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Filipino Snacks and Munchies

Filipino snacks are often called Merienda, which are eaten in late afternoon at around 3 to 5 pm. The most common Merienda’s are the “Kakanin” or rice cakes. There are quite a number of these rice cakes and each region and each province have their unique way of creating them.

Puto is the general term for rice-flour based rice cakes that are steamed and served with a dab of butter or margarine. They often look like cupcakes or muffins. It is also a favorite companion to the popular Filipino dish “Dinuguan”, or with one of the varieties of Filipino noodle dishes such as “Palabok” or “Pancit”. There are literally hundreds of varieties of this popular dish. The most popular variants are the “Putong Puti” (White Puto) and “Putong Binan” (Puto from Binan). “Puto Bumbong” is a variety that is popular during the Christmas season. "Kutsinta" is a popular dish based on puto's ingridients. The ingredients are almost the same, but Kutsinta has Lye water. The difference is that Kutsinta is flatter, sweeter, and the texture is chewy, rather than soft as with the Puto.

"Suman" is basically glutinous rice and coconut milk This mixture is then wrapped in banana or coconut leaves, then steamed. The most popular variants are “Suman sa Lihia” (Suman with Lye Water) and “Suman sa Ibos” (Suman wrapped in Ibos leaves). The “Tupig”, the rice cake dish that the Ilocos region boasts, is a cross between Puto and Suman. As suman is generally made by cooking rice grains, Tupig is made from ground glutinous rice like Puto. But Tupig is wrapped in banana leaves, like the suman. Tupig is also baked, not steamed. I often call Tupig as “Sticky Puto”. Biko is also a dish of note. Biko is essentially similar to Suman, except that it is not steamed and is sweeter. Biko is cooked by boiling glutinous rice in coconut milk, then continuously stirred until cooked.

"Bibingka" is often called “Phillipine Pancake”. It is a baked flatcake most commonly made from ground rice flour and baked in a special clay oven. The traditional Bibingka is a favorite during the Christmas season, together with the Puto Bumbong. However, the Ilocos region has their own version, which is made from the Cassava roots. Even more confusing, is that here in the province of Rizal, the term bibingka refers to the sweet “Kakanin” other provinces call “Kalamay”. So depending on what region you are in, you will taste different variants of the Bibingka (all of them very mouthwatering). The baked version made from ground rice flour though, is the generally accepted definition of Bibingka.

Other Kakanins

Kakanin is the general term for the Filipino rice cakes. However, the Suman, Puto, and Bibingka seem to have a class of their own since they are the most popular variants. There is also the other kakanin’s such as Maja Blanca (Sweet corn pudding), Kalamay (a kind of unwrapped Suman with a sweet coconut mixture on top), Pichi-Pichi (Steamed Cassava dumplings), Palitaw (Glutinous Rice Dumplings), and Cassava Cake (Baked cassava mixture similar to Tupig), and the Sapin-Sapin (literal Translation is “Layered”, a rice cake which has differently colored layers and often each layer has different flavors).

Going Bananas
The banana is the most popular fruit in the Philippines. The Saba Banana (a banana variant that is short and thick, looks like a fat plantain) is often used to cook various Merienda treats. The "Banana-cue" is made by frying the Saba in hot oil and brown sugar. They are then skewered in bamboo sticks. The Kamote (sweet potato) can also be cooked this way. The “Turon” is another popular Merienda dish made by wrapping the Saba banana in rice-flour sheets then cooked like the banana-cue, except that they are not skewered when serving. The “Maruya” is made from very ripe Saba, mashed and mixed with flour, water and sugar, then deep fried. Boiled Saba is also popular. Then there is the "Saging con hielo", (saging is tagalog word for banana) peeled Saba boiled in water and brown sugar. This is served with ice shavings and evaporated milk. There is also Banana Chips. There are two popular variants. The plain sun-dried, and the other one is sun-dried then coated in molasses or syrup.

