The Philippines is home to a diverse culture that is evident in all aspects, one of which is the rich colors and flavors of its cuisine. While there are many delectable dishes of home made meals and Filipino specialty restaurants, the street food scene in the country has gained fame in both locals and foreign tourists alike. If you are visiting the Philippines, your trip will not be complete if you have not tried at least one street food. Every metro area in this wonderful tropical archipelago, has different street foods unique to that city/municipality that help define the cultural vibe in that specific area. And in Cebu City, food hawkers in sidewalks abound and there is a wide variety of street food that you can only find in the city. Compiled in this list are street foods that can either be found only in Cebu or throughout the country. Be it due to taste, texture, a sense of exotic novelty, or an epic adventure for those with guts of steel, these Cebu street foods are worth a try and will give you a sense of how the locals in the city eat.
No. 1 – Chinese Ngohiong
A certified Cebuano’s favorite street food
According to Wikipedia, Ngohiong, also known spelled as ngoyong, is a Filipino appetizer consisting of julienned or cubed vegetables with ground meat or shrimp seasoned with five-spice powder in a thin egg crêpe that is deep-fried. It is a type of lumpia and is a Filipino adaptation of the Hokkien dish ngo hiang (known as kikiam in the Philippines). It originates from Cebu City. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngohiong). With the Cebuano’s affinity for all things fried, this has become quite popular and iconic in Cebu City’s street food scene as you can find it in most local Cebu restaurants and pungko-pungko or street food hawkers along the city sidewalk. Apart from the taste that sits well on a Cebuano’s taste bud, this has garnered popularity as it is very cheap to buy. This street food is best paired with the famous Cebu’s puso or hanging rice and dipped in sweet and sour sauce.
- Pros:Delectable Cebuano street food
- Cons:You need to be extra cautious on where you buy for sanitation purposes
- Price Range:PhP 100 -150 for a full meal with hanging rice and drinks
Where to find the best Ngohiong:Tagala Chicken Butterfly
No. 2 – Ginabot
Undoubtedly one of Cebu’s guilty pleasures
Ginabot is a deep fried breaded pork cracklings made from pork intestines paired with hanging rice and dipped in spicy vinegar with chopped onions. It basically tastes like slightly gamey pork and its texture is a blend of crispy and chewy. In the past decade, this street food started as a hit to young professionals in the city as a favorite beer match and the early morning street food hawkers that sell this delicacy became a breakfast go-to for those who work during the night, particularly the call center agents. This is the main food item sold in a pungko-pungko (translated as “sit-sit”) where diners sit on small tables and benches along sidewalks and eat with their hands. Since then, the ginabot has become one of Cebu’s tourist attractions and is a definite must-try but don’t go binging too much on it as it has high calorie and fat content!
- Pros:Iconic Cebuano street food
- Cons:High fat and calorie content
- Price Range:PhP 50 -100 for a full meal with hanging rice and drinks
Where to find the best Ginabot:Pungko-pungko sa Fuente
No. 3 – Proven
Proven and tested street food goodness
Proven is short for proventriculus — a digestive organ that sits between a chicken’s gizzard and esophagus. While you may discard this when you go and clean your chicken for cooking, in Cebu, this part is taken, breaded, deep fried and sold in carts on city streets as a viable meal for food hawker aficionados. This meal street food gained popularity among students and BPO workers because it is very budget friendly. Proven essentially tastes like fried chicken and is paired with hanging rice, dipped in sweet and sour sauce and downed with soda to aid your belly in digesting these deep fried crisps. If you don’t mind eating while standing in a crowded cart beside diners you don’t know, you ought to give this street food a go.
- Pros:Sure hit for the adventurous foodie
- Cons:Can cause stomach distress if you are not used to eating oily food
- Price Range:PhP 50 -100 for a full meal with hanging rice and drinks
Where to find the best Proven:The proven cart that stays in front of BDO bank in Fuente Circle at night has the “cleanest” and best proven
No. 4 – Fish balls
If there is such a thing as “National Street Food of the Philippines”, this is it
The fish balls is known to every Filipino regardless of age, gender, religious beliefs, economic status, etc. Its ubiquity and fame started long before the modern generation. In Cebu, you will find fish ball carts strolling almost every nook and cranny of the city streets. These skewered snacks originated from neighboring Southeast Asian countries, particularly China. Fish balls are made from fish paste (usually from cuttlefish), shaped into small flat discs, deep fried, skewered on wooden barbeque sticks, and dipped in spiced vinegar or sweet sauce. They are cooked on site on fish ball carts and are usually sold by 3’s, 5’s or 10’s. Fish balls are also sold in food courts of various malls, giving diners a “cleaner” alternative to eating the street food.
- Pros:One of the country’s cultural delicacies
- Cons:Eating these from street carts maybe daunting and ominous for first-timers
- Price Range:PhP 10 – 30
Where to find the best Fish balls:You can see fish ball carts in many street corners in Cebu, especially along downtown Cebu’s, Colon St.
