EXOTIC AND WEIRD FOODS IN THE PHILIPPINES

WEIRD FOOD IN THE PHILIPPINES

Filipinos eat dog, frogs, civet cats, monitor lizards, snakes, fruit bats, locusts, ant eggs and mole crickets. Many Filipino men drink gin and beer accompanied by balut, a duck egg with an embryo inside. Fertilized duck eggs with embryos in various states of development are consumed as an aphrodisiac by Filipinos, Chinese and Vietnamese. Under Marcos, poor people were encouraged to improve their lives by eating earthworms and snails for protein. Grilled tuna jaws are popular in Mindanao.

Dog meat is a delicacy throughout the country. It is now illegal to sell dog meat at markets because cases of rabies have occurred when the dog’s brains were eaten. Dog is also eaten in China, Korea, Vietnam and other countries.

1) Dinuguan at puto: According to CNN: “While it may not look appetizing, this black dish of pork and pig innards stewed in fresh pig blood seasoned with garlic, onion and oregano and eaten with a white puto (rice cake) or steamed rice, is a comforting dish for many Filipinos. [Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 <>]

2) “Betute: The French may have turned frogs' legs into a delicacy, but Filipinos take it to the next level. They get a frog, stuff it with minced pork and deep-fry it. While betute isn't for everyone, the adventurous can try it at Everybody's Cafe, an authentic Pampanga dining institution for many decades now. Frog isn't common in Manila, but a few miles away in Pampanga you’ll see it stuffed or stewed. Or simply taking the place of chicken, such as in the common tinola -- a ginger-based soup usually cooked with chunks of green papaya and chili pepper leaves. <>

3) “Balut: No trip to the Philippines would be complete without sampling its famous balut. Vendors peddling these eggs on the street chant “Baluuuuut!” to entice buyers. This 17-day-old duck embryo is boiled, served with rock salt or spicy vinegar and is often consumed with beer. <>

“4) Kuhol sa gata: Fresh snails cooked in coconut milk and leafy vegetables. The snails are served in the shell and a tiny fork (or toothpick) is used to loosen the meat inside. This is usually served as an appetizer or a snack, but it works well with hot rice. <>

“5) Kamaro: Serious gourmands know the best cooks come from Pampanga. So do kamaro, these mole crickets they cook into a delicious appetizer. What makes this delicacy special? Well if catching these bugs is tough, so is cooking them. Legs and wings must be removed, then the body is boiled in vinegar and garlic. It's then sautéed in oil, onion and chopped tomatoes until chocolate brown. These bite-size appetizers are crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. <>

Balut: the Filipino Delicacy That Makes the World Squirm

Justin Calderon of CNN wrote: “ Despite being an object of culinary fascination around the world, balut -- a popular Filipino food -- is no beauty queen. The 18-day-old fertilized duck egg has revolted even the most daring foodies with its carnal textures, earning it lofty rankings on many a "most disgusting/strange/terrifying food" list. While food journalists commonly label balut as the Philippines' "much loved delicacy," in reality Filipinos are decidedly split over their nation's oft-sung snack. [Source: Justin Calderon, CNN, February 7, 2014 ***]

“Acceptance of balut often depends on exposure at a young age, much like Vegemite in Australia. In an apparent attempt to preserve the delicacy's popularity among the country's rapidly modernizing and discriminating palates, some schools in the Philippines introduce balut to young students during science classes. Students use balut to study the anatomy of birds, then eat the compressed bird beak, veins and developing wings within. "Our teacher made us eat the egg so it wouldn't go to waste," says Manila resident Anna Vecin of her ordeal. "And if we didn't eat it, we'd get a low score on that day's lesson. Of course, I had no choice but to eat it." The experience can leave some with a lifelong aversion to the so-called national delicacy. ***

“Even balut's tamer cousin, penoy -- an unfertilized duck egg billed as a less carnal option, given that it lacks the semi-developed chick within -- can be hard to stomach. For others, balut's combination of savory soup, fresh meaty bird and warm yolk is a revelation. "My dad had a duck farm once upon a time in Binangonan, Rizal, so at some point growing up, we had a lot of them at home," recalls Cheryl Tiu, a Manila-based writer. "My mom's parents always enjoyed eating it, thus it got passed on to her and her siblings, and then down to us. My favorite part is the soup. And then I dip the yolk in rock salt. "Today though, I'm not sure if I can eat the whole chick anymore, unlike when I was much younger." ***

