Filipino Flavors

Manila’s Magical, Misunderstood Cuisine

By ROBYN ECKHARDT
“But there’s no good food there!” friends told me as I prepared for a food-focused trip to Manila more than two years ago.

In fact, as I was to discover, what the Philippines has is Southeast Asia’s most misunderstood cuisine. While Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia are foodie destinations, the Philippines is often stereotyped as the home of balut (unhatched duck embryos, a popular snack) and fast-food chain Jollibee. On my trip, though, guided by recommendations from a Filipino expat friend and his local contacts, I ate spectacularly well.

And those Manila contacts quickly became friends, because Filipinos love nothing more than to introduce outsiders to their overlooked cuisine. I’ve returned to the city many times, just for the food.

The cuisine varies widely region to region, showing Chinese, Malay, Spanish and American influences. Over the centuries, Filipinos have combined flavors introduced by foreign traders, colonizers and occupiers with local ingredients and cooking techniques to create something unique and exciting.

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