No. 5 – Tempura/Kikiam
Fish ball’s best-known partner
The tempura or kikiam is another Filipino favorite when it comes to street food snacks. It is derived from the Chinese dish called the Ngo hiang which is made out of mixed pork and seafood wrapped in bean curd skin. However, the commercialized variants that are sold by street vendors are usually made from seafood paste mixed with flour and shaped like the Japanese tempura, hence the street name in Cebu. You’ll often find the tempura sold alongside fish balls on wooden push carts in the streets of Cebu. These snacks are deep fried, cut into bite size pieces and are skewered then dipped in spiced vinegar or sweet sauce.
- Pros:Cheap street food snack that’s tasty and satisfying
- Cons:Like the fish balls, the ones sold in streets raise skepticism on food handling safety and sanitation
- Price Range:PhP 10 – 30
Where to find the best Tempura:You can see fish ball carts in many street corners in Cebu, especially along downtown Cebu’s, Colon St.
No. 6 – Kwek-kwek
A delicious and creative twist to ordinary boiled eggs
Kwek-kwek is a street food made of battered hard boiled eggs, usually quail eggs with orange coloring from annatto powder. It is then deep fried and smothered with spiced vinegar dip with minced onions and cucumber. These are sometimes sold alongside the fish balls and tempura by street vendors with wooden push carts or they may be sold in stalls exclusively for kwek-kwek. The combination of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavors gives this street food snack a distinct quality that will leave you craving for more once you’ve tried it. It is quite popular among students and the working class because it is very tasty and affordable.
- Pros:Delicious and budget-friendly
- Cons:The odd appearance may be off-putting
- Price Range:PhP 20 – 50
Where to find the best Kwek-kwek:Kwek-kwek Stall Urgello
No. 7 – Balut
World-famous exotic Filipino street food
If you’re a foreigner and it’s your first time in the Philippines, chances a Filipino friend, relative, colleague, or blog has posed a challenge for you to eat balut. Balut has gained popularity and notoriety as an exotic street food that’s not for the faint-hearted across the globe. It is hard-boiled fertilized duck egg, yes, fertilized with the duck embryo — wings, beak, and all. This gives the balut an off-putting appearance especially for first timers. Once you get past the looks, you’ll encounter the tasty and brothy treat that awaits. These are usually sold in the city streets at night and come in varieties according to the number of days the duck eggs are allowed to develop before they were harvested and cooked. The higher the number of the variant, the longer it was left to fertilize, hence the larger and more developed the duck embryo is.For beginners, we highly suggest first time balut eaters to start with the 16 day old eggs.Due to its popularity in the country, the balut can also be found sold in Filipino restaurants.
- Pros:A must try for the adventurous foodie with guts of steel
- Cons:Not visually appealing
- Price Range:PhP 30 – 100
Where to find the best Balut:Balut vendors can be found on sidewalks along BDO bank in Fuente Circle at night.
No. 8 – Siomai
Affordable steamed dumplings in the streets of Cebu
Siomai, originating from China, has invaded the streets of Cebu for decades now. These bite sized treats are steamed pork dumplings dipped in chilli sauce. It is a popular snack item or can also be paired with rice. Many Chinese restaurants in the city offer this dish, but commercialized and more affordable siomai can be found sold by street vendors on sidewalk food stalls.
- Pros:Affordable and easy to eat
- Cons:Street variants are highly commercialized
- Price Range:PhP 30 – 50
Where to find the best Siomai:Siomai sa Tisa.
No. 9 – Isaw
Another iconic and savory Philippine street food
Wikipedia defines Isaw as “a street food made from barbecued pig or chicken intestines. The intestines are cleaned, turned inside out, and cleaned again, repeating the process several times; they are then either boiled, then grilled, or immediately grilled skewered on sticks. They are usually dipped in vinegar or sukang pinakurat (vinegar with onions, peppers, and other spices).” Isaw is usually sold in barbeque stalls in the streets of Cebu, which open mostly before dinner time. There are barbeque restaurants that are open 24/7 in Cebu that also sell isaw. The isaw is a really tasty treat that’s budget-friendly. Once you try this street food, you can definitely say that there is very little food waste in the Philippines.
- Pros:Cheaper alternative to pork and chicken barbeque
- Cons:You can’t be certain that the intestines are cleaned thoroughly before cooking
- Price Range:PhP 10 – 20 per stick
Where to find the best Isaw:Ned Nanay’s Grill.
No. 10 – Tuslob Buwa
Bubbly, brainy, and best paired with hanging rice
Tuslob buwa (dip in the bubbles/froth) is a unique Cebuano delicacy. The preparation is quite simple and the taste is oddly satisfying. In a wok with a little bit oil, you mix pig’s brain, chopped pig’s liver, minced onions, and shrimp paste. You wait until it creates a froth and you take a piece of hanging rice and dip it into the bubbling mixture and then eat it. This street food originated in Pasil, where the same mixture is cooked in one large wok and strangers can take turns dipping their rice in the bubbly assembly.
- Pros:Satisfying and true-blue Cebuano experience
- Cons:Not advisable for binge eating due to its calorie and fat content
- Price Range:PhP 60-100 per set
Where to find the best Tuslob Buwa:I would say in the streets of downtown Cebu, but Azul Cebu will give you the experience sans the fear of stomach problems