Street food or hawker food is one of the many things that makes a place unique. Think century eggs and tofu at the Mongkok Market in HK. Or Roti Canai in Malaysia, or Fried Kway Teow in Singapore. And when it comes to hawker/street food, the Philippines is not one to miss out. Showcasing indigenous produce, street hawkers and peddlers are a common sight. Almost every corner in metropolitan Manila is crowded by these enterprising Pinoys - from sliced green mango accompanied with shrimp paste individually wrapped to day-old duck eggs (balut) served warm with small serves of sea salt.
Like all indigenous foods, most of these hawker dishes are part of the nation's staples. And outsiders may take a bit of caution to partake on some of them. Most street foods in the Philippines are characterized by a mixture of flavours and texture which makes it uniquely Pinoy. Some really unique and yucky to new explorers, but just a single taste is usually life changing.
Which brings me to the subject of one of the top 10 street foods in the Philippines - the good ol' banana fritters. Having tried to make these at home has ignited a renewed admiration to all street hawkers in Manila, particularly their pride and years of technique and skill in preparing their wares. I'm not one to say it was easy making these banana fritters. Every time I make them, I come out with completely different looking and tasting dish. Same ingredients, same process, different results. It should be easy but somehow, replicating the same banana cue or banana fritter from that side of the Pacific eludes my oh-so-amateurish culinary prowess. But that will not stop me from sharing my banana fritters 101 (okay, its not actually one hundred and one but you get the idea?!).
5 large lady finger bananas, cut into quarter strips
Square spring roll wrappers, about 10 sheets
1/2 to 1 cup raw sugar or brown sugar
Peel the skins off the bananas and cut into quarter strips.
Cut the spring roll wrappers into half - diagonally. You should end up with triangle sheets.
Wrap each of the banana strips - starting fro tip of the triangle, roll the wrapper while folding both sides and continue rolling to the end. Rub some water on the edges to seal.
In a deep wok or pan, add oil and heat until smoking HOT. Add the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has turned into a syrupy mess.
Quickly add the wrapped banana fritters and fry until the wrapper is crispy and golden and the caramelised sugar has coated the fritters.
Take off from the pan and drain on kitchen paper towels or on a bamboo strainer/spider over a bowl - to drain the excess oil.
Banana Fritters 101:
*The pan needs to be really HOT before you add the vegetable oil. It makes a big difference in heating the fat.
* Sugar needs to be stirred to coat the banana fritters. Otherwise, the sugar will just melt with the oil. You want to sugar to caramelise, not dissolved in the oil.
* Buy firm lady finger bananas - the skins have pale yellow tinge. Not too ripe as you'll end up with soggy bananas after cooking.
And for those of you planning on travelling down or up and experience the 7,100 islands of the Philippines, here's my Top 10 Pinoy Street Foods as voted by expert nationals (well, not exactly food experts but family and friends of adobo down under. They know what they're talking about, so I assure you it's all safe to trust them. Or if you want other suggestions, there are heaps out there. Google it!).
1. Banana cue / Banana fritters - are deep fried lady finger bananas coated in caramelized brown sugar, while the fritters are wrapped (as posted in the recipe). Surprisingly, they rank as the most favoured of all street foods by most Pinoys.
2. Bbq isaw - are barbequed innards of pork and chicken. These are cleaned, boiled, skewered and barbecued along street corners at markets and in most residential suburbs. They are dipped in spiced vinegar and usually eaten as a snack or appetizer with some cold beer. Must try for the brave soul! Its not too bad, really. I mean, I've tried lamb brains so there.
3. Pork bbq - a usual sold together with the bbq isaw, these are pork cubes marinated in truly unique Filipino ingredients and grilled. One of the most common street foods there is.
4. Camote-q (sweet potato strips coated with caramelised sugar) - similar to the banana fritters without the wrapping, these are sweet potatoes deep coated with caramelized brown sugar. These are cooked deep fried and sold in skewers with its equally famous ally - the banana-Q.
5. Fish balls / squid balls / chicken balls - these are as common as jeepneys and tricycles! Although fishbals are not limited to street food dining these days with the surge of small kiosk franchise in shopping centres, nothing can compare to the conventional method of eating fishball in the streets. Grab a stick, prick your own fishballs, count them, dip them in the vinegar/sauce, eat, then go through the cycle again. Pay as eat, or pay before you go. Mind you, the fishball vendor knows how many you consumed!
6. Balut / penoy - not for the faint at heart, balut is a fertilised duck egg that is boiled and eaten from the shell. Similar to the Vietnamese hot vin lon, the Filipino balut is mostly sold by hawkers, from late night to the early hours of the morning. Widely believed to be an aphrodisiac, they are eaten as a high protein snack. As Than Ngo (Noodlies) mentioned, "balut (and hot vin lon) is not for everyone". And Anthony Bourdain said "its a difficult dining experience".
7. Green mango with sauteed shrimp paste - you don't have to be Filipino to love mangoes. The Philippines exports some of the best mangoes across the globe, where the harvest is abundant all year round. Although a liking for the not-yet-ripe green mangoes might take a bit of time to get used to. These green mangoes sold as street food are peeled, sliced (sometimes skewered), wrapped in plastic and served with some sauteed shrimp paste as dip. A must to try - sour and salty, sweet and spicy. Its all there. To give you an idea, Market Manila has a post on this Filipino favourite.
8. Kwek-kwek - is an exotic looking street food at first glace, but simply, these are just boiled quail eggs coated in some batter then deep fried. It is similar to a dish made famous by Dani Venn in the Masterchef Season 3, which is son-in-law eggs. The orange colour is attributed to the addition of annatto seed powder. Best eaten dipped in spiced vinegar.
9. Adobong mani (roasted peanuts) - A great appetizer its commonly available in pubs and bars. Easily replicated at home, but you'll find these more common in the streets. Make-shift carts with fry pans and gas tanks, these are cooked on the spot - deep fried in vegetable oil, with heaps of salt, garlic and sometimes chillies.
10. Taho is fresh silken tofu served with sugar syrup and pearl sago or tapioca. It is originally classified as street food until the food street bandwagon invaded malls and shopping centres. If you can experience buying and eating this from a side street, that'll be a whole new different experience. You'll have to be up early though. Taho peddlers are usually up selling their fares from dawn till 10am. You''ll experience warm and really fresh silken tofu.
All of these are certified hawker food which you can savour at any street corner in metropolitan Manila and in markets around the country. So if you're there for a visit, why not sample a few and be warmed by the hospitality of the Filipinos. Mabuhay!