Friday, 10 February 2012

The Street Food Guide

They're cheap, they're accessible, and they're in every street corner.

No, 'they' do not happen to be illegal entertainment. 'They' are Filipino street food, the ubiquitous feature on virtually every street in Manila. They are inherently popular due to being cheap and quick snacks - in quantities, even meals! - and one may be lucky enough to find a place that serves really delicious servings. However, with the reputation of Filipino street food as 'dirty' and 'unhygienic', let this be your ultimate guide to a tasty and SAFE experience. Remember, street food is definitely more fun in the Philippines!

Calamares or fried squid.

Safety and Cleanliness
These are the most important things to look out for when scouting for street food (and to avoid the many diseases transmittable through raw food). 
  • The brush (and sauce) used for uncooked food are in a separate container.
  • The raw food on display are covered from the elements and insects.
  • The sticks are clean; no soot marks indicating reuse.
  • Bonus points if paper food containers/plates are given out (so that customers don't dip the cooked food into the common sauce containers).
Avoid the place if:
  • Flies are on the raw food.
  • After cooking the food, the vendor places them on top of the raw food again before packing them.
  • The common sauces look murky or discolored.
  • The oil being used is dark and murky.
  • Charcoal is placed on the grill by melting the plastic bag (with the charcoal inside) through. This is downright poisonous.
  • The sweet sauce is exactly the same one used as brush on grilled street food.
  • The knife used to cut and slice raw food is the same one used to stoke the charcoal.
  • The vendor is smoking while preparing the food (ash droppings).
  • Customers touch raw and cooked food items with their hands (to check if it's still hot - a disgusting practice considering what we touch on a daily basis). 

Yes, that's blood or 'betamax'.

Food Quality
Most grilled street food are pretreated with an orange- or reddish marinade to give the food a 'fresher' look. While this hides many of the raw items' flaws, you can usually spot bad food if:
  • The visible meat missed by the orange-colored marinade is grayish or grayish-yellow.
  • The seafood items smell a little funny.
  • The breading on some items are uneven or overly crusty (from experience, these taste bad).

The general rule of thumb is, if the food stall looks like it was crafted from scrap material twenty minutes ago, that's probably how they prepared their food as well. If the stall has a proper cart with cooking utensils, covered food display containers, or even a building, chances are that the food there is much better (and slightly more expensive). If the food items are prepared right in front of you, it will take a little more time to cook, but again, chances are the food is much better.

Food Types
There are a lot. So I will break them down into categories, depending on how they are prepared and/or the usual time of day that they are popularly consumed.
  • GRILLED: Pork barbecue (pork meat), chicken and pork isaw (intestines), adidas (chicken feet), betamax (coagulated pork blood), pig ears, pig skin, butsi (chicken throat), ulo (chicken heads), chicken barbecue (chicken meat), hotdogs, corn.
  • FRIED: Chicken and pork isaw, turon (bananas in flour wrapper), lumpia (fried spring rolls), kwek kwek (quail eggs in orange breading), assorted balls (fish, chicken, squid), kikiam (processed fish bites), siomai (Chinese dumplings), kamote (cassava in brown sugar), banana-cue (bananas in brown sugar), calamares (squid), baga (cow lungs), laman ng baka (orange-dyed cow innards), tokwa (tofu bites), mani (peanuts), butsi.
  • STEAMED/BOILED: Siopao (Chinese dim sum buns with pork meat inside - sometimes rumored to be cat meat), siomai, peanuts with shells, corn, the infamous Filipino balut (egg with a developed duck/chicken embryo inside) and penoy (regular egg, but tastes gamey).

Good Eats
I've been in Manila for almost five years now, and I've gone around quite a bit to know some good (and bad) street food places or ihawan in Filipino. Here are some that deserve some mention:
  • Mercato at Bonifacio Global City offers a wide-selection of over-sized street food at a reasonable price. The items are also guaranteed to be much cleaner and safer than anywhere else. Budget per person is roughly PHP 200.00.
  • Barbecue ihawan near R. Papa LRT 1 station. The pork barbecue here is amazing and very cheap too. Food gets sold out here by 6pm-7pm, so a late afternoon visit is best. Budget per person is roughly PHP 50.00.
  • Ihawan at Agata Street, corner of Zobel Roxas Street, Osmena Highway. Slightly more pricey than the regular street food, but the servings are quite good. Budget per person is roughly PHP 50.00.
  • Grilled corn in the back-alleys of Divisoria Shopping Center, Manila. PHP 20.00 each if I remember correctly.
  • Tinuhog ni Benny in an alley across De La Salle University serves excellent pork and chicken barbecue at cheap prices, and the place actually has tables and chairs to dine in. Budget per person is roughly PHP 60.00.
  • Noel's Barbecue in another street behind De La Salle University (near Quirino LRT 1 Station) is one of the most affordable places to have street food along Taft Avenue. The food served are well-prepared too. Expect the place to be full all day. Budget per person is roughly PHP 50.00.

Quail eggs, or kwek-kwek (also known as pugo).

I purposely omitted exact location addresses because I believe that part of what makes street food so good is the experience of hunting for a good street food place :) Ask around, explore! Of course, be mindful of your safety always.
Please feel free to share your favorite street food havens by giving a nod below! 
Let's share the love of food together.

Calamares image from tumblr, retrieved on February 9, 2012.
Betamax image from venzsecretworld, retrieved on February 10, 2012.
Quail eggs image from Coffee on the Side, retrieved on February 10, 2012.

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