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Try it now: the rise and rise of Filipino food

From addictively sour adobo to vibrant ube desserts, the food of the Philippines has arrived

By Joel Porter
Published 3 May 2019, 10:35 BST
Bistek short rib at Sarap
Bistek short rib at Sarap
Photograph by

The basics
Filipino cuisine hasn’t historically had much of a presence in the UK, save for a handful of restaurants catering to expats in London’s Earl’s Court. But that’s starting to change, now that a new generation of chefs has emerged. And, given its global popularity, particularly in Los Angeles, where restaurants like Lasa draw a crowd, it was only a matter of time before Filipino food broke through on our shores. Trying to pin down what characterises this cuisine can be tricky. There’s a huge amount of variety across the more than 7,000 islands of the Philippines, and with a complex history of colonisation, the culinary influences are as disparate as American, Chinese, Spanish and Malay.

The flavours
In general, Filipino cuisine tends to be sweet, tangy and salty, with far less chilli heat than you might find in neighbouring countries. Sourness is the standout flavour, and many dishes contain vinegar. Other popular ingredients include calamansi (a local citrus) and ube, a purple yam used to create lavender-hued desserts (pop into one of London’s two Mamasons Filipino ice cream parlours to see for yourself).

Where to try it
In Manchester, supper clubs and pop-ups hosted by Mama Z (aka self-taught, half-Filipina cook Zosima Fulwell) are a great place for a taste of Manila, including vegan versions of the classics. In London, pop-up restaurant Sarap is about to take up a new residency in Brixton Village. It’s a must-visit for its lechon, bistek short rib (pictured) and innovative adobo stew, made with jackfruit and potato. Earlier this year, London-based Filipino street food stall BBQ Dreamz won the BBC series My Million Pound Menu, and until September it’s taking over the rooftop restaurant of John Lewis’s flagship store, serving everything from sticky adobo wings to grilled duck heart skewers. Elsewhere in the capital, head to Kensington for Romulo Café’s tamarind-flavoured sinigang soup with salmon, or Earl’s Court, where Lutong Pinoy has been dishing up Filipino favourites since 1996.

What to eat

Described by Antony Bourdain as the ‘best pig’ he’d ever eaten, lechon is a whole hog roasted over coals.

Halo halo
An OTT dessert of shaved ice, evaporated milk and a cascade of sweet toppings.

This stew is typically made with pork or chicken and flavoured with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves.

A dish made from shredded pig head and chilli, flash-fried and topped with egg yolk.

As featured in Issue 5 of National Geographic Traveller Food.

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