Adventurous Eats: A Guide to Exotic Food in the Philippines

What is exotic food and how does food become one?

More often than not, exotic food fares are generally food items that are not native to your country. However, the term has since expanded to include foodstuff that individuals find strange or unfamiliar. More importantly, this is the type of food that individuals do not find themselves typically consuming. Exotic food can run the gamut from discarded meat parts, unusual fruit to uncommon spices. In some cases, food is deemed exotic simply for the way it was handled and prepared. However, while exotic food may be inherent in most cultures, not all individuals are receptive to trying it or if they are, they are simply curious.

As it is, the term exotic food has always been met by either of two reactions: intrigue or disgust. Either people are fascinated by it or would not want to get anywhere near it.

To most individuals, sinking your teeth in the first bite of exotic food often takes a lot of nerve complemented by a strong stomach. However, for those who are accustomed to eating exotic food may have ancestors who deemed it necessary to consume what most would consider as unusual food at one point in their lives.  Essentially, exotic food was once eaten as a means of survival insomuch that people were compelled to eat them as they were left without so much of a choice. As a result, exotic food has become somewhat ingrained in a country’s culinary culture insomuch that it is often said that you have never really experienced a country as a whole if you were not bold enough to sample at least one of their more exotic food offerings.  

HISTORY OF EXOTIC FOOD IN THE PHILIPPINES

The Philippines consists of over 7000 islands, has a colorful history culture and tradition insomuch that the country can be considered as one of the world’s lesser-known culinary melting pots. With many foreign invaders arriving in Philippine soil in the past, foreign cuisine has inevitably left some of its traces in many of traditional Filipino dishes. In fact, it can even be said that the introduction of foreign food has helped shape Filipino cuisine.

Apart from finding some of its culinary roots in foreign cooking, the Philippines, a tropical country, is home to a myriad of fruit-bearing plants that are otherwise not found in other parts of the world. Filipino exotic food originates from the World War as most Filipinos were recorded to have consumed spiders, worms, insects and even leaves for survival. With the introduction of spices, Filipino cooks were able to reinvent these dishes and also learn from differing cultural antecedents. Today, what was once considered a necessity for survival has now become a mouthwatering Filipino exotic food fare.

So, if you have gathered the guts and worked up the nerve to consume some of the most unusual, novel or even taboo exotic dishes of the Philippines, here are some of the popular ones you ought to try:

FILIPINO EXOTIC DISHES TO TRY

BALUT

If there is one popular street food you should try in the Philippines then it should be no other than the universally famous balut. To many, it takes quite a lot of nerve to take a bite out of this exotic food ubiquitously found all over the Philippines. But to most Filipinos, it is a hearty snack that can be consumed at any time of the day. Balut is a developing duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from its shell. It is typically enjoyed with salt and vinegar, but it can also be consumed as is. Filipinos who have visiting friends from overseas typically dare them to try this internationally famous snack. To embolden them, Filipinos often tell their friends that consuming this street food is said to increase libido and sexual prowess. However, only those who are bold enough to try might find that the balut’s juice has a bold but unique flavor that they may find quite appetizing.

SHIPWORM (TAMILOK)

Another exotic food consumed by Filipinos is the Tamilok or shipworm. If you think eating balut takes a lot of courage, then you obviously have not been to Palawan and tried this popular exotic dish. Tamilok is a woodworm that is typically seasoned with vinegar, pepper, onions and calamansi juice and then consumed raw. If you have had oysters before, you will find that the taste is quite the same largely owing to the fact that tamilok is not actually a worm, but a mollusk.

MOLE CRICKET (KAMARU)

Venturing to the province of Pampanga can lead you to find some of the country’s rather obscure but beloved exotic dishes. Kamaru, or mole crickets, are in abundance in Pampanga. As a result, they have been turned into a local delicacy. It is often prepared adobo-style (sautéed in soy sauce and vinegar). However, there are some instances wherein the dish is served deep-fried. One popular restaurant that serves this dish in Pampanga is San Fernando’s very own Everybody’s Café.

BEETLE (SALAGUBANG)

Individuals who are not averse to eating insects should definitely give salagubang a try. Salagubang or beetle and its larvae are considered local delicacies in the country. Beetle larvae can be cooked adobo style, roasted or sautéed with salt and seasonings. As these cooked insects are rich in protein, juicy and rich in protein, some Filipinos have taken a liking to this particular dish.

STUFFED FROGS (Betute Tugak)

One amphibian that has found its way to being one of Pampanga’s exotic food items is the Betute Tugak or Stuffed Frogs. It is often said that frogs taste like chicken, but the Kapampangan preparation of this exotic dish involves roasting it and stuffing it.

BRAIN FONDUE (Tuslob Buwa)

As Filipinos would hardly let anything go to waste, Tuslob Buwa became a dish beloved by Cebuanos and Filipinos alike. Much like how discarded pig parts are used in making sisig, cooking Tuslob Buwa uses pig brains as the main ingredient. Originating from Cebu City, Tuslob Buwa or Brain Fondue is just as much as an exotic food as it is an exotic experience for many. Eating Tuslob Buwa is communal in nature. In this regard, the dining experience requires diners to dip their puso (hanging rice) into the steaming pot of brain fondue. Back in the day, eating Tuslob Buwa often compelled you to dine with strangers. However, as the dish became more popular and mainstream, sanitary precautions were implemented insomuch that some restaurants will offer diners their very own pots to cook Tuslob Buwa in.

SOUP NO. 5

While the name itself does not allude to anything special, the name of this exotic dish serves to surround the dish in intrigue and mystery.  In fact, the story behind this soup dish is just as mysterious and intriguing as its name. On the surface, Soup Number 5 looks just like any ordinary stewed meat soup but you should not let its appearance fool you. The soup is actually made of bull or ox penis and testicles and is believed to be an aphrodisiac.

If you ever find yourself visiting the Philippines, never leave the country without trying at least one of the exotic dishes listed above. While there is no guarantee that you will like the dish, it would certainly make for an excellent dining and travel experience.   

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