Where the Locals Eat in Manila - Carinderia Culture and 5 Filipino Dishes You Need to Try

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Filipino food is seriously underrated– to say the least. The food, much like the Filipino people, is a simmering pot, a blend of different traditions and flavours influenced by Spanish colonialism and East Asian ancestry.

Comprised of over 7000+ islands, the Philippines is a hub for culinary fusion and experimentation with hundreds of different ingredients and fresh produce, seafood and meat to work with. Each household has their own kusinero/kusinera (cooks in Tagalog), putting their own twists and takes on traditional Filipino dishes. Seriously, ask 4 different Filipinx how they make their Sinigang (a sour tamarind-based soup), and you will get 4 completely different answers.

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Filipino food has yet to make the same breakthrough in the culinary scene as Japanese or Mexican food has, and when you mention it to other non-Filipinx, often they think of Fil-Am/Can fusion or immediately think- Adobo! Filipino food seems complicated and intimidating– complex recipes with foreign ingredients, bubbling and sizzling away in a pot for hours on end but really at its core, the food is simple and regional, each province has its own ways of making different things.


The Filipino Carinderia

In the Philippines, food is a big deal. It takes centre stage at Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Weddings, Baptisms and even during Karaoke nights- the food is synonymous with the culture and you will always find a Lola (grandmother in Tagalog), making her usual rounds around the family gathering, asking everyone ‘kumain ka na ba?’ (have you eaten yet?)

Filipinos are not shy to shell out their best dishes and efforts during big celebrations when it comes to food, but in their day to day lives, most families and working professionals keep dinner and lunch lowkey. After a long day at work and commuting back from the bustling city of Metro Manila, many people opt to stop by their local Carinderia and either order Ulam (dish) to-go or even eat at the restaurant as a way to destress and leave the dishes to someone else and keep the clutter away from home.

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The Filipino Carinderia is a small road-side restaurant that serves up local and traditional ‘lutong-bahay’, which in English loosely translates to ‘home-cooked/homestyle food’. Usually, they are run out of the front of someone’s home or is a small stall with limited seating for guests and almost always family-run and operated.

The spread of traditional dishes is displayed family style in big heated steel pans, where you can then ‘turo-turo’ (pick, point and choose) at which dish you would like to try. Ulam (the actual dish) is always served with white jasmine rice and a usual suspect clear broth, and you are free to choose as many ulam as you would like to accompany your rice. Some spots will serve Filipino desserts such as various kakanin (sweet glutinous rice treats) and fresh drinks and juice.

Filipinos love to eat food that connects them to their childhood, food that reminds them of home and their family– the Carinderia is close to our hearts because we feel at home in them, the tito/titas (aunts/uncles) treat everyone as their own, and make you feel welcome and safe in their space.

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Small businesses such as a family-run Carinderia is a way many Filipinx lift their families from poverty, provide income for their loved ones and is often a way to support their children throughout their school life. Carinderia. Every block has its own Carinderia that becomes the local social spot where everyone is welcome to enjoy a meal, sit down and have a beer with your friends or even catch up on the local tsismis (gossip) with the watchful aunties. Carinderia’s are a part of the Filipino identity, and are a testament to the will of the Filipino people.


Curious about what to order at the local Carinderia near you?

Here are our top 5 Filipino dishes that are a must-try:

  • Pinakbet
    • A traditional vegetable dish that kids love to hate and most adults don’t come to appreciate until they are much older. Fresh vegetables such as okra, ampalaya (bitter melon), sitaw (long beans), eggplant, pumpkin and chile are stewed together alongside onions, garlic, tomato and shrimp paste to create a uniquely northern indigenous dish. Originating from the Ilokano word pinakbbet, which means to shrink or wilt down. When you’re in the mood for eating on the healthier side and opting for some gulay (vegetables) this will surely hit the spot!
  • Kare Kare
    • Everybody’s favourite peanut-based Filipino Stew. Oxtail and beef tripe are simmered down in a rich and thick peanut gravy, sitaw (long beans), talong (eggplant), and pechay (bok choy) and is served with bagoong (shrimp paste), usually over hot jasmine rice. This dish is best served steaming hot and it a labour of love to make but it worth the wait.
  • Bangus
    • The Filipino people's favourite fish is native to the land. This fish is versatile and can be used in many ways from soups to stews, being sauteed, fried or grilled- the options are endless. It is similar to that of tuna, with a dried consistency but makes up for it in its punch of flavour. Personally, we suggest trying it marinated and fried or if you are ever in Quezon city, make sure to try out Pochok Bangusan Carinderia for some freshly grilled Bangus.
  • Sinigang
    • A defining dish in the identity of Filipino cuisine. Sinigang is a sour tamarind-based soup but can also be soured with guava and unripe mango. The base flavours leave much room for experimentation with different vegetables and proteins: Sinigang can be found to be made with fish, pork, chicken and/or shrimp with a mixture of pechay (bok choy), (mustasa) mustard greens, labanos (radish) etc. If it doesn't make your lips pucker while you eat it– it's not the real deal!
  • Inihaw na Liempo
    • Inihaw na Liempo (grilled pork belly) is always present at every Filipino party or gathering and I have yet to meet anybody who can resist this dish. Soy, sugar, garlic and vinegar come together in the marinade and live a happy little marriage alongside thick cuts of fat and juicy pork belly. Grilled to perfection over a hotbed of sizzling coals, and glazed with a sugar and soy glaze, grilled liempo with its smokey flavour and unctuous taste will guarantee to have your mouth watering!

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Check out our top 4 Carinderia picks in and around Metro Manila:

  • Aling Sosing’s Carinderia
    • Address: Palanan 5819 Zobel Roxas, Palanan Makati City, Philippines
  • Mang Tootz Foodhouse
    • Address: 1135, 1008 Padre Noval St, Sampaloc, Manila, 1008 Metro Manila, Philippines
  • R&J Bulalohan, Tapsilogan, Atbp.
    • Address: 600 Maysilo Cir, Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, Philippines
  • Pochok Bangusan
    • Address: 78 Don A. Roces Ave, Diliman, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines