The Best Things I’ve Eaten on Vacation (So Far)

Hello from the 7,107 islands of the Philippines! (I’m back to writing my own blog posts.) Actually, hello from just one island – I’m still in Manila, spending lots of time with my family, catching up with old friends, basking in the warm Philippine weather, and of course savoring all the Filipino food. Filipino food is so often overlooked in South East Asian cuisine, which is a shame because it is magnificent.

Food and culture are so intertwined and for me, Filipino cuisine represent the people and the culture: warm, hearty, different in each region, and influenced by centuries of Spanish, Chinese, and American colonization. I admit that I only developed a deep appreciation of Filipino food when I moved to the US nearly eight years ago.  Now, every time I go home, I enjoy each and every Pinoy bite.

I wanted to share some of the best things I’ve eaten in the last twelve days that I’ve been here (yes, I’ve been here for almost two weeks. Yes, I’ve been eating a lot.). Have you ever heard of or tried any of these dishes before?

aligue pasta at Cafe Adriatico

Aligue is crab roe. It is also called taba ng talangka which translates to “crab fat” but it is really the roe from the talangka, which are small shore crabs. The aligue is insanely rich – it’s like buttered uni (Japanese sea urchin), but more shellfish-tasting, salty from the sea, with a velvety mouth-feel.  Here it shines in a a simple, garlicky pasta dish.

crispy pata, also at Cafe Adriatico

Look at that crackling pork skin! With the tender, juicy meat peeking out from underneath! Crispy pata is usually reserved for special occasions (but isn’t my coming home a special occasion?). Pata means pork leg – and this is a whole leg, complete with hock and trotters. This fried, artery-clogging, heart-stopping beauty is a staple during Filipino celebrations, served with steaming white rice, and a dipping sauce made of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, onions, and chilies.

prawn and escargot salad at DUO

I’ve mentioned before that escargot is a common food in the Philippines (the snails are locally called kuhol), and paired with really fresh prawns, mesclun greens, arugula, asparagus, mushrooms, and shards of salty Parmesan cheese, it made for one glorious salad. While salads are not really traditionally part of Filipino cuisine (most of the vegetables are served warm or pickled), the prawns and escargot taste very local.

my favorite Filipino breakfast: kesong puti (white cheese) on a buttered pan de sal (traditional breakfast roll), served with rich hot chocolate

Remember when I wrote about kesong puti, the cheese I’ve loved my whole life? I was still on my lay-over in Japan and I was already thinking about kesong puti and my first taste of it at home (oh who am I kidding, I’ve been thinking about it for weeks). This soft, creamy, buffalo-milk mozzarella is my very favorite breakfast item in the whole entire world.  I love eating it with warm pan de sal and homemade tsokolate or hot chocolate.

I wrote about Filipino tsokolate before, a drink made from tablea (cocoa disks with ground peanuts) dissolved in hot milk and frothed with a batidor (a wooden whisk, also called a molinillo in Mexico) in a small aluminum pot. I have never had hot chocolate that’s better than our homemade tsokolate: it is thick, frothy, and creamy, with the perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness from the tablea. Paired with the pillowy white cheese and warm buttered bread, it makes for the most perfect breakfast for me.

teeny tiny soft shell crabs with chilies

These little baby crabs are fried and eaten whole. I used to be really squeamish about eating these little crabs… until I actually ate one. These are fried to perfection and just mildly briny, and are so, so, so good served warm and fresh from the pan.

yellow watermelon

I’ve been eating a lot of local fruits, but this is exotic even for me. I’ve never had yellow watermelon before – it tastes just like regular red watermelon, just a little bit less sweet.

spaghetti aglio olio at Mamou

This is just plain old spaghetti aglio olio (my favorite way to eat spaghetti) but it did come sprinkled with a healthy dose of siling labuyo flakes. Siling labuyo is bird’s eye chili (don’t know how hot and spicy that is? Check out the chili scale) so this makes my regular sprinkling of red chili pepper flakes taste downright bland. The wait staff at the restaurant warned Lora and I multiple times about the spiciness of the dish, but we are both spice-lovers so we were able to take the heat!

ribeye steak at Mamou

I know, this is very American without the least bit hint of Filipino, but it is one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a lot). Lora and I shared a 14-oz slab and sadly did not get to finish it. Probably because we also ate a giant salad. And that spicy plate of pasta. For lunch. (What? That’s not how you fuel for uh, a long afternoon of shopping?)

puto bumbong

And now we’re on to desserts! Puto bumbong is a dessert that is enjoyed during the Christmas season. It is traditionally served after misa de gallo or “dawn mass” (Filipinos go to Church at dawn for nine days before Christmas) and is actually considered street food. It is made from an heirloom variety of sticky rice, poured in bamboo tubes and steamed, then served with butter, sugar, and sweet grated coconut. The beautiful purple color reminds me of ube jam but it is not the same flavor as ube jam is made with purple yam, and puto bumbong is made with purple rice.


Halo-halo literally means “mixed.” It is basically a combination of sweets, topped with shaved ice, milk, and flan. The sweets can range from sweetened kidney beans, garbanzos (chickpeas), cubes of jelly, tapioca, sweet potatoes, jackfruit, caramelized plantains, macapuno (coconut) strips, and other local delicacies. However this version that I like the most is simple: just caramelized plantains, macapuno, shaved ice, milk, topped with a little sliver of leche flan.