“The dish is particularly popular among Filipino families with ethnic Chinese backgrounds. Balut is also widely enjoyed across numerous provinces in China, especially in the south. Like many Chinese dishes, balut comes with a list of putative health benefits. Among these, it's claimed balut can boost male fertility and libido. ***

“Can't make it to Manila? Though balut is hard to find outside the Philippines, New York Filipino restaurant Maharlika offers the delicacy for $5 a pop. The restaurant hosts an annual balut eating contest, held every August. Last year's winner knocked back 27 balut in five minutes.” ***

Dogs and Cats as Food in the Philippines

Animalpeoplenews.org reported: "Based on numerous inquiries made to various sources nationwide," anti-corruption crusader Freddie Farres of Linis Gobyerno said, "it would appear that cat eating is not big here. Although we have heard of some personal consumption," Farres said, "there is no commercial traffic in cats for meat, unlike with the dog trade. Some 25 years ago a rumor was spread that a well known Chinese restaurant in the Philippines was caught unloading a truckload of dead cats who were supposedly to be used as ingredients for their siopao. There was a strong backlash against the restaurant, and their siopao sales collapsed. The incident is remembered to this day. " [Source: animalpeoplenews.org]

As to dog consumption," Farres continued, "we have researched the parts of the country which we believe account for 90 percent or more of the dog meat traffic. Our actual survey of the number of stores and restaurants selling dog meat, including wholesale vendors, indicates that in the Baguio City and Cordillera region about 24,166 dogs per month are killed for meat, or about 289,992 dogs per year." [Ibid]

According to humanbreeds.com: “Do Filipinos eat dogs? The answer is that 99 percent of the Filipinos do not, but what about the other 1 percent or even less. Many Filipino find this stereotype very offensive (sorry) and would probably deny this. However, after discussing this “Stereotype” with my one of my close Filipino friends, i got to know the truth. This stereotype has originated from the fact that many homeless and drunk individuals in extremely poor areas do hunt and eat dogs as means of survival. No one would deny that this is a brutal and sickening act, but isn’t killing chicken fish and cows as brutal too? Well… as human beings, we justify all our cruelty by calling it “survival”… and hey, guess what, familiar cruelty sounds more acceptable than the shocking unfamiliar cruelty which is unknown to us… wow.. this has just turned too serious… back to our topic… Filipinos. [Source: humanbreeds.com, February 7, 2014]

Insects as Food in the Philippines

Gibbs et al (1912, pp. 383-385, 396) acknowledge W. Schultze of the Bureau of Science for information on numerous insects consumed in the Philippines. The authors state: "In various parts of the Islands locusts, beetles and their larvae, bees, crickets, snails, snakes (principally the python), lizards (principally the iguana), and other animals are eaten, and some of these are highly regarded as delicacies." Gibbs et al listed the most commonly eaten insects and their native names (of the Tagalog people unless specified otherwise); they are listed below under the appropriate orders and families. [Source: www.food-insects.com >>>]

Bender (1975, p. 78) notes that "The Ifugao of the Philippines eat three species of dragon fly and locusts. These are boiled, dried, and powdered. They also relish red ants, water bugs, and beetles, as well as flying ants, which are usually fried in lard." >>>

In a Manila newspaper article datelined La Trinidad, Benguet, Domoguen (1980?) reported in part as follows: Certain edible insects are helping a growing number of folk in the Cordillera uplands [in northern Luzon] come by simple but protein-laden daily meals during these harsh economic times. Mountain rice spiked, laced or mixed with insect viands is becoming more common everyday fare for highland families whose poverty prevents them from even thinking of buying exorbitantly priced meat and fish. A survey conducted by entomologists at the Mountain State Agriculture College (MSAC) in this town found that the insect-eating provides the upland folk with their daily protein and other nutrient needs. . . . Eating insects is an old custom among the various minority tribes in the highlands of North Luzon. The habit is due to food needs and a way of reducing the pests which attack food crops, according to the entomologists. The MSAC study, which is still going on, also discovered that a growing market for edible insects has sprang up in a number of towns in the Cordillera provinces of Benguet, Mt. Province, Ifugao and Kalinga-Apayao. >>>

