As many of my friends know (and are quite tired of hearing), I am honestly not the biggest fan of food in Manila. To get a really good meal here requires either a lot of determination or a lot of money – and given the minuscule portion sizes relative to my chubby 6 foot frame, a small appetite doesn’t hurt, either.
However, I do love a lot of Filipino food. The Philippines boasts some delicious regional cuisines, such as Bicol’s red hot specialties, or the turmeric-mad (and equally chilli-saturated) food of the Maranao. Perhaps best of all is the irresistible freshness of Cebuano dishes, with their mouth-watering lemongrass-scented soups, incredible kinilaw (basically a Filipino version of ceviche), and delectably tender barbeque – all of which have spread through the southern Philippines and, in some cases, have even been improved upon in places like Davao City. But one thing that Manila is good for is snack foods. There are plenty of salty, sweet, guiltily delicious ways to fill in a spare corner of my stomach, even if actually filling it to capacity tends to be a challenge given my monstrous appetite. Stop by the local Family Mart, 7/11, or, if you have no choice, Mini-Stop, and take in the vast cornucopia of addictively unhealthy munchables!
And it’s a great time to be a lover of snack foods in the Philippines. Even a few years ago I felt like I had to rely on expensive imported US brands to really satisfy my MSG cravings, but the country appears to be undergoing a snack food renaissance. Local snack food manufacturers are really bringing their A-game with new offerings like Oishi’s Gourmet Picks (in the absolutely divine wasabi flavour and its somewhat less impressive counterparts), or Leslie’s new Farmer John chips – the salt and vinegar flavour is pretty close to heaven, and ensures that I’ll never have to waste my money on Lay’s again. I know this sounds like a press release, but I really do love a good potato chip – all respect due to the food chemists who engineered these modern-day marvels!
One of the less glamourous old-school entries in the Philippine snack food lineup is Ding Dong. Basically, it’s an assortment of dried crunchy things that is, for some reason, being marketed as “mixed nuts” (more on that later).