The Philippines is the fist place where I’ve noticed some substantial variation in the menu compared to what you might see in the US.
For starters, rice is the primary accompaniment. Every meal comes with rice and the rice is packaged in small, consistently shaped conical mounds. You can get fries, but they are secondary to rice. McDonald’s in the Philippines also sells a lot more fried chicken that I’ve seen anywhere else. They call it Chicken McDo. I had breakfast at one McDonald’s in Manila and had corned beef and rice. I have also seen McSpaghetti on the menu.
If you do buy a normal American type meal of a burger, fries and a drink, you’ll immediately notice that the portions are significantly smaller. If you up-size your drink and fries, you still will get a portion as small or smaller than the smallest size you can get in the US. If you are old enough to remember eating fast food in the 70s or 80s, you used to get small, paper packages for fries. That is pretty much the size you get in the Philippines. The “large” drink is the size you’d get in a small plastic beer cup at a party. In addition to cutting back on portions, you will often (but not always) find non-disposable silverware and cups.
The prices here are also the lowest I’ve seen so far. You can get a regular sized burger value (Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, Double Cheeseburger) meal for 99 Pesos, which is about $2.15. Part of that can be explained by the smaller portion sizes, but it is mostly a reflection of lower Filipino prices. I wasn’t able to find out anything regarding where the food is from. I suspect the rice and chicken is from the Philippines but the beef is not.
All of the fast food restaurants in Manila delivered. You’ll see a small fleet of scooters with an insulated box on the back outside each restaurant. I saw several signs which still offer the old Domino’s deal: 30 min or the food is free. They all also seemed to have the good phone numbers. Shakey’s will deliver if you dial 7777777. KFC is 911-11-11 (a number most Americans would be hesitant to dial).McDonald’s, however, is not the interesting fast food story in the Philippines, however. It is Jollibees.
Jollibees is the largest fast food chain in the Philippines and is Filipino owned. They also have stores in several other countries including twelve in California and Las Vegas. They are probably the only Filipino brand which has any presence outside of the Philippines. Jollibees has over 600 locations across the Philippines, Hong Kong and the US. In the Philippines, they did things I haven’t seen anywhere else. Because public infrastructure is so poor, I saw several scenic overlooks along highways sponsored by Jollibees. Everywhere there was a McDonald’s you’d find a Jollibee, but you would find Jollibee in places you wouldn’t find a McDonald’s.
I made one trip to a Jollibees and ordered a hamburger. It was one of the worst hamburgers I have ever had. Eating a hamburger isn’t usually something you even think about. You don’t often go into a fast food restaurant and think anything, good or bad, about what you’re eating. This, however, was bland and tasteless. I would swear the patty was boiled. I looked around the restaurant and noticed I was the only one eating a hamburger. Everyone else was eating chicken or spaghetti. They probably knew something I didn’t.
I also haven’t been able to write much about local foods on my trip. (See my previous post on the lack of a cuisine in the Pacific) The Philippines is also the first chance I’ve gotten to really experience some local foods and street food. One dish I ate (while writing most of this post) was called “Kare Kare de Pata’t Buntot”. It was a beef dish in a peanut sauce, served on rice with a side sauce…and I’m not sure what the sauce was made out of. It was really more of a paste than a sacue. It was really good and very rich. There were also large pieces of the beef fat in the dish. It was not at all spicy, like all the Filipino food I’ve had so far.In my hotel in Makati, they had a breakfast dish made out of pork. I have no clue what the name of the dish is, but the pork was a bright pink color from the sauce and was sweet. It wasn’t as sweet as sweet and sour pork, but it also wave very good.
In Banaue, I ordered a local Ifague dish of crispy pork knuckle. There really wasn’t much too it. It was a big hunk of pork with bones which was fried served with soy sauce and rice. The best part of it was the friend skin of the pig.
In VIgan I had a dish fried pork belly. It came with a side sauce that was probably be best thing I’ve had on my trip so far. I don’t know the name of it, but it was clearly based on soy sauce, but with a lot more to it. I asked was it was and I was only told it was a “fish sauce”.
The street vendors were also much greater than anything I’ve experienced so far. You could walk out on a major street and see people roasting whole chickens. In Bagiuo there was a block it seemed of nothing but roasted chicken vendors. In Puerto Princessa, I saw someone serving an entire roasted pig, with the pigs head displayed prominently on the cart. I also got to experience the bus vendors, but I will write about that more when I post about my experiences with the Philippines transportation system.
Given the number of Filipinos in the US, I’m surprised you don’t see more Filipino restaurants. I think more Americans would have no problem with Filipino cooking, even if they didn’t like Asian food in general. Nothing I experienced was very spicy and they don’t use chopsticks.