As reported by Domoguen, the MSAC study identified the more popular edible insects as the June beetle, grasshopper, ant, mole cricket, water beetle, katydid, locust and larva of the dragonfly. They are cooked in various ways, being fried in fat, broiled, sauteed with vegetables, or turned into "adobo" or "paksiw." The common measure for folk who sell insects in the market is by the tin can-full, with prices ranging from P1 to P2 per can (25 pisos = US $1). >>>

Starr (1991) described food insect use which he observed during a six-year stay in the Philippines. He did not find any insect to be a regular part of the diet among the Christianized lowlanders who dominate most of the country, and he rarely saw insects for sale in the market. Several species are, however, at least episodically treated as "serious food." Those observed by Starr are included under the appropriate taxonomic groups below. Tom Mester (pers. comm. 1987), who served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines from 1974 to 1976 and in Sierra Leone from 1976 to 1978, observed insect consumption in the latter but not in the Philippines. >>>

Beetles as Food in the Philippines

Hydrophilidae (water scavenger beetles): Hydrous picicornis Chevr., adult: Known as obus in Visayan and as alukap in Ilocano; eaten only in the adult stage, either boiled or roasted after the wings and legs have been removed (Gibbs et al 1912). Also see Domoguen in the Introduction. [Source: www.food-insects.com >>>]

Scarabaeidae (scarab beetles): L. punctum is known as sibung, and L. pulverulenta as the salagubang (Gibbs et al 1912). They and L. irrorata are all eaten only as adults, either boiled or roasted after the wings and legs have been removed. O. rhinoceros (like R. ferrugineus above) is known as u-ang and eaten only as larvae. >>>

Mindy Kerry (pers. comm. 1987), Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines from 1983 to 1985, provided information on a beetle that is consumed by the Negritos (Sambals) near Cabangan, Zambales, and probably throughout Zambales. The adults (probably a scarabaeid according to Kerry) are captured after emerging from the ground at the beginning of the rainy season and are roasted. They are "munchy" and cherished as a delicacy. >>>

Starr (1991) says that June beetles (Melolonthinae) seem to be the second-most commonly eaten group of insects. In the city of Laoag, at the northern end of Luzon, he had them cooked in vinegar and soya sauce after the appendages, head and prothorax had been removed. This very common form of cooking, known as adobo, is the usual one for June beetles. The beetles are often available in the market at Laoag, and probably in some other areas as well. Also see Domoguen (1980?) in the Introduction. >>>

Douglas Marsden, formerly a research associate in entomology at Eastern Illinois University, related (pers. comm. 1988) that: While collecting insects on the islands of Occidental Mindoro, I came across a family of natives in loin-cloths (father, mother, two sons and a daughter) camped in the forest. They offered me what later I found out was a python roasted and coleoptera, sans legs boiled in some sort of oil. I ate both the python which rather tasted like chicken and the beetles which in all honesty were not bad at all. I believe the beetles to be a form of Pachyrrhynchus moniliforis (Germ.). I collected a few hundred of these beetles during my seven trips to the Philippines. >>>

Bees and Ants as Food in the Philippines

Apidae (honey bees): In addition to the honey, combs containing the larvae of the above species of bees are eaten (Gibbs et al 1912). The vernacular name of A. dorsata is pukyutan. In the Los Banos area, a problem is the frequent theft of combs filled with brood, which are considered by some people to be a delicacy (Naegel 1992). [Source: www.food-insects.com >>>]

Formicidae (ants): The weaver ant, O. smaragdina, was the only ant which Starr observed being used as food, and he describes their use as follows:... during the season when new queens are produced, farmers in the Philippines sometimes slash the silk nests and catch the falling brood. The ideal time is undoubtedly when prepupae and early pupae of queens predominate. Still, one should never expect to get a pure harvest, and when I was served stir-fried weaver ants in a village on the northern coast of Luzon I found quite a heterogeneous mixture. At that time of year we had ants at every meal in that village, to my delight. I never learned how they harvest weaver ants without getting bitten (and formic acid sprayed directly into the bite) by the masses of aggressive workers, and it may be that harvesting is not worthwhile except during the queen-rearing season. See Bender (1975) and Domoguen (1980?) in the Introduction. >>>

