Merienda Favorites in the Philippines

  • 01 of 10

    Merienda: A Spanish Legacy

    Filipino pastries
    Tom Cockrem/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

    In Spain, Italy and other regions in Southern Europe, merienda is a light meal or a snack. It is a ritual that the Filipinos adopted from the Spaniards who colonized the Philippines for almost five hundred years. Faithful to the legacy, in the Philippines, merienda is eaten twice a day -- between breakfast and lunch, and between lunch and supper.

    Unlike main meals that usually consist of a meat or vegetable dish and rice, merienda food is often a single dish. It may be something portable like pan de sal or eaten off a bowl like pancit mami. What Filipinos eat for merienda varies from region to region. Here are some of the most iconic merienda dishes from various parts of the country.

  • 02 of 10

    Lugaw with tokwa't baboy (congee with fried tofu and boiled pork)

    Lugaw with tokwa't baboy
    © Connie Veneracion

    Lugaw -- rice boiled in gingered broth until puffed and starchy -- is most likely part of the influence of the Chinese that the Filipinos traded with even before the Spaniards arrived in 1521. Plain lugaw is traditionally served with boiled pork head meat and fried tofu doused with a soy-vinegar sauce. Variants include chicken arroz caldo (called pospas in Central Philippines) and goto (with ox tripe).

    Lugaw is also a popular breakfast dish.

  • 03 of 10


    Pan de sal
    © Connie Veneracion

    There are several varieties of local bread, some plain and others with filling. The most popular is pan de sal, sweet rolls coated with fine bread crumbs. It can be eaten plain (dunking pieces of pan de sal in hot coffee or chocolate is a common practice) or split into halves to make a sandwich. A traditional filling is kesong puti (literally, white cheese) which is made from carabao's milk.

    Other favorite bread snacks include:

    1. Ensaymada -- a sweet, soft bread topped with butter, sugar and grated cheese.
    2. Pan de coco -- a sweet bread with shredded fresh coconut and sugar filling.
    3. Spanish bread -- a sweet rolled bread with butter and sugar filling.
  • 04 of 10

    Rice Cakes

    © Sam Veneracion

    Rice cakes come in numerous forms in the Philippines.

    Suman (pictured) is a rice cake in tube form. Soaked or parboiled rice is wrapped in banana leaves or palm fronds and boiled or steamed until swollen and cooked. Suman comes in several varieties, colors, and flavors, and the variety often determines the condiments that go with it which include grated fresh coconut, sugar and coconut jam.​

    Puto is a steamed cake made with rice flour.

    Kakanin and bibingka are generic terms for an array of sweet sticky rice cakes that include sapin-sapin and biko.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Champorado and tuyo

    Shubert Ciencia/Moment Open/Getty Images

    Not to be confused with the Mexican champurrado, Filipino champorado is a sweet porridge made with glutinous rice mixed with chocolate. Its traditional partner is tuyo, salted dried fish. The meal is an interesting study in contrast between sweet and salty, and sweet and savory. Served hot, the champorado is drizzled with milk and stirred. To fully enjoy the contrasts, a piece of salty fish is eaten with every spoonful of chocolate-y champorado.

  • 06 of 10

    Banana Cue, Turon and Maruya

    © Speedy Veneracion

    Bananas are plentiful all year 'round in the Philippines. There are several varieties including saba which is ideal for cooking. Three merienda items made with fried saba banana are popular in all regions.

    1. Banana cue (pictured). Whole ripe saba bananas are coated with brown sugar, deep fried then threaded into bamboo skewers.
    2. Turon. Whole ripe saba bananas are sprinkled with brown sugar, topped with strips of ripe langka (jackfruit), wrapped in spring roll wrappers and deep fried.
    3. Maruya. Batter-dipped saba banana slices are deep fried until golden and crisp and sprinkled with sugar before serving.
  • 07 of 10

    Halo-halo and maiz con hielo

    Stuart Dee/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

    Halo-halo and maiz con hielo are iced snacks.

    To make halo-halo (literally, mix-mix), spoonfuls of sweetened beans, fruits, macapuno (kopyor coconut, a mutant with soft, sticky and gelatinous meat) and, occasionally, tapioca pearls and jelly, are dropped into a tall glass and covered with shaved ice. Milk is poured over the ice then the optional toppings like ube halaya (purple yam jam), leche flan (steamed creme caramel) and ice cream are added. Everything is mixed together and eaten/sipped with a long spoon.

    Maiz con hielo is assembled in the same way but the only ingredients are sweet corn kernels, ice, sugar, and milk. In modern versions, toppings such as corn flakes, rice crispies, and ice cream are added.

  • 08 of 10

    Pancit (noodles)

    La Paz batchoy
    © Connie Veneracion

    Pancit includes dry noodle dishes and noodle soups.

    Dry pancit dishes include:

    1. Pancit Malabon and palabokBoth rely heavily on seafood. The sauce is made with boiled shrimp heads and shells, colored red with annatto seeds. For pancit Malabon, thick rice noodles are tossed with sauce before seafood toppings (ground smoked fish, shrimps, oysters and squid) are added. For pancit palabok, thin rice noodles are used, the sauce is poured on top and the toppings may include meat and ground chicharon (pork cracklings).
    2. Pancit bihon. Stir fried rice noodles, shredded vegetables and pork strips seasoned with soy sauce.
    3. Pancit canton. An adaptation of the Chinese chow meinpancit canton is stir fried egg noodles, vegetables and meat or shrimp. Regional varieties include pancit habhab which is served and eaten off a piece of banana leaf.

    Among the most popular noodle dishes are:

    1. Pancit mami. It's Chinese-style meat and egg noodle soup. One of the most notable variant is the La Paz batchoy (pictured) from Central Philippines which uses strips of pork offal and is sprinkled with crushed chicharon.
    2. Pancit molo. Another noodle dish from Central Philippines, pancit molo has strips of wonton wrapper for the noodle component.
    3. Pancit Lomi. Cooked with thick egg noodles, strips of meat (pork or chicken or both) and pork liver, and vegetables, the broth is thickened with beaten eggs.
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Lumpia (savory spring rolls)

    © Connie Veneracion

    Another Chinese influence, Filipino lumpia is either fresh or fried just as most spring rolls are in Southeast Asia. Fillings vary but the most popular variant for merienda is fried lumpia with togue (mung bean sprouts) filling often sold by ambulant vendors. The fried lumpia is served with a vinegar-based dipping sauce.

  • 10 of 10


    Miha Pavlin/Moment Open/Getty Images

    Balut is probably the Filipino food that scares non natives the most. Boiled duck eggs with half-formed embryo, the best balut is made with eggs that have been fertilized for no more than 18 days when the embryo has not formed feathers yet and the bones are still very soft.

    The best way to eat balut is to tap the shell until it cracks, peel off just enough to create a small hole, sip the juice, peel off the rest of the shell, sprinkle salt on the egg and eat it in one go.