“dirty ice cream” or sorbetes

I could not contain my joy upon seeing this ice cream cart! This was at my dad’s office for his 60th birthday (yeah, he’s awesome) and it definitely brought back wonderful memories of my childhood. Dirty ice cream refers to “street food ice cream” – peddled by ice cream men pushing bright, rickety carts along the streets (and it it is called “dirty” as opposed to regular ice cream sold in supermarkets, restaurants, stores, etc).  Sorbetes is the more PC-way to call it, but I prefer dirty ice cream. Sorbetes is NOT like a sorbet – in fact, it is creamier and richer because it is made with coconut milk or carabao (water buffalo) milk.

the sorbetes flavors for the day were chocolate, ube, and mango

I picked ube – I really love the purple yam! Do you notice a trend with Filipinos and purple desserts?

As you can see, I’ve been very fortunate to savor all these wonderful things, but I feel even luckier that I’m spending the holidays with my family. It’s been a whirlwind vacation so far, but I’m enjoying every minute. I hope you’re all having a wonderful holiday season as well!


19 Responses to “The Best Things I’ve Eaten on Vacation (So Far)”

  1. #
    Megan posted December 21, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Those little crabs look so cute. I’d probably be squeamish about eating them too. Hope you are having a great time!

  2. #
    Meghan@travelwinedine posted December 22, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I am positively drooling! Can we all come with you on your next trip? :)

    • #
      Bianca Garcia posted December 22, 2011 at 10:26 am

      Hi Meghan! Yes! My mom would love to have all my friends over, especially the ones who love food as much as I do ;)

  3. #
    Simply Life posted December 22, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    so fun to hear about this- the food looks greawt!

  4. #
    Michelle Collins posted December 22, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    That yellow watermelon looks so interesting!! Glad you’re having a great time at home!

  5. #
    Sophie posted December 22, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Just discovered your site and I love it :)

  6. #
    Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga posted December 23, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Not only have I never had yellow watermelon before..never knew it existed! Thanks for sharing!

  7. #
    Melanie @ Melanie Cooks posted December 23, 2011 at 10:57 am

    These are very unusual dishes, and they look mouthwatering! Looks like you are having a lot of fun!

  8. #
    Jun Belen posted December 23, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Oh my! What a delicious spread of food! I am so jealous but so happy that you’re enjoying your visit. That crispy pata and ribeye steak are calling my name. When are you coming back? Merry Christmas, Bianca!!

  9. #
    Amanda L. (Tales from a Kitchen Misfit) posted December 26, 2011 at 11:08 am

    i am so jealous of all your amazing eats! looks like you are having a fantastic time!

  10. #
    Bridget posted December 27, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Sounds like you’re having an incredible time over there!! All that food looks incredible, but for some reason the breakfast cheese on the roll with the drinking chocolate is calling my name!! Hope you had a fantastic Christmas!!

    • #
      Bianca Garcia posted December 27, 2011 at 11:13 pm

      Thanks Bridget! I can’t get enough of that white cheese here!

  11. #
    Sarah @ The Smart Kitchen posted December 27, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    I know NOTHING about Filipino food, but I have heard of halo-halo…although based on your description, the recipe I have flagged is not very true to the real thing!

    I’ve never tried ube either, but I have seen them sold…when I worked in a grocery store in Texas we sold a fancy and expensive brand of ube ice cream that was almost always sold out.

    • #
      Bianca Garcia posted December 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm

      Hi Sarah! Oooh ube ice cream is awesome too, I’ve been having multiple scoops here whenever I get the chance ;)

  12. #
    Tina @ Best Body Fitness posted December 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    I haven’t really heard of any of those, but they sure do look yummy! Well minus the crab one since I’m not a huge fan of soft shell crabs. Glad you’re having a great trip! :)

  13. #
    DessertForTwo posted December 28, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Ok, can I fly out and meet you? Will you pick me up and bring everything in the photos too? K thanks! :)

  14. #
    Hannah posted December 29, 2011 at 5:55 am

    My lack of opportunities to eat Asian-style desserts makes me very, very sad inside! These Filipino desserts look so good, although I’d also love to try the aligue pasta :)

  15. #
    frank merrill posted July 3, 2014 at 8:21 am

    I’ve had a scant variety of Filipino food in my lifetime, and I enjoyed it immensely! When I was a kid to young adulthood, my uncle (a Filipino who had married into my mother’s family) often fixed that cuisine when we visited them in Detroit – usually it was either abalone soup, or monggo.

    To this day I will sometimes fix monggo at home – I love the stuff! I would like to try it truly cooked Filipino, as the recipe may vary from mine in interesting ways, but as basic a dish as it is, it’s wonderful!

    However, I don’t have his abalone soup recipe anymore. I remember besides the abalone, it had some scrambled egg throughout, and some seaweed, I think scallions and a couple of veggies. I wish I remembered more, but it’s been close to fifty years. I’ve looked up abalone soup on the Web, but never found anything like his (with the seaweed, etc.).

  16. #
    sheryl posted February 8, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    do u have the contact details for the dirty ice cream cart? how much? thanks!

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