Starr failed to see any indication that termites are commonly eaten in the Philippines, but states that the most likely candidate would be the sexuals of Macrotermes gilvus (Termitidae: Macrotermitinae). This is the largest Philippine species, and "colonies are often so massive that they undoubtedly give off large, harvestable masses of sexuals during the pairing season." Also see Bender (1975) in the Introduction. >>>

Grasshoppers, Locusts and Crickets as Food in the Philippines

Dampier (1906: 424), who visited the Batan Islands, later Batanes Province, in 1687, described two dishes of which the natives were fond. The first was a concoction of cooked goat skins and offal and raw fish, the second is described as follows: They had another Dish made of a sort of locusts....At this time of the Year these creatures came in great Swarms to devour their Potato-leaves, and other Herbs; and the Natives would go out with small Nets, and take a quart at one sweep. When they had enough, they would carry them home, and parch them over the Fire in an earthen Pan; and then their Wings and Legs would fall off, and their Heads and Backs would turn red like boil'd Shrimps, being before brownish....I did once eat of this Dish, and liked it well enough; but their other Dish my Stomach would not take. [Source: www.food-insects.com >>>]

Locusts were eaten on a regular basis by the Moros, according to Pinkerton (1808-1814; vide Bodenheimer 1951, p. 238), who may have borrowed from Dampier in saying: "The natives catch them in small nets, when they come to devour their potato-vines, and dry them over the fire in an earthen pan. When thus prepared the legs and wings fall off, and the heads and backs, which were previously brownish, turn red like boiled shrimps." >>>

According to Gibbs (1912) who reported three of the species listed above, both nymphs and adults of orthopterans are eaten, usually fried. Several related orthopteran species are eaten. The nymphs are called lukton and the adults balang. Locusts sometimes attain astonishing numbers and leave nothing for the grazing animals which often die of starvation. "Some tribes highly prize these insects as articles of food, while other inhabitants do not eat them at all." In a sample of 300 locusts of the genus Acrydium, the average weight per locust was 1.67 g with the edible portion (body and head) comprising 81 percent. Proximate analysis revealed 59.6 percent moisture, 24.1 percent protein (N x 6.25), 7.9 percent fat, 1.8 percent ash and 6.6 percent undetermined. >>>

Starr (1991) reported that locusts (Cyrtacanthacridinae) seem to be the most common insect food of humans throughout the Philippines. During locust outbreaks, they become an important diet supplement for people who would not normally regard themselves as entomophagous. Showalter (1929) furnishes a photograph of Ifugao women in Luzon preparing locusts by roasting them (p. 39), and another showing an Ifugao locust catcher with his large net. Litton (1993) reports that grasshoppers are a favorite food in many parts of the Philippines, and therefore they are not destroyed with chemical insecticides. They are also fed to chickens raised on pasture. Pastured chickens in the Philippines are not fed commercial feed. They have a delicious taste and sell for a much higher price than chickens fed with commercial feed. >>>

DeFoliart (1995) summarized Philippine newspaper accounts of a 1994 outbreak of Locusta migratoria. As insecticides were not successful in controlling the outbreak, a movement began in some areas, apparently partly farmer-instigated and partly government-instigated, to harvest the insects for sale, both as food for people and as animal and fish feed. Farmers used commercially available nets to catch locusts. Some backyard "tilapia" growers were convinced that grated locusts boosted growth of the fishcrop, and that fish fed dried locusts tastes better than fish fed ordinary commercial feeds. Cooking contests were held in some areas with prizes awarded for best recipes. A popular style of cooking was locust adobo, prepared by detaching the wings and legs, boiling the dressed brown locusts in water for a few minutes, and then frying them in oil. The resulting crisp locusts can be served with tomatoes, local red onions (lasona) and bagoong. See also Domoguen (1980?) in the Introduction. >>>

Gryllotalpidae (mole crickets): According to Starr, mole crickets are most commonly eaten in northern Luzon, where they are sometimes gathered in rice fields in organized hunts. There has been some interest in that region in developing the culture of mole crickets as a regular food.

“Kamaro is an appetizer made from mole crickets popular in Pampanga. CNN reports: “What makes this delicacy special? Well if catching these bugs is tough, so is cooking them. Legs and wings must be removed, then the body is boiled in vinegar and garlic. It's then sautéed in oil, onion and chopped tomatoes until chocolate brown. These bite-size appetizers are crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. “

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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