Guide: Eating Your Way Through Manila’s Mobile Street Food Vendors
Dec 12, 2019

Guide: Eating Your Way Through Manila’s Mobile Street Food Vendors

Commuters and pedestrians in Manila have it tough with the traffic. But there is a silver lining. It comes in the form of street food vendors who provide a respite and sometimes, a destination for urban travelers.

Commuters and pedestrians in Manila have it tough with the traffic. But there is a silver lining. It comes in the form of street food vendors who provide a respite and sometimes, a destination for urban travelers. 

Taho, smooth soybean curd jelly madewith syrup and sago pearls. 

Mornings are often highlighted by rush hour, which is why the taho vendor starts off early. By 5 A.M. these street sellers are walking around Manila carrying two aluminum buckets, balanced by a wooden pole, over their shoulders. They often have a route along residential areas, announcing themselves by shouting “taho!” in a deep, often operatic way. An order comes in the form of a plastic cup layered with warm slivers of soft tofu, topped with tapioca pearls, and generously covered with a dark sugar syrup called arnibal. Asking for extra syrup is almost mandatory, and bringing your own glass is also a welcome option. 

Fresh coconut juice with juicy coconut slices, a great thirst-quencher in humid Manila. 

Right before lunch, the taho vendors take their break and other vendors begin to start their shift. Fruit vendors begin to peddle their goods, and there are quite a bit of them. There are coconut vendors who sell coconut water with shards of coconut meat, or even the whole coconut itself. Depending on the season, you can also find watermelon and pineapple vendorswalking the streets, both with sliced servings of their fruit. Both are simply cut in eighths with the exception of the pineapple, which needs to be peeled spirally. Mango vendors, on the other hand are more consistent throughout the year, with two varieties—the Indian and the carabao mangoes. Both are usually eaten in their unripe state, their crunch and sharp tartness often balanced out by bagoong, a local salty shrimp paste slathered on top of the slice.  

Seasonal fruits make-up popular ice-cream flavours in the Philippines

The early afternoon also sees the arrival of the sorbetero, the dirty ice cream vendor—a name that comes from selling on the street. These vendors traverse roads across the metro, pushing around wheeled colorful carts, which contain three aluminum containers holding the day’s flavors, from chocolate to cheese, to seasonal fruits like avocado and mango. A secret ingredient in the ice cream is cassava flour. It helps maintain its shape and gives it a pleasantly full-bodied texture, perfectly enjoyed in a cup, a wafer cone, or as an “ice cream sandwich,” with scoops hugged tightly in a pandesal bun.

Deep-fried fishballs satisfy as an afternoon snack 

Late afternoon starts the next rush for commuters. That’s when the fishball vendors come out, on a push cart or on a bike—motorbike in some cases—they go about lugging around a small kitchen. A wok filled with oil serves as the communal cooking pot for customers with staples such as fish, squid, and chicken balls, along with kikiam (ngo hiang). Some have extended the menu to hotdogs, dumplings, and even tokneneng, which are deep fried annatto-battered hard-boiled eggs. Armed with sticks, customers can “fish out” their desired items which can be accented by a variety of sauces: a sweet sauce, a spicy sauce, and spiced vinegar, which are soaked into individually, or mixed up depending on diner preference.

Balut, or fertilizer duck egg is a signature Filipino snack. 

Around this time to late evening comes the evening edition of mobile hawkers, the balut vendor. This street seller peddles balut, a fertilized duck egg, which is usually aged between two to three weeks, and kept warm in a rattan basket, which also holds other snacks ranging from fish crackers to chicharon (pork cracklings). The proper way to eat the balut involves cracking the flat side of the egg, and drinking the “soup” first—like a large xiaolongbao—and then consuming the rest of the balut. These balut peddlers, like the taho vendor, also have set routes together with their own call. They go about until late into the night, catering to hungry commuters or the inebriated. 

By the next day, the streets of Manila continues its cycle, the commuters, pedestrians, the traffic—and the street food vendors that help them nourish them with the sweet, salty, sour, and spicy.

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