Sure, there are already a ton of guides on where or what to eat in El Nido.
But none of them actually share Filipino food! They’re all about, like, burgers or falafel. Even when you’re finally in El Nido, it’s rare to see non-Filipinos eating Filipino food, which I think is a tragedy because Filipino food is so fricking good, and El Nido is typically the only place they’ll visit!
There aren’t just a few words that come to mind to describe the cuisine. Filipino food is a literal mix of over 100 Asian ethnic groups’ culinary styles- plus strong Spanish influence. If you ask some Filipinos, the food is all about deep fried meats and carbs. If you ask me, it’s really about vegetables, stews, and shrimp paste.
But, I totally see the reluctance to try Filipino food in El Nido. It’s hard to know what you want to eat if you’re not already familiar with the food, or if you’re not traveling with someone who knows about it– especially when the more familiar “pizza” is tasty and everywhere.
So today you can pretend I’m your part Filipina BFF, helping you get to know what to eat in El Nido! I grew up on Filipino food with my mom, grandmother, and family friends all cooking us delicious meals from all over the country. But these are some of the most common Filipino dishes you’ll see served in El Nido, to help you decide what you want to try when you’re there!
In This Post
The pictures of rice, egg, and meat dishes ending in -silog are a common sight in outside of restaurants in The Philippines- including El Nido. But WTF are they? How do you know which one to get?
These are traditional Filipino breakfast dishes! The “si” is short for sinangag, or rice. The “log” is short for itlog, or egg. The rice is typically either steamed or fried with garlic, and the egg is usually sunny side up or salted with a tomato.
The fun part though are the meats! What kinds can you get? Here are the typical ones you’ll see when eating in El Nido:
Aka my personal favorite, where “bang” stands for bangus, the national fish of the Philippines. Here it’s usually fried and has a slightly sour flavor. Most places you go to will take out most of the bones, so you don’t need to be as vigilant about taking them out.
PS – You say it like “bung”. Not “bAAANg”.
Aka my second favorite. “Long” here means longanisa, a traditional Filipino sausage. It can be sweet or spicy, and it’s a must try if you’re interested in a traditional and tasty Filipino breakfast!
A local favorite, tapsilog is served with tapa, or sliced, seriously flavored beef. It’s perfect for anyone who loves beef and umami!
Hotsilog is made with Filipino hot dogs, which are different from US hot dogs. While this is a popular dish, I personally don’t recommend it because all hot dogs make me feel nauseous. If you’re a hot dog connoisseur, however, you’ll want to try out the Filipino version.
Pan de Sal
A lighter but still common breakfast food is pan de sal, which is a very slightly sweet Filipino bread. While this is usually served with butter or jam, I personally can also eat this bread just by itself because it’s that good- especially when you have it fresh from bakeries in the Philippines!
Typically this is a white bread, but a trendy thing you can try if you want to be #hip is malunggay pan de sal- malunggay kind of being the kale of the Philippines (in that it’s green and trending for alleged health benefits)
Check out Midtown Bakery when you’re in El Nido for fresh baked goods like pan se sal and cheap prices!
Lechon generally refers to different Filipino pork dishes, and there are a few styles. If you’ve eaten Filipino food in like LA, you might be familiar with lechon kawali, deep fried fatty pork. It’s absolutely amazing a must try in the Philippines.
But in El Nido, you can’t pass up the famous Cebu style roasted lechon. Even growing up even in rural freaking Massachusetts, we always had the whole roasted pig at parties, so I thought I was sick of it, but eating the real deal in El Nido was LIFE CHANGING. It’s so much more juicy and flavorful whenever we had it in El Nido (I can’t imagine what this would be like in actual Cebu).
I highly recommend the locally owned restaurant PalaOne Chon to try this. They have the best lechon and all kinds of styles- from traditional roasted pieces pictured above to experimental dishes like lechon empanadas and lechon soup! This place is probably my favorite restaurant we went to in El Nido.
Think you’ve had enough pork in the Philippines? You can’t leave without trying sisig! Picture chopped pig mixed with spices like ginger and garlic, and you get sisig. Usually it’s served on a hot plate, so the egg cooks a bit, and the bottom of the pan is full of fresh, crispy and fatty pork pieces. This is one of my favorite foods ever, and it tastes divine in its home of The Philippines.
If you know any Filipino dish, it’s probably pancit. Picky eaters, normal eaters, “I’ll eat anything” eaters, etc- this is usually everyone’s favorite Filipino food. You can’t say no to salted carbs! And the vegetables help you pretend it’s healthy!
Also the staple in Filipino parties everywhere, pancit is a noodle/soy sauce/veggie dish that often comes with meat or seafood pieces or can be made vegetarian. There are two types: pancit bihon which uses thinner noodles and pancit canton which uses thicker noodles. Honestly, I recommend them both, and my favorite thing is when they’re mixed together! To do as the locals, squeeze fresh calamansi (similar to lemon) on top.
It’s not hard to find tasty pancit, but Tamboks El Nido is a popular spot to try this and the other Filipino main dishes mentioned.
Picture a stew of the freshest vegetables like okra and squash, seafood, and shrimp paste, and you get pinakbet. This is my FAVORITE FOOD IN THE PHILIPPINES and what I think everyone should try. It’s not advertised as much as like silogs, but to really get an understanding of Filipino food that isn’t influenced by like the Spanish, and also add some vegetables to your diet after all that pork, try pinakbet.
Kare kare (say it more like “curry” and less like “care”) is a peanut based curry typically cooked with vegetables like bok choy, eggplant, and squash, and also red meats like tender, tender oxtail. If you’d like to try, you can add a bit of shrimp paste to your kare kare for extra flavor. This is my second favorite Filipino food and also something I highly encourage everyone to try, even though it’s less in your face compared to, like, lechon and pancit.
Full disclosure: This picture isn’t actually kare kare, but some fusion curry we had that looks kind of similar. My actual kare kare pictures are bad. Some foods just don’t photograph well- no matter how tasty they may be!
Since the Philippines is surrounded by ocean, fish is a popular staple in the typical Filipino diet. So be sure to try a lot of the fresh seafood while you’re here!
We literally would buy fish at the market and then ask the people at one of our favorite restaurants to grill it for us. I don’t know if this is really a thing, or if my mom was being extra. The safest thing would probably be to head to the main beach, where there were a ton of actual seafood restaurants and happy hours.
Are you a hipster that started eating bone marrow soup in 2017? Well this has been a Filipino dish for ages, called bulalo. This soup has not just a huge beef shank full of yummy marrow, but also typically a few starches and green veggies. Sometimes this is served with extra beefy oily soup on the side.
If you love the umami and oily in beef, you need this soup. It is crack. Check out Bulalo Plaza when you’re in El Nido for this soup and other great Filipino dishes.
Arroz caldo is the Filipino comforting sick food, like what chicken noodle soup is in the west. This isn’t that popular in El Nido, but I’m including it in case you get sick on your trip (like me!!). The ginger, garlic, chicken broth, and rice will heal you.
Sinigang is a popular tamarind based seafood and vegetable soup. If you like sour, shrimp, and fish, you’ll love this soup.
Love chicken? Love eggs? If you’re feeling adventurous, try balut. This is a snack food of…. developing chicken or duck embryo still in the egg. They say to get the best ones, ask for one that’s 10-15 days old. Crack the egg open upside down, sip the embryonic fluid, and then eat the yolk. You can find these in markets typically.
This likely won’t happen to you in The Philippines, but in the US I had one that was pretty old and had FEATHERS already, which is why I will never eat this again.
Buko in Tagalog means coconut. If you think you know what coconut water tastes like because of the $6 bottles ones at Whole Foods, you’re in for a surprise in El Nido! Fresh juice from young coconuts taste so much better and are a refreshing way to stay hydrated.
After you finish your coconut water, ask them to cut it open so you can enjoy the coconut meat (the local way is they may also cut you “spoon” from the shell so you can scoop it up).
And if you’re feeling alcoholic, many places on the beach sell buko rhum, which is the coconut water with rum (cutting these open and eating the meat is even better).
While your first instinct to cool down on the beach may be with an ice cold beer, the more common thing is with the Filipino dessert halo halo (say HA low). Literally translating to “mix mix”, it’s a medley of shaved ice, evaporated milk, red beans, and different fruits and jellies- like shaved coconut, coconut jelly, palm fruit jelly, jack fruit, etc- depending on where you’re getting it. It’s the perfect way to cool down by the beach!
PS – The picture is of a unique halo halo that can be found at the restaurant Razon’s, which doesn’t have an El Nido location! If you’re ever in Manila, while all halo halo is good and must try, this is my favorite style of halo halo.
Banana cue is a popular snack of fried banana coated in carmelized sugar. If you’ve had turon or banana egg rolls, another popular Filipino dish in the US, it’s like that but minus the wrapper. You can find this for sale in markets on a stick, which makes the perfect to go snack when you’re exploring.
Ube (pronounced “ooo bae”) is purple yam, and in my opinion, the quintessential Filipino dessert. In El Nido, you can find ube ice cream, ube milkshakes, ube pastries, etc, but I would highly recommend trying ube bread too. You can also find this fresh at bakeries like Midtown, and we also had good ube bread randomly at the pharmacy across our hotel of all places!
PS – The picture is of ube pancakes and while this pic isn’t from the Philippines, I added it to give you an idea of what delicious ube flavored things typically look like (purple, very purple).
Fresh fruits that taste better here
The Philippines is home to tons of unique, fresh fruit varieties, and they’re especially fresh in El Nido compared to like Manila.
When you’re in El Nido, head to the markets to try whatever fresh fruits you fancy. Make sure you try lanzones, which is a citrusy fruit that’s hard for me at least to find in the US. I have no idea what to compare it too because it’s so unique, but it’s delicious, sweet, and refreshing.
And try a few different banana varieties, especially the small ones, which I personally have never seen outside the Philippines, but they taste sweeter!
Also pineapple- I’m sure we all know what this tastes like, but it’s so juicy and flavorful in the Philippines.
And mangos! On the East Coast, growing up our mangos were the stringy, not Filipino kind, but here in El Nido, they’re smooth, juicy, and flavor packed.
Okay, try all the fruits.
While this list does not even begin to cover all of the major Filipino foods (I left out lumpia aka egg rolls! Dinuguan aka Filipino chocolate! Mamon and ensymada, aka some of my favorite pastries! The list goes on), these are a lot of the common foods you’ll see served in El Nido. Food is a major part of Filipino culture, and I hope this list encourages you to try something new!
What are you most excited to try? What other kinds of foods are you looking for? Let me know in the comments!