Filipinos love to eat. The standard three-meal-a-day practice just doesn’t apply to your average Pinoy (a term locals like to use when referring to themselves). They don’t eat only because they are hungry but also as a way of socializing or just because they see food that’s quite hard to resist. And who can understand Pinoys better than their fellow countrymen, right? They made this understanding a good basis for business and the culture of food carts was born.

Fish ball
Fish balls and tempura on the side of the street. (Photo Credit: Kathy del Castillo)

Like many things in this world, food carts in the Philippines started the old-fashioned way – wooden carts installed with wheels for easy towing or attached to a bicycle. Most peddlers positioned themselves in places where pedestrian traffic was high. Their favorite locations included plazas, outside churches and schools, transport terminals, and busy neighborhoods.

They sold a variety of cheap snacks from ice scramble (pink shaved ice drizzled with chocolate syrup and condensed milk), cotton candy, popcorn, and ice cream to more filling options like tempura (a battered and deep fried dish), fish balls, squid balls, kwek kwek (deep fried hard-boiled quail eggs covered in orange batter), and isaw (pig or chicken intestines barbecued on a skewer).

These traditional food carts saved many a stomach during their heyday in the 80s and 90s. A number of these independent peddlers even made such a name for themselves that people wouldn’t mind the hassle of travelling just to have a taste of their popular offerings.

But let’s face it, not everyone can be enticed by the flimsy charm of these makeshift food carts. Some people were put off by the thought of possible food contamination. But this became the seed of yet another business idea – brand-spanking-new and ready-made carts sans the wheels.

Modern-day food carts are bright and have interesting themes. (Photo Credit: Kathy del Castillo)
Modern-day food carts are bright and have interesting themes. (Photo Credit: Kathy del Castillo)

Many Pinoys have stopped going to parks to hang out and have started frequenting shopping malls instead. There was no way the old, rickety carts could make it inside the ultra-modern malls. To keep up with the times and the demands of consumers, modern-day food carts are constructed and designed better, often having bright and unique themes.

It is also interesting to note that not only the carts have improved. Food choices have likewise received an upgrade. If in the past there were limited food options, these days, anything and everything is served at these food carts. The best way to stay up to date on the latest food trends in the Philippines is to check the food carts in the malls. If you see certain food carts serving similar items suddenly sprouting like mushrooms, then you know they are selling what’s on trend.

Coconut shake cart
Food carts sell the latest food trends. (Photo Credit: Kathy del Castillo)

The downside to this change is that one cannot expect streetside prices as malls charge an exorbitant fee for rent. But most food sold at these carts is still a lot cheaper than in restaurants and thus they remain popular. It is also common to see sought-after carts with branches all over the country. Those companies with great success in the food cart industry have started franchising their business and it has become a popular start-up business in the Philippines.

From their inception to what they have now become, food carts have come a long way and have withstood the test of time. There are no signs they are becoming dated and if anything, they will continue to dictate food trends in the Philippines.

Pack Your Bags

The Philippines has only dry and wet seasons. April and May are the driest while June, July, and August are the wettest. Generally, visitors can have a pleasant stay any time of the year. The country lies within the GMT+7 time zone and uses the Philippine Peso (PHP) as its currency.

Getting There

The Philippines is an archipelago and the most convenient way to travel to and within the country is by air. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in Manila, the capital city, is the main entry point and services most continents.

The Clark International Airport (CRK) in the north is another entry point. It caters mostly to low cost airlines flying Asian routes but there are also flights from Dubai and Doha via Emirates and Qatar Airways, respectively. For visitors from Asian countries who want to go to central and southern Philippines, it is best to use the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (CEB) in Cebu City.

Getting Around

The thousands of islands that form the Philippines make getting around a challenge. Major cities are serviced by several local airlines but a majority of destinations still don’t have airports. Getting to those destinations often involves a combination of land and sea travel.

The primary mode of transportation in the Philippines is the jeepney but these kitschy jeep/bus hybrids are limited to land only. To cross from one island to another, there are bigger ferries, fast crafts, and outrigger boats. There are also many bus companies that cater to long distance travel across islands and this usually involves spending some time on barges.

Other inland transportation options include trains (only in Manila), taxis, tricycles, and cycle rickshaws.

Further Information

Find out why It’s More Fun in the Philippines, how to eat a local delicacy called balut, and about the city of Cebu.

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About Kathy del Castillo

Kathy is a free spirit who has an attention span equivalent to that of a squirrel. So it's only seemly that she has a penchant for adventures and spontaneity. And because she is expected to earn her keep, she works as an online freelancer doing (what else?) random stuff.


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