Must-Try Merienda: A Local Guide to Popular Filipino Snacks
Nothing satisfies the stomach more than a good merienda – sugary golden hotcakes in the morning, crunchy glazed banana-cues on a sunny afternoon, or a heaping bowl of batchoy or Arroz Caldo anytime for rainy days. Filipinos have a gift for preparing snacks that are hearty and nutritious, not to mention easy to prepare.
Whether you’re a tourist trying to enjoy food like a local, an overseas Filipino worker missing the tastes of home, or simply a curious soul, read on and stoke your cravings for the most popular Filipino snacks.
Turon, Maruya and Banana Cue
Filipino snack cuisine is home to the “big three” of fried banana snacks – Turon, Maruya, and the quintessential banana cue – which are eaten while hot and enjoyed in virtually every carinderia (small eatery) or roadside café. Where you can find one of these food items, you can typically find the others.
For a Pinoy snack, the turon is surprisingly filling. This caramel-y treatcombines the crunch of a spring roll with the chewiness of a banana. It is made from thinly sliced bananas and brown sugar and fried in spring roll wrappers. It is regularly paired with ripe jackfruit slices, either inside the spring roll or separately.
Maruya, or “kumbo” in Western Visayas, is a golden-brown banana fritter prepared using halved or flattened bananas that are soaked in batter, deep-fried, and topped with white sugar. Unlike the other two dishes, which are finger foods, they are more usually eaten with a fork. A plateful of Maruya makes for a splendid afternoon break with the family.
Lastly, the humble banana cue is a classic Pinoy snack, perfect for any budget and enjoyed by busy students and office workers, and young and old alike. Bananas, usually three a piece, are deep-fried along with brown sugar. As the sugar caramelizes, it coats the banana to create the banana cue’s distinctly crunchy and firm texture. The bananas are then speared onto bamboo skewers and served.
The Philippines is a tropical country with plenty of sweltering hot summer days. Its locals have devised many ingenious – and tasty – ways to beat the heat, using recipes that depend only on readily available ingredients and a refrigerator. Preparing iced Pinoy snacks is a typical family pastime.
Ice candy, typically sold by street vendors during the summer, sparks childlike joy in both kids and adults. All sorts of flavors are used, from the mainstays like chocolate, ube, mango, and buko pandan, to tastes that include more of the Filipino palate, like avocado, pineapple, and even monggo (mung bean).
As an ice-based dessert, Mais con yelo rivals the halo-halo for the ultimate Pinoy frozen treat. Heaps of finely crushed ice are flavoured with milk and cream and sprinkled with juicy corn kernels or crunchy corn flakes.
Sago’t Gulaman is a snack that you can drink and the Pinoy answer to bubble tea. Cubes of bouncy gulaman jelly and chewy tapioca balls are immersed in water sweetened with brown sugar and vanilla extract.
Many Filipinos enjoy bread for breakfast and afternoon snacks and usually dip them in coffee, hot chocolate, or milk as the perfect pick-me-up.
Pandesal is the workhorse of Filipino bread, a soft, subtly sweet bun that can be eaten plain, toasted, or sliced so spreads, jams, and meats can be added. A recent innovation has caused the rise of malunggay pandesal, infusing the most popular Pinoy bread with plenty of vitamins.
Depending on the area, cheese bread can mean two different things. For some, it is a pandesal or bread roll filled with a cut of cheese. Most of the time, it refers to another type of bun that’s topped with finely shredded cheese that has been baked into the crust. It is an excellent companion of milk or coffee.
Local custom, especially in Chinese-Filipino communities, considers hopia as a common gift to bring to family members, loved ones, and colleagues for any occasion. A hopia is either flaky and puffy, or soft and cakey, and filled with sweet bean paste. Several hopia fillings are popular, such as a savory version with pork.
One can think of the shakoy as a Pinoy pretzel, since it’s a deep-fried pastry that is twisted into itself, which is why it is also called lubid-lubid, and dusted with sugar. It can be enjoyed as a crunchy snack that exists in bite-sized versions, or soaked in one’s beverage of choice.
Rainy Day Remedies
The Philippines has a rainy season characterized by monsoons and the occasional typhoon, and several popular Filipino snacks are made to bring warmth to one’s soul, as well as their stomach.
Elderly Filipinos love Arroz Caldo, a piping hot rice porridge that uses ginger as its spice, then further flavoured with toasted garlic and green onions, and topped with a helping of chicken slices and boiled egg. This love has passed down the generations as a meal that steadfastly accompanies early-morning road trips, breakfasts, and pouring afternoons.
Batchoy is a hearty noodle soup traditionally made with offal and tougher cuts of meat. With firm and thick noodles and strips of pork liver, one can expect to be satisfied with a single bowl. Its secret weapon comes in the form of crunchy pork cracklings called chicharon that are crushed and sprinkled atop the soup.
Street Food Staples
Food cart vendors ply the routes along the parks, universities, and shops and usually offer a decent selection of Pinoy snacks, usually of the finger food variety, that is prepared in front of the customer.
Filipinos call boiled peanuts mani and are enjoyed more often on a night-time stroll, especially along the beachside. Mani is soft, chewy, and packed with protein. They can be prepared with salt and spices, or coated with sugar, but it is not uncommon to enjoy them plain for their clean taste.
The Pinoy hotcake is a supreme comfort food. The hotcake itself is usually golden brown or even a joyful yellow and has a mildly sweet taste, and then it is dusted with white sugar and often brushed with margarine or butter. Sometimes, hotcake and beverage vendors will park alongside each other, as these delectable hotcakes deserve to be accompanied by a cold iced tea or juice.
Last but not least, fishballs are among the most popular Filipino snacks, although they often look more like flat discs than balls. Just like many of the entries in this list, a fishball on its own offers a clean, meaty taste that is smothered in sweet chili or barbecue sauce. The fishball and its sauce bring out the best in each other. While other street fares like French fries and hotdogs are common nowadays, nothing can replace the fishball in simplicity and affordability.
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