Generally, the closer a restaurant is to the sea, the better the seafood. It’s no surprise then that the Philippines, a country consisting of about 7,641 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, has absolutely excellent seafood dishes. Filipino cuisine is a mix of traditional dishes and those influenced by the various occupations by other countries over the years. These include Indian, Chinese, Spanish and American influences. Since the Philippines has absorbed the cuisine of so many countries worldwide, it is considered the country to best represent the blend between Eastern and Western countries.
One marker of Filipino cuisine is the use of a souring agent. While Western food, especially comfort food, leans towards softer flavors, the Philippines goes for bold, strong flavors like garlic, vinegar and pickled onions. Many dishes use a souring agent like tamarind, a type of bitter fruit native to the Philippines. Many Filipino seafood dishes are very simple: a combination of fish, rice and a sauce. Fancier dishes tend to have the same elements but include every type of seafood, more ingredients and more difficult cooking techniques. No matter the type of seafood dish though, the Filipinos have perfected their craft.
Filipino cuisine includes several staple dishes. Each of these have many variations, which depend on meat or seafood as the meat, the spices and herbs and what is used for any sauce. For reference, here’s a quick list of some of the most common Filipino words used in reference to cuisine.
Adobo: Adobo is any kind of seafood cooked in stock. This can be vegetable, beef, chicken or any other type of stock. Usually adobos are thin soups as there is not any cream added to the stock. The type of seafood can be anything, from fish to squid!
Ginataang: Ginataang means with coconut milk! Since coconut palms are native to the Philippines, it makes sense that coconut milk would be a popular ingredient in many dishes. When cooked slowly, coconut milk makes a perfect creamy sauce that mellows out any bitter dish.
Pulutan: Pulutan isn’t an ingredient, it’s a way of eating. Pulutan is finger food! Just like french fries or chips and salsa in the United States, if you eat some dishes with a spoon or fork in the Philippines, you’ll get some pretty funny looks! Pay attention to how the locals are eating and remember that if you’re served a dish without any utensils, it might not be an accident!
Sinigang: Just like “broiling” or “marinading,” sinigang is a way of cooking meat. Sinigang means to cook meat or seafood in a stew or soup with a blend of herbs and spices that give the meat a sweet and sour taste.
Tinolang: Tinolang means soup! Just like soup in any other culture, tinolang can be made with many different type of meat or seafood. It’s very popular in the Philippines since it is not only easy to cook but also healthy!
Here are fourteen of the dishes you should definitely try if you visit the Philippines or go to a Filippino restaurant! We’ve also included some local restaurants around the Philippines where you can find these dishes!
1. Ginataang alimango (Crabs in Coconut Milk)
This is a thick, creamy dish made from slowly cooking crabs in coconut milk with squash and some spicy red or green chili peppers. Like most traditional Filipino dishes, ginataang alimango is finished with a dash of fish sauce and is served with a side of rice. This is an especially popular dish in the province of Pampanga because crabs are readily available year round.
Restaurant Recommendation: Harbor View Restaurant // Address: 1000 Katigbak Parkway, Rizal Park, Manila, Luzon 1300 Philippines // Phone 632 710-0060
2. Adobong Pusit (Squid Adobo)
Squid adobo is unique from the other types of adobo because, instead of a brown sauce, it has a black sauce. The black color is caused by the squid ink! The ink also gives the sauce a saltier flavor than other adobos. Some versions of squid adobo use a lot of garlic which, combined with the saltiness, gives the dish a strong earthy flavor.
3. Kinilaw na Isda (Raw Fish Salad)
Kinilaw na isda is the Filipino version of the better-known ceviche. Usually made with tuna, the fish is not cooked but instead soaked in vinegar and lemon juice, both which are acidic enough to semi cook the fish. The best way to eat kinilaw na isda is “pulutan” style: with your fingers. And, of course you can’t forget to grab a nice cold beer!
Restaurant recommendation: Aboy’s Restaurant Address: Goldenfield Commercial Complex, Liroville Subdivision, Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Philippines // Phone: 63 34 435 0760
4. Inihaw na Pusit (Grilled Squid)
With a little prep work, this tasty dish is sure to amaze guests and family alike as either an appetizer or main dish! The squid is marinated in a sweet and tangy marinade of honey, vinegar, garlic, chili peppers and more, then stuffed with onions and tomatoes. Finally it is grilled over hot coals until it is perfectly tender and juicy. If you make this at home as an appetizer, try it with a spicy vinegar dipping sauce!
Restaurant recommendation: Cafe Tavera Address: Tavera corner Avancena St., Davao City, Mindanao 8000, Philippines // Phone: 63 82 221 3322
5. Sinigang na Hipon (Shrimp in Tamarind Soup)
Sinigang na hipon is one of the many variations of sinigang, which is one of Filipinos’ favorite dishes! Shrimp, tomatoes, onions and radish are boiled together in water until they are soft. Then a souring agent, often tamarind, is added to finish the dish!
6. Escabeche (Sweet and Sour Fish)
Escabeche is a delicious dish made from fried fish that has been marinated or cooked in vinegar and spices, giving it the perfect sweet and sour zing. In the Philippines the most common fish for escabeche is tilapia, but you can use any fish available. The fish is topped with carrots and bell peppers, giving the dish an all-around light and fresh feel.
Restaurant recommendation: Marina Tuna Address: J. P. Laurel Ave, Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines // Phone: 63 82 233 2666
7. Garlic Butter Shrimp
Garlic butter shrimp is an easy-to-make flavorful dish best enjoyed with rice. Surprisingly, the key ingredient is lemon soda! You can easily make, or find in restaurants, many variations of this dish. Popular variations include adding fresh chili peppers and chopped scallions and making the shrimp part of a pasta dish instead of serving it with rice.
Restaurant recommendation: Bistro Selera Address: 2nd Floor, SM Lanang Premier, Davao City 8000 // Phone: 63 82 285 2184
8. Bistek na Tanigue with Cream
This simple seafood dish is sliced tanigue fish cooked in soy sauce and calamansi juice with cream, then garnished with fresh onion rings. Calamansi is a fruit native to the Philippines that is similar to a lemon so if you want to try cooking this dish yourself, lemon juice can be substituted in place of calamansi juice!
Restaurant recommendation: Diotay’s Eatery Address: 12th Street Gatuslao, Bacolod, Negros Occidental 6100 Philippines // Phone: 63 920 439 2581
9. Rellenong Bangus (Stuffed Milkfish)
Stuffed milkfish is a traditional Filipino dish usually served only for special occasions because it is a very tedious recipe! It involves steaming, de-boning, flaking, marinating, stuffing and frying the milkfish as well as preparing the vegetables. Sometimes raisins, sweet pickles and carrots are added to the vegetable stuffing of the fish for a more savory version.
Restaurant recommendation: Yellowfin Seafood Restaurant Address: Quimpo Boulevard Sandawa Plaza, Matina, Davao City, Mindanao 8000 Philippines // Phone: 63 82 297 8777
10. Tinolang tahong (Soup with Mussels)
Tinolang tahong is a version of the famous Filipino tinolang manok, where mussels replace the chicken in the soup. The mussels are steamed with ginger root, spinach and onion, giving them a delicious earthy flavor while maintaining their plump juiciness.
11. Sarciado Isda (Fish Isda)
This classic Filipino seafood recipe is super simple but delicious! Fish is pan fried and then sautéed in fresh tomato, onions, garlic and egg. It is topped with chopped scallions for a fresh crunch! Almost any type of local fish can be used for this recipe. This is a perfect easy dish to make for any time of the day.
Restaurant Recommedation: Luz Kinilaw Place Address: Sta. Ana Wharf Salmonan, Davao City, Mindanao Philippines
12. Manila Clam and Mussel Tinola
This fresh soup is perfect for a light, yet hearty summer meal. Simmered in ginger and onion stock, the mussels and clams are soft and earthy. Fresh baby spinach finishes the soup, adding some color, texture and nutrients. For more flavor, you can use fennel instead of onions or, if you want the soup to have a little bit of a kick to it, you can add some red pepper flakes!
13. Pinaputok na Tilapia
Pinaputok na tilapia is another stuffed fish dish but, unlike stuffed milkfish, it is a very simple recipe to make! The whole tilapia is stuffed with a delicious mix of tomatoes, onions, garlic and ginger until it is almost bursting full. Then it is drenched in tamarind and melted butter, wrapped in tin foil and then grilled over hot coals, pan friend or baked in the oven. No matter the cooking method, the final result is a moist, buttery fish that falls apart at the touch and vegetables that are cooked to perfection. Pinaputok na tilapia is often served with a dipping sauce of calamansi juice and soy sauce.
14. Halabos na Alimasag
Halabos na alimasag is an extra special seafood dish, as it is made with whole, fresh crabs! This dish uses either green or blue crabs, but just like lobsters, they turn a beautiful orange color once cooked, due to the chemical astaxanthin in their shells. The crabs are cleaned, then boiled with garlic and salt. The crabs are served with a delicious dipping sauce of vinegar, garlic and chilis. This is another “pulutan” dish, as you eat the crabs with your hands!
Restaurant recommendation: King Crab House Address: P.Guevarra Street, Little Baguio, San Juan City // Phone: 02 7238823