Another Filipino favorite is the different egg dishes. Though they are most likely to be eaten as “Pulutan” (something to munch when drinking alcohol), they are also eaten during Merienda time. The most popular nowadays is the infamous “Balut”, which rose to stardom when it was featured in the hit show “Fear Factor”. It is the boiled fertilized egg of ducks. Most people will tell you that this dish is an Aphrodisiac, but I beg to differ. An Aphrodisiac is commonly defined as something to boost your “sex drive” and increase libido. The Balut however, isknown to “strengthen your knees”. So essentially, the Balut is used to “Keep it on as opposed to an Aphrodisiac’s “Get it on”. Basically, the Balut is a quick source of energy boost. That’s why it is commonly sold at night, when people who are working in graveyard shifts like security guards need something to fight sleep and the energy you got from dinner is already fading. That’s why Balut is not just for those who are eager to “do it”. Penoy is a boiled plain unfertilized duck egg. The “Abnoy” (Tagalog slang for retarded) is made from frying spoiled, yes, spoiled duck eggs dipped in vinegar. The dish looks like fried tofu, and is really smelly as you might imagine. The “Tokneneng” is boiled chicken eggs or Penoy dipped in an orange-colored flour mixture then deep fried. Another version of the Tokneneng is the “kwek-kwek”, made from quail eggs.

Are You Nuts?
Filipino’s love to munch on various kinds of nuts. Peanuts, fried with lots of garlic is the favorite. Boiled peanuts (still in their pods) is also popular. Then there is also the “Kasoy” - dried and roasted cashew nuts. The pili nut is a must try. It tastes like roasted pumpkin seed, and some say the crispy yet tender texture beats out the Almond. I would say it is even better than the Macadamia. It is commonly used as an ingredient in Chinese mooncakes. The pili nut is the kernel of a tree from the Burseraceae tree family. It is commonly sold in Antipolo or the Bicol region. They can be bought roasted plain, coated with molasses, or fried with sugar. Dried Watermelon and Melon seeds, are also favorites. The seeds are salted, dried, and then baked/roasted. The hard exterior shell of the seed is cracked then the contents are eaten. Some genius actually invented a process where you can buy just the edible part and the hard outer shell is already taken out. This product however didn’t sell because most Filipinos agree that cracking open the seeds with your teeth is part of the fun of eating them. Besides, when you crack the seeds with you teeth, you get a slight taste of the salty outside shell, which greatly contributes to the flavor of the seeds. Jackfruit (“Langka” in Tagalog) seeds are also delicious, though not as popular as the other nutty products. Seeds from the ripe Jackfruit can be boiled, or sun dried then roasted. Boiled Jackfruit seeds are very soft and the taste is mildly nutty and sweet. Roasted Jackfruit seeds are nuttier in texture and taste. The “Polvoron” is a delicacy made from finely ground nuts (either peanuts, cashew, or even pili) toasted with milk powder.

This may sound Corny
Corn is the second most produced crop in the country, second only to rice. Filipino’s love to boil the corn and eat it with a pat of butter and salt (Margarine is preferred). The glutinous white variant is often cooked as “Binatog”. The corn kernels are shelled, boiled, and served with grated mature coconut (Niyog) sprinkled with salt. A western twist to the Binatog is the boiled yellow corn kernels mixed with melted butter and cheese powder. Grilled corn is also a common snack. Nowadays, the Japanese Sweet corn is more popular than the native varieties. A sad phenomenon since it has pushed out the native varieties out of the market. It’s difficult to find the native varieties, which tend to be harder and bland, but has that unique taste you won’t find in other variants and it offers more flexibility when used as an ingredient in cooking. However, the native corn won’t be going out too soon, since it is used to make the all time favorite Filipino snack – the “Cornick”. This dish is made from whole corn kernels, dried and deep fried with lots of garlic. The Ilocos region has a specialty called the “Chichacorn” – a cornick which texture is not as hard as that of the original cornick and has the crunch of another famous snack – the Chicharon.

Crunch Time
The Chicharon may rival the cornick as the top Filipino snack of all time. Chicharon generally refers to a crunchy deep-fried snack. There are many variants, from the previously mentioned “Chichacorn”, to the "Kropek" – a snack made from sun-dried ground shrimp/crabs carapace. But Chicharon is more commonly defined as the deep fried pork rind. “Chink” is the chicken version of the chicharon, which is made from chicken skin. “Chicharon Bituka” is the chicharon made from pig intestines. “Chicharon Bulaklak” is a variant of the Chicharon Bituka but only the “mesentries” part of the intestine is used. It is so called because the fried mesentries look like “bulaklak” or flowers in English. “Tahong” (Mussels) chicharon was the latest addition to the chicharon family. Chicharon tahong or tahong chips is made from dried mussels